Celebrating three decades of turbocharged offerings, Saab rolls out this very limited edition 9-3 Turbo X. But, beyond its latest power boost, the Turbo X is Saab’s first Swedish built all-wheel drive car, and though a little late to the party, it remains eclectic, sporty and fun to drive. But with sales here in such small numbers, can this Saab make its mark, all-wheel-drive or not?
The 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X celebrates the brand’s 30 years of turbocharged street performance. But, it is the “X” in the name that is the most notable aspect of this Swedish sport sedan. Up to now, only Saab badged SUVs from GM, and the short lived Subaru built 9-2X, wore the all-wheel drive “X” moniker. So, for front drive pioneer Saab the addition all-wheel drive to their native 9-3 is a milestone.
The Turbo X is the first application of Saab’s Cross Wheel-Drive technology. Sourced from Haldex, XWD distributes torque not only from front-to-back, but between the rear wheels with an electronic limited slip differential. This side-to-side transfer can send up to 85% of the power to one rear wheel. The result is all-wheel drive that reins in understeer, and is competitive with other advanced systems like Audi’s Quattro.
Only 600 Turbo X’s will be sold in the US for ‘08 to be split between either a four-door sedan or a 5-door SportCombi wagon. Under each hood, Saab’s 2.8 liter V6 gets added turbo boost for 280 horsepower, that’s 25 more than the 9-3 Aero, and 295 pound-feet of torque. Power then feeds either a 6-speed manual or automatic.
From there Cross Wheel Drive puts it down to the pavement most effectively. Our Turbo X automatic zipped from 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds and clocked the quarter-mile in 15 seconds flat at 98 miles-per-hour. Overall, performance was strong, but shifts were not as smooth as we expected.
To fully exploit the Turbo X’s all-wheel drive handling prowess the 9-3’s chassis has been lowered by 10mm. Also, the front MacPherson strut suspension and rear independent four-link geometry have been retuned with stiffer springs and dampers. Self-leveling shocks are now fitted at the rear.
So even for a Saab, the Turbo X is shockingly agile. There’s a slight understeer, but for the most part this car is dead-on point-and-shoot, and the ESP system stayed well out of the way during hard maneuvering. The only downside for this setup is a rather choppy ride over anything but smooth roads.
Stopping power comes from larger 4-wheel discs with ABS and Brake Assist. Our tester stopped from 60 in only 124 feet with arrow-straight precision. The chassis equation ends with 235/45 tires on model-specific 18-inch alloy wheels.
Indeed, the Turbo X punctuates its high performance character with an array of visual cues, like the exclusive metallic jet black paintjob and titanium-like trim. Body work includes a deeper front lip spoiler, custom rocker panels, a trunk lid spoiler, a diffuser-like rear lower fascia, and twin rhomboid exhaust pipes.
Within, the driver-centric cabin is defined by an all-black fighter plane cockpit with carbon-like trim. Gauges and controls are sharply precise. A boost gauge has been added in homage to the original Saab 900 Turbo.
The dual power sport seats feature extra bolstering and come dripping with black leather, and the driver takes the helm with a proper thick-rimmed steering wheel. In back, our sedan’s 3-adult rear seat offers a 60/40 split that leads back to a 15 cubic foot trunk.
Government Fuel Economy ratings for the Turbo X are 15 city/24 highway on premium. We managed 18.1 miles-per-gallon in real-world driving.
Price for this thrilling, well-equipped sport sedan begins at $42,510, while the Sportcombi starts at $43,310. If that’s too pricey, Saab says that for ‘09 Cross Wheel Drive will be an option on the more sedate 9-3s as well.
The 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X masters the road with superior driving abilities as well as its aggressive outward show. With only 600 cars available this year, the Turbo X may not boost Saab sales by a lot, but it will make a very exclusive mark.
Engine: 2.8 Liter V6
Torque: 295 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.0 Seconds @ 98 MPH
60-0 MPH: 124 Feet
EPA: 15 MPG City/ 24 MPG Highway
Mixed Loop: 18.1 MPG