Saab 9-3 (2012) – the first test mules step out

Published: 07 February 2011

Saab is beavering away on its new 9-3 – the first genuinely all-new Saab of the new era. The 9-5 was a legacy vehicle from GM, and while the 9-3 project was also underway under the General’s tutelage, there has been enough time in Saab’s short life as an independent to make its mark.

The new 9-3 will be launched in autumn 2012 and Saab’s business plan forecasts the 9-3 to be the biggest seller in its range, as you’d expect of a car competing in the higher volume 3-series sector.

Saab 9-3 (2012): the scoop photos

For those who struggle to keep up with the natural ebb and flow of product development, let us stress: the car pictured in our spy pictures is not the new 2012 Saab 9-3, but we understand it’s a test hack used by engineers to test hardware and mechanical packages before the final validation prototypes hit the road later this year.

How do we know it’s not just a regular Saab 9-3 Convertible? Our sources on the ground confirmed that the track of this test hack was significantly altered from the existing 9-5. Those bulging, non-standard wheelarches are a telltale that this is not a common or garden 9-3.

Saab is busy preparing what it calls the Phoenix platform for its new 9-3. It’s a derivative of the existing GM architecture, but Trollhattan is planning to make it highly flexible so it could underpin the next generations of the 9-5 and 9-4X as well. It won’t, however, stretch down to the proposed 9-1 or 9-2 supermini models (Saab will need to find a partner on that front).

So what can we expect from the new 2012 Saab 9-3?

We know there will be a basic hatch following the template of the old 900, a benchmark Saab in many enthusiasts’ eyes. That will be joined by an estate and convertible – and if the business case stacks up, potentially a coupe. All will be styled by ex-Bertone and Pininfarina designer Jason Castriota.

In an interview with CAR Magazine in summer 2010, Saab chairman Victor Muller told us: ‘We can still change the outer surfaces of the new 9-3. It will be bolder, more typically Saabish.’

And Saab president and CEO Jan Åke Jonsson, a Trollhättan lifer who’s been at the company since 1972, said the 9-3’s GM Epsilon 1 underpinnings would be heavily upgraded for the 2012 replacement. ‘It is the existing 9-3 base, but we are enhancing so many systems that it’s almost a new architecture. It will be the first Saab to get start-stop, for instance.’

BMW will provide the 1.6 petrol turbo for the new 9-3. As well as being built in Sweden, Saab hopes to build the next 9-3 in China.