What I’m Driving At

2003 Saab 9-3 Vector

A week with Saab’s all-new 2003 9-3 Vector has reduced me to a mathematical shambles. It’s built, you see, on Saab’s new epsilon platform—you know, as in e = the “obliquity of the ecliptic” and all that. Moreover, this top of the line 9-3 compact sedan culminates a progression that begins with a base-model “Linear” 9-3, succeeding to a mid-level “Arc” 9-3, thence to the “Vector” at hand—you know, as in vector = “a quantity representing both magnitude and direction.” Phew! I feel like I’ve been run over by a natural log.

This is a brainy car; but don’t let me misrepresent the 9-3 Vector as overly taxing to the intellect. If you can count from one to five, you can handle the optional five-speed automatic transmission just fine, even in clutchless-shifting Sentronic mode. (If you push on through to six, and know how to tap-dance with a clutch pedal, you can even exploit the six-speed manual that comes standard on the car, thereby saving you $1,300.)

Saabs today are exclusively dependent upon the alchemist’s art of turbocharging; and the new 9-3 is available with either a 2.0-liter low-pressure turbo engine making 175 hp and 195 ft.-lbs. or a high-pressure variant, as in the present case, making 210 hp and 221 ft.-lbs. By way of comparison, 2.0-liter non-turbo motors usually hover in the 130-hp to 140-hp range.

In other words, the Vector’s powertrain is spirited in Saab’s trademark way; but for once, the tell-tale annoyance of torque-steer has been tamed, so that the steering wheel no longer tries to pry itself out of a driver’s hands on hard acceleration. Turbo lag remains, and it still takes getting used to for drivers with only V6 and V8 experience; but a very clever Trionic-8 engine management system seems invisibly to adapt the auto transmission’s gear choice to engine speed—even in manual Sentronic mode—for optimum exploitation of the powerband.

Racy body skirts emphasize the Vector’s low-slung center of gravity, and Saab touts a new ReAxs system for the rear suspension that actually dials in, passively, certain characteristics of rear-wheel steering that are exclusively the domain of rear-drive cars. You won’t go looping into controlled power slides, but you can nicely balance this car in challenging corners with combinations of acceleration and braking—all the while saying buh-bye to obnoxious, nose-heavy understeer typical of front-drivers.

The fighter-plane sensation of sitting in a 9-3 cockpit remains, thankfully, intact. If anything, it is improved for both driver and passengers. The six-way seat adjusters combine with a tilting and telescoping steering wheel to provide exact fine-tuning of the driving position. Saab’s new “Profiler” info system, moreover, allows customization and memorization of a wide range of “user preferences” that include not only seating and mirror positions but also radio, climate, dash display, even rain-sensing windhield wiper rates. Mostly, the system is intuitive; I personally would have preferred more control over the menu screen, however, to eliminate menu bars once I’d tweaked the functions they referred to.

I might also have preferred a little less visual obstruction from the second-generation Saab active head restraint (SAHR) system. These front head rests are among the industry’s most effective, so I’m glad to have ’em; it’s just that us shorties still gotta turn around to back up, and SAHR, frankly, gets in the way.

The same might also be said for the Vector’s nearly $38,000 as-tested price (although Linear and Arc models start at under $27,000 and $31,000, respectively). BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Lexus, and Nissan/Infiniti pretty well dominate this class of near-luxury sport sedans. Saab’s new 9-3 certainly has what it takes to compete in terms of its driving aesthetics and spec sheet, but it may need to do a transcendental number on those skeptics who think they’d be smarter not driving such a brainiac car.

2003 Saab 9-3 Vector; 5-pass., 4-door; FWD, 2.0-liter DOHC high pressure turbo inline-4; 5-sp. auto w/ Sentronic; 210 HP/221 ft.-lbs.; mileage: 21 mpg/City, 30 mpg/Hwy w/ premium; cargo: 14.8 cu. ft; base price: $32,495; as-tested w/ touring pkg., sunroof, “Profiler” info display, side-curtain airbags, OnStar: $37,735


info@seattleweekly.com


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@seattleweekly.com.

More in News & Comment

This screenshot from Auburn Police Department bodycam footage shows an officer about to fire his weapon and kill dog on May 13, 2022.
Auburn police shoot dog, and owner claims it wasn’t justified

See videos of attack as well as bodycam footage of officer firing at dog.

File photo.
King County Council approves creation of Cannabis Safety Taskforce amid rash of dispensary robberies

The multi-agency task force will cooperate to find ways to improve safety in the cash-only industry.

Screenshot from ORCA website
New ORCA system launches for regional transit across the Puget Sound

Overhaul includes new website, mobile application and digital business account manager.

Judged by XII: A King County Local Dive podcast. The hands shown here belong to Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson, who has been charged with homicide in the 2019 death of Jesse Sarey.
JUDGED BY XII (Episode 4): Foster mom wants accountability in Auburn cop’s upcoming murder trial

Special podcast series explores Auburn Police Officer Jeffrey Nelson’s role in the death of Jesse Sarey.

Diane Renee Erdmann and Bernard Ross Hansen. Photos courtesy of FBI
FBI arrests Auburn couple after 11-day manhunt

The couple was previously convicted for fraud and skipped sentencing on April 29.

Screenshot from Barnes and Noble website
Cover art of books that KSD Librarian Gavin Downing says have been under fire: “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts),” by Lev A.C. Rosen, “If I Was Your Girl,” by Meredith Russo, and “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George Matthew Johnson.
Kent middle school librarian wins intellectual freedom award

Gavin Downing refused to keep ‘silence in the library’ amid attempted book banning and censorship.

t
Kent elementary school teacher accused of using racist language toward student

River Ridge Elementary instructor placed on administrative leave by Kent School District.

FILE PHOTO: King County Sheriff’s Office deputies.
Dozens of King County Sheriff’s Office employees left jobs instead of getting vaccinated

This added on to the existing number of vacancies in the department.

Joann and Allan Thomas are flanked in court by their attorneys Terrence Kellogg (fourth from the right) and John Henry Browne (far right) on May 10, 2022. Judge Richard Jones is presiding over the case. Sketch by Seattle-based artist Lois Silver
At drainage district corruption trial, it’s a tale of dueling conspiracies

Allan and Joann Thomas are in trial in Seattle on fraud charges.