War Of The Noses – Saab 9-3 SS

The War continues……

The Saab 96 vote took a predictable course so we don’t really need to give that one more time. To me, at least, this is more of a 50/50 proposition – the Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan.

The 9-3 Sport Sedan came as a crisp looking model in late 2002. It got an exterior facelift in the 2008 model year that saw a much more aggressive face.

Which will you choose?

The early:


Or the late:

2008 Saab 9-3 Aero XWD Sedan


Here’s your poll and as always, have your say in comments…..

[poll id=”19″]

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  1. Not in Aero guise. Deep chin spoiler and aggressive side skirts over 17s make for an entirely different look.

  2. I feel guilty as the original shape sits in my driveway and is very much a favourite car…..but I do love the return to the clamshell hood and the squarer features.

  3. Totally agree Andrew. The earlier Aero nose is stunning ! But anyway, i can’t choose …

  4. Ownership bias might be coming into play here, I am guessing, judging by the results.

    Since I voted against the 9-5 I currently own in favour of a different iteration I can pretend I am not biased in saying the original nose on the 9-3 sports (which I used to own) is a classier proposition than the later one.

    What I do like about the late one is the way the chin and the nose mirror, or ‘talk to’, each other.

    I also think the rest of the redesign, with the lovely clean lines given to the sides and the rear is an improvement on the original. Although the the original was always a great-looking car, especially the combi.

    Plus the later one is mechanically improved, and I like the later dash too.

    So actually, I am at least 2/3 in favour of the later car !!!

    But we are meant to focus specifically on the nose.

    So … for me, sadly, the overall look of the 2008- model is ruined by the strained aggression of it’s nose, or ‘face’.

    I can’t help thinking it’s a look cooked up in a panic-stations Saab/GM board meeting in the mid-2000s after a look at sales figures and projections, leading to a predictable discussion of how to tempt a certain breed of company-car driver away from their Audi A4s and 3-series.

    Answer: give them an alternative automotive corporate-warrior mask to wear while aggressively tailgating other motorists and hogging the outside lane.

    And yet, of course, most folk who drive later 9-3s seem to drive just as courteously and sensibly as you would expect. 🙂 So, not for the first time, GM were trying to appeal to the wrong people.

    At least they didn’t put a big thick piece of bright chrome-look plastic around its eyes.

    Thank God (Sixten Sasen).

  5. I prefer the late nose front. Again it was a tough call — they both just work for each design line. However, the larger nose equals tasteful aggression.

    I love the transition from the horizontal, to a more vertical design. It reminds me of the transition that was made by Walter de Silva when he arrived at Audi, from Alfa Romeo to take over Audi’s designs. Wolfgang Egger, Audi’s latest design chief, has taken their nose to an even more aggressive and more vertical look. As a result of his new design, Audi has trademarked the word “Singleframe” for a car grille.

    In my opinion, Audi now has one of the most beautiful “noses” in the game….and interestingly similar to the earlier SAAB 96’s.

    1. Tasteful aggression is a good point. There has to be a balance. I just think the revised 9-3ss is trying a little too hard to achieve the aggressive look, although again there are aspects of the ‘face’ that I do like.

      You’re right about the Audi designs. Judged in isolation without any baggage, the new Eggers designs in particular are beautifully proportioned, classy designs. I remember the first time I saw one of the new generation ansd thought, ‘yes, very attractive’. It is certainly an aggressive and somewhat imperious design language, but for the most part it’s sophisticated and not vulgar, and is rendered with such confidence and clarity you can’t help but admire the results.

      My problem is that I can’t judge Audis or BMWs just on the design in isolation, because of the way they are often driven in my experience creates a bad impression, an impression that’s confirmed by the infantile way Audis are marketed in the UK, for instance, which encourage the aspiring Audi driver to think of the vehicle as a weapon or some kind of predatory beast with which to hunt and harass other road users. It’s not the designers’ fault, but there it is.

      Perhaps I’m being a bit too philosophical, one hand, and too narrow minded on the other.

      Maybe I just need to buy an Audi and learn to appreciate it for what it is?

      1. That is a very interesting take on Audi drivers in the UK. I love the appearance analogy: “predatory beast” reference!

        1. I shouldn’t make sweeping generalisations, but it can be difficult to avoid when you observe what appears to be a definite pattern of behaviour. The vast majority of folk, who drive within the parameters of normal civilised behaviour, occasionally getting a bit impatient or making mistakes like we all do, are the ones you never pause to reflect on, whether they are driving an Audi, a BMW, a Saab, a Toyota, a van, a truck, a Reliant Robin, a Banana Splits beach buggy, a Monkeemobile, a Sinclair C5, a Panzer, or whatever. Mind you, the level of road rage on UK roads has led me to question what exactly is ‘normal behaviour’ during the Friday-afternoon rush hour. You would have to be certifiably insane to go out on many urban UK roads on a bicycle during that time, that’s for sure. Glad I don’t have to do much driving there any more.

          1. And I always found driving in the UK (home for me) extremely civil in comparison to driving here in Sydney!

            And guess what.. I get to work on my bicycle 3 or 4 times a week, too… I must be UTTERLY insane!!

  6. What I don’t don’t like is the back of the revised 9-3. Those black bands around the rear lights just made it look cheap. I didn’t understand what they were trying to achieve with it.

  7. I have to agree with some comments that the original nose is a little bland. In fact I found the whole 9-3SS to be a bit bland. But that was part and parcel of GM in that era. The updated nose tried to add character to something that didn’t have a lot of character and didn’t quite work. However it was much better than the awful Dame Edna effort on the 9-5. I wonder what NEVs will do with it’s new nose job? But it’s still quite an aging design.

  8. Why no 2012 with the revised lower front? Looks much better than the 2008-11 remodel. I never really warmed up to the droopy lower front and slightly angry face of the 2008-11. Together with the strange looking hood, missing bump strips on the side and ugly clear tail lights, it was a bit of a botched redesign on the cheap.

  9. I think the original design is great, timeless from many angles and just a beautiful organic shape. What I’ve never liked and puts me off buying one a little is the front lights. They don’t wrap around enough and sit too square on the nose, and it’s out of character compared to the og9-3 and the 9-5.

    I also much prefer the clamshell design of the bonnet.

    Other than that, I think removing the mouldings on the doors made a huge difference in bringing it up to date.

    There’s a nice 2009 TTiD Aero wagon on sale now, I’d grab it if I could!

  10. Just looked down through the window to see a very recent silver 9-3 sportcombi gliding past in the sunshine.

    I retract all previous statements: it’s a great-looking car with a handsome face and I want one.

    This whole exercise is a form of mental torture, Swade.

    I don’t know who I am any more 🙂

    Before you know it I’ll be swapping the sensible cords-and-sandals 9-5SE for a Sierra Cosworth with a massive whale-tail spoiler and furry dice, and scorching figure-of-eights into the tarmac in the shopping-centre car park after midnight. Or something.

    Can’t wait to hear the theory…

    Dan P – you sound physically fit and non-risk-averse. Admirable qualities. I also cycle most days of the week now (in a town that is brilliant for cyclists) but I wouldn’t have tried it in the UK cities I used to live in. As regards being civil on UK roads, the vast majority of people are exactly that. You’re quite right.