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Viscouse's 2003 Saab 9-3 SS

This is going to be a page all about Saab.  I have an American spec 2003 Saab 9-3SS (Sports Sedan) Arc.  It's black with a soothing charcoal interior.  It's just about as perfect as an automobile ought to have any right to be.

The following pages hope to inform by way of bragging, detailing, and showing you all about my car.  I spend a hideous amount of time on a Forum with other like-minded Saab enthusiasts.

Stuff on this page:


Road Trip Review


New Car Review


Below you will find links to other sections of this web.  This is basically a collection of info I've collected over the years (I'm a bit of a data pack-rat).  A little technical data, a little do-it-yourself stuff, a little bragging. 

Main Saab Page Technical Diary Photo Album Mods .   Factory Options Guide Lighting Guide

Road Trip Review 

On my first road trip a couple of months after we made our acquaintance, I wrote some observations down...

Well, here it is. Just some general observations & experiences I had in no particular order. Sorry it took so long. I want to put some pictures up too, but I gotta get home first...
Options that might be relevant: Arc with Auto tranny, ES2 stereo system, 16" wheels.

-The State of Independence (SOI) song was especially fun to play going down a highway with no traffic. It reinforces the "independence" theme, and sets the mind to a more serene mood than already achieved just by driving a Saab.

-Recirc works well. When driving past a burning textile mill less than 10' from the road, no smell entered the cabin. Lucky I turned in on well before I got there.

-Turbo lag shows it's ugliest face when trying to go aggressively through stoplights. When the power went out & all the traffics lights were SUPPOSED to be treated like 4-way stops, many folks scoffed. They just plowed through unheedingly. So when I chanced it, it took a couple of seconds for the turbo to kick in & get up to a speed I could get through the intersection with. I gotta learn how to drive with 2 feet.

-Just about the best feeling in the world is that little place where the RPMs stop going up, but the car smoothly flies forward as the turbo takes over, firmly planting you in the comfy seats. It's not whiplash-grade acceleration, but the feeling brings a smile to my face every single time.

-High speed driving: All the cool characteristics you see at 55 mph (smooth passing, acceleration, weaving & lane switching with little roll) are still there at 100 mph. You still feel in control, and the car admirably does what you ask it to.

-When the rear dome light comes on, it is shielded so it doesn't blind the driver in the rearview mirror at night. A driver's car.

-Mrs. Viscouse is the coolest copilot/wife ever. She graciously took notes for 5 days. What a sport. I'm surprised we actually got anywhere with the "No no no! Turn here! I know it's the perfect stretch but we have to turn here!" And "Yes dear, I can't think of anything else cooler than torqueing up a hill", "Yes, we can stop to take a picture...again."

-When traveling through metric Canada, the ability to turn on the kph scale at night is pretty cool. The ability to customize data shown is pretty neat.

-With the 80-odd controls, it's nice that the less used ones are out of the way. This could be viewed as a hindrance, I choose to look at it as a feature. I'm talking about the ones that are covered by the steering wheel (ESP, Nightpanel, the "-" ejector seat button, etc).

-As I'm driving along, after a 5 hr stretch, I stop for some gas. I was a little insulted, and confused by how bugs, and the insect world in general have absolutely no regard for where they're going, and choose to defile my car by splattering themselves very prominently all over the windscreen, bumper & headlamps. I mean come on, that's just plain rude.

-Driving at night down the freeway, now I wish I had gotten the bi-xenons. I'm not sure how they compare in the distance they light the road up, but sometimes I felt the throw of the beams could be longer at highway .

-If the stereo is off, wouldn't it be cool if it turned on when you inserted a disc? Speaking of off, I am really starting to miss a Pause/Mute button on the steering wheel. Listening to a CD/radio, but we talked too. It gets laborious to turn the whole system off, then to turn it on again & wait the 3 seconds to boot up. If there wasn't any, uh, boot time, it'd be great. A feature I DO think is cool, is that the stereo remembers where the CD left off & starts back up there. Something else: when you turn the stereo off, then back on, the volume reverts back to the preset volume (which is soft at highway speeds, even when set to max (20)). That also is a pain to have to turn back up to where it was every time you flip it off.

