Shed of the Week: Saab 9-3 Aero

What would the average PHer like to see in their perfect do-it-all used car?

Some things - lots of power, a manual gearbox, and a decent badge on the bonnet - are obvious enough. That stuff apart, the 'perfect car' recipe can often end up becoming a series of contradictions. We'd all like comfort, but not at the expense of handling. We'd probably quite like a dash of style, but not at the expense of practicality. We fancy something that's proved its durability, but that also has a non-galactic mileage. And finally, in lieu of the Lottery win normally required to achieve such a rich mixture, we want a stupidly low price.

That's the point at which the bubble usually bursts with a wet, soapy pop of disappointment, but today's Shed could be a unicorn of hope standing proudly in a barren landscape of broken dreams. Or something.

The Saab 9-3 Aero was quick enough in standard trim, when its 2.0 turbo four had 210hp and 221lb ft and possibly the biggest rpm gap ever between peak power (at 6,000rpm) and peak torque (at 2,500rpm). Despite that, in untweaked form it posted a 0-60 time in the low-seven second bracket.

Our Shed has had a 40hp remap boost, which you would have thought would have been more than capable of dropping its 0-60 time to the mid- or even low sixes. That's if you can push the gearstick around with enough authority as it's not exactly Type R slick.

In terms of handling, the '02-and-on Saab 9-3 represented a big dynamic jump over the previous Cavalier-based model, built as it was on the Saab/GM joint-venture Epsilon floorpan with multilink rear end and passive rear-wheel steer.

As the vendor suggests, there's nowt much wrong with the 9-3 when it comes to fast touring. Not only can you achieve perfectly acceptable mpg figures on a long run, the boot is usefully big and the bodyshell is strong.

The one 'perfect car' attribute that went unmentioned earlier was reliability. That's a big elephant in the room for anyone contemplating the purchase of a used GM-era Saab. This specimen comes with a reassuringly short list of previous owners and a reassuringly long list of replaced bits, including recentish brake parts and clutch. The only thing not mentioned is any form of service history, which is a shame but at this price - £750 - not a deal breaker.

Problems can crop up with 9-3 door and boot locks and some of the other electrical systems. Under the bonnet, the secondary air injection pump (SAI) got itself a bit of a rep. It was designed to shove air into the exhaust manifold in order to get the cat up and running more efficiently from cold. Shed prefers a simple boot up the cat's jacksy after it's had its saucer of milk, but each to his own. In any case, Shed thinks that the SAI pump might have been dropped on post-'03 models so you might be all right with this '04 car. If it does still have one, a new pump will be under £200. Used ones are under £100.

With sludge-prone Saab turbos you do need to keep a weather eye on the oil, changing it on a more regular basis than you might be used to. Every 5,000 miles would be about right. Again it's good news on this particular car as the owner has taken pains to run it on the recommended synthetic oil. The cams are run by chain rather than belt.

9-3 steering columns can get a bit notchy, and you might also notice a few rattles and squeaks from the trim, dash and seats as Saab's cabin build wasn't that brilliant during this difficult time in its history. The memory function on cars with electric seats has a habit of going AWOL, and the same goes for the tyre pressure monitoring system.

There it is then, all that for a measly £750, a price that includes a near-full MOT, a set of Saab roof bars for your canoe or MB, and a couple of spare alloys with winter tyres on - just the job for a late night flamey burnout when you've got something to celebrate. Like buying this car, for example.

You're not getting the 'private' reg number, but at the risk of poking the kraken, who cares about that anyway? Mrs Shed gave Shed a private number once. Unfortunately, he called it, and the rest is history.

Here's the ad.

2004 SAAB 2.0 AERO Petrol - 5 Speed Manual - 250BHP
115k Miles
MOT Untill End Jan 2019
Only 3 owners, pre Reg1st owner 10 years, then me 4 years
My 3rd SAAB
Dark Blue, with Half Leather Trim
Private plate to be removed, 
Excellent Condition
Maptune Stage 1 - 250BHP, with Tuning Box, can restore original Map back to 210, and erase error codes if neccessary. See Maptune website. This cost £450, 
Quick car pulls very well, but also can return upto 38mpg on last European Holiday over 800 miles.
Replaced parts as follows.
-Windscreen June 2017
-Clutch @85k, by Volsa in Derby (SAAB/Volvo Specialist)
-Rear Brake Calipers, Vented Discs, and Pads 2015
-Coil Packs & Plugs Nov 2015
-Fully Syn Oil Used.
-K&N panel filter,
-Fuel Filter 2015
-Steering Universal Joint
-Front O/S Wheel bearing Jan 2018
-All tyres Avon ZV7, all still plenty of tread.
-2 Spare Alloys with winter tyres (Continental) Past best but still legal.
-1 Spare Tyre
-Aircon recharged 2016
-2 Working Keys
-SAAB Roof Bars

Cruise control, Elec Win x4, Elec Heated Mirrors, CD player, Height Adjustable drivers seat, heated front seats, Split climate control.

Well Cared for car, sale due to newer Auto, would keep if had the space.

Only Neg points:
-Drivers Heated seat not working
-Scratch on rear near side. not too noticeable as on body fold line.
-Occasional, slight Clonk from n/s/f, sounds like drop link or spring, have looked but can't see anything, but past MOT, 
Very reliable Honest Car, recommend viewing


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Comments (86) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Valgar 02 Mar 2018

    Utter bargain! Can you go faster on 4 wheels for £750?

  • Scottie - NW 02 Mar 2018

    These are a pile of st.

    My brother had one from when it was 3 years old, a 52 plate.

    The handling was appalling, it felt like there was no connection between steering wheel and road, no feedback at all.

    Every few weeks a different error message appeared on the warning system, it never ran out of ways to give new warnings you had never heard of.

    Needed expensive components replacing regularly.

    From the forums this seemed typical.

    Very little to recommend it frown

  • drgoatboy 02 Mar 2018

    seems like a billy bargain to me. I've been toying with a Saab as a daily hack for a while, ticks a lot of boxes. Top shedding!

  • Ian-27xza 02 Mar 2018

    Gread shed!

    I ran one of these from 40,000 miles upto 180,000 miles. The remap really opens these cars up and adds a slug more torque across the rev range.

    The SAI issue can be remapped out, no HW required - just disconnect the SAI and remap the car to take out the EML - £100.

    The sludge issue only affected the previous generation 9-3 1998-2002.

  • Dale487 02 Mar 2018

    Great old school (ie sub £1000) SOTW - proof you don't need the higher budget to find an interesting and potentially less ruinous (than some) car.

    At £750 could you have found another car for the same money for a 2 car garage? (being sensible I'd keep the other £750 to sort the suspension knocking out and keep the rest as a contingency).

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