Starting out as rebadged Saab 900s, Saab 9-3 cars were first launched in 1998 in convertible and hatchback styles. As a result of collaboration with Vauxhall, the initial model shared the same platform as the Vectra, and its turbo-charged engines and elegant design proved popular with executives.
The solidly-built mark one hatchback offered buyers an impressive array of features, including a sunroof fitted as standard, as well as plenty of legroom and great engine performance. The petrol-only convertible also received good reviews due to its roomy interior, generous boot space and its aerodynamic windproof windscreen design.
The hatchback version was done away with in 2002 when the Saab 9-3 got a facelift. It was replaced with a four door saloon. Despite a versatile split back seat, good looks and excellent driving position, second generation Saab 9-3 car sales didn't fare as well, mainly due to complaints about poor handling, body rattling and high maintenance costs. Saab revised the chassis design in 2007, which went some way to resolving scuttle shake problems. Improved headlights and a more streamlined profile were also a result of the revision.
In 2005, Saab also released a stylish estate version, complete with roof rails, chunky bodywork, plenty of added extras and low profile wheels. However, at first the SportWagon did not offer four-wheel-drive, making it difficult to compete with its more rugged competitors. All that changed in 2008 and 2009 when Saab introduced its XWD all-wheel drive technology into selected models, including the 2.0 litre Aero petrol saloon and the 220 Sports Wagon. The latter went on to become the flagship petrol car in the current Saab 9-3X range.
Used Saab 9-3s have held their value quite solidly, mainly due to their excellent safety record; they were one of the first in their class to achieve a five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP in 2002.