-Louvered vents are cool. They totally blow the air exactly where you want them to. If the sun is beating down on 1 leg, just aim a vent in that direction. They move smoothly & fluidly too. This sounds obscure, but they're actually FUN to move. Not a chore, like all my other cars.

-The suspension travel seems a little short? Or maybe it's just me. I had the misfortune to hit 2 potholes (at 5-10mph). There was a significant jarring bump, but it didn't feel like the chassis hitting the ground, it felt like the suspension reaching full travel & jarring. Is it supposed to do that? There's no last-resort rubber bumper or something?

-So in Ithaca, and that part of NY, Saabs were almost, dare I say, common? Tons of 900s, a few 9000s, and a smattering of 9-5s & 9-3s. I saw a few 2003 9-3s on the road in my travels. No one waved back though. Heck 90% of all the Saab drivers didn't even look out their side window to see me. Is it that Saabs are such an intense ride you completely forget about your surroundings? Hmmmm. Where's the love?

-The Arrival Time calculations come in handy on long trips where you have exact mileage. For instance, driving from Detroit to Niagara using Mapquest. Dial in distance, and it will work on your arrival time. It gets more accurate the closer you get, but is still a darn good estimation if you're doing steady highway driving. I forget how it calculates arrival time (running average of speed? Or speed since it was set?) Also distance vs DTE is handy too.

-Lots of hills & stuff in Western NY. I noticed when starting from a stop (or in 1st or 2nd gear) to go up a hill, it torques up the hill fine. When doing so starting in gears 3-5 (like going 40mph on your way up the next hill), it stubbornly remains in 5th, protesting & whining about downshifting. This has been mentioned before. The engine loves to stay in 5th to make great gas mileage. But oh, to torque up a hill is pretty darn cool. In the proper gear, the engine loves to climb a hill. You don't have to get a running start, the RPMs don't go in the red (unless you're being aggressive). It's almost like a hill/grade isn't a big deal. And it was fun. 

-To further that, the 9-3 doesn't care what it's carrying with regard to acceleration. 5 people? 3 folks & a trunk crammed full of luggage? Just me? Any of the above with or w/o the AC on? It seems to accelerate the same: admirably. Now, while I haven't taken it to the track to verify this, the car didn't wheeze & complain like other cars will. Is this the torque?

-ESP works! Take a 30 degree gravel slope. When going up it, trying to accelerate made the left front wheel slip for about .5 seconds, then stop slipping. Then the right front wheel did the same. The cool thing about it though, is that you never actually felt it. The car didn't slip sideways, or jerk when the ESP activated, or do anything at all except motor smoothly & evenly up the hill the whole way.
In a similar incident, there was quite a bit of rain on the road so that there were puddles on the curb side. When I hit the puddle (at about 40 mph) the right wheel was in the puddle & started pulling right (towards the curb. Eeek!), but about .5 seconds into it, the car leveled off & went straight. I wonder if the ESP had kicked in.

-In the middle of nowhere, I took a break from the CDs & tried the radio. I hit Seek, and it blazed through the entire spectrum in like 3 seconds. Then it did it again. And again. I think it flew through 5 times before it found a station.

-The displays are polarized! The ACC & Menu are polarized at 45 degrees, and the SID is at 90 degrees. How to tell? If your sunglasses are polarized, hold them close to the display, and turn them in a circle. There will be 2 points in a complete circle when the display completely disappears.

-Properly inflated tires have a very pleasant ring to them when going over bumps in the road.

-If you're cruising in 5th, and you floor it, the following happens: Turbo boost to max, then downshift into 4th with max turbo boost. It seems that whenever throttle is applied, turbo always gets priority. From a dead stop (wait for turbo to spool up), when flooring it to unleash maximum power, or just getting up to speed in the city. I would prefer in some instances if the engine didn't wait on the turbo, and just applied engine power (like from a dead stop). I don't understand why (from a stop) the Sentronic mode is much more responsive than auto. Is the auto sapping power? Isn't Sentronic still in auto? I'm not much of an engine guy, so I'm a little in the dark about this stuff. I would hate to think that the engine was made sluggish in auto, just so the Sentronic mode would feel "more responsive".

-More on the engine: I think I experienced the ECU learning. After getting off the highway & tooling up & down some hills, it was possible to stay in 5th both up & down the hill. After awhile (I forget how long), the car started to downshift into 4th on the way down the hill. It was engine braking. Weird.

-General impressions: I had a blast driving my car. I would drive for 5 hrs, then stop for the night, and instead of complaining about sore muscles & boredom, look longingly at the car & wish I were driving again. It's fun to drive in the blazing sun, in torrential rain, on open roads, in the city, on my commute, with friends (& inlaws), on hills, around mountains, around horse crap (in the Amish country), or anywhere.

To me, this car is the perfect blend of power, grace, refinement, looks, features, layout, workmanship, materials, and overall effect. I was pleased that as much as I knew about the car, it still had opportunities to teach me new things.

I love my car.

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My New Car Review

I also wrote a review on my car.  2 years later, all of this still applies!

Well, I'm glad to announce the arrival of my new automobile.

I've had it a couple days now & already put 300 miles on it!

It's a 9-3 ARC with charcoal interior, all in black, except for the silver/chrome accents (I think they look best on the black cars!)

I picked it up from my Ann Arbor, Michigan dealer, who was simply the nicest lady ever. She totally was the antithesis of what I expected a car salesperson to be.

Anyway, my new 9-3 isn't the fanciest with it's auto tranny, heated seats, front headlamp washers & sunroof, but it's the perfect car for me: a 2003 9-3 Saab I can afford!

I chose not to go with the 17" wheels cause it seemed a pretty bumpy ride. It could get annoying to me & the wife on a 600 mile trip. The 16"s are a little cushier, while still letting you read the road with amazing clarity (thanks to the suspension).

First, the likes:
-Fit & Finish is amazing, as is design. I love the thought that was placed in design, and I don't know if it's coincidence, but there are quite a few 'arcs' in the cabin (or curves anyway). I love how the door sill has "Saab ARC" right on it.
-I'm digging the stereo with it's 13 speakers & CD player
-Cornering is amazing. It doesn't skitter like my old car. I think it has a better-than-average turning radius as well.
I took some friends for a ride, just slaloming around in a parking lot around lampposts. What fun!
-Seat comfort is very good. Firm where you need it, comfy in the long run.
-Trunk space is just bordering on cavernous. But why not take 6" of trunk space & turn it into 6" of rear leg room?
-All the myriad of buttons, dials, readouts, data & settings holy cow! But, they are very nicely laid out & not intrusive or overbearing or out of reach.
-The SaabCentral Forum!
-Oh yeah, last but not least, it does algebra. My car does algebra. Figuring out the missing component of time, distance or velocity.

I could go on & on. I'll try to put more in later after I get past all of the cool stuff.

On to some of the small minor troubles. Please keep in mind this is nit-picky stuff, and in no way decreases the joy of driving this fine machine!
-I think (still experimenting) my big behind hits the memory buttons when I exit the car, resetting it to one of the 3 positions. Yeah yeah, don't laugh.
-The door lock handle (by the B pillar) doesn't sit flush with the windowsill when locked, so if you want to hang your arm out the window to enjoy a fine summer day, it digs into your arm. I haven't seen anyone mention this, does it bother anyone else?  /EDIT/ I have fixed this!
-Brakes seem awful sensitive. When braking, during the 1st half of travel, they're fine. About halfway, the brakes kick in with a vengeance. This is while braking smoothly, not panic braking.
-Cupholder. As totally cool as it is, I feel like it's going to snap off under the load of my morning java.
-I raved about fit & finish: except this. The turn signal stalk feels like it's a sharp edge. With all the smooth lines & rubberized plastic, one should not feel a sharp edge, but where the 2 halves of the stalk are put together, they are sharp. Not cool.

Well, there you have it. I'm having a blast tooling around Detroit & the suburbs in it. I've had 4 other friends take rides/drive it & they are impressed beyond belief, as am I.
This is the car I was meant to have, and for the first time in my life, I feel sad when I'm not driving.

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This site was last updated 02/21/05