Volvo S60 2.0T, Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan 2.0t with Hirsch tuned Review
Swede toppings

Story by Mark Yeo Photos by Raymond Lai
4 Jun 2011

The ageing Saab 9-3 gets boosted up thanks to a dealer fitted Hirsch performance kit but is it enough to surpass its much newer competitor from Sweden, the Volvo S60?

Introduction, styling

The two big Swedish car manufacturers, Saab and Volvo have not had good times in recent years thanks to the troubles faced by their previous American parent companies, GM for Saab and in the case of Volvo, Ford. During the peak of the financial crisis, GM and Ford were desperately trying to flog off loss making Saab and Volvo respectively in order to cut their losses and in turn boost up their finances.

Although both Saab and Volvo were sold off successfully by their American owners, they ended up having different paths to recovery. Volvo's sale to Chinese car maker Geely was undoubtedly the more successful of the two sales and hence the brand's transition in ownership. Volvo is now back on track thanks to the successful introduction of new models like the S60 as well as financial stability from Geely. Saab's last ditch sale to Spyker a year back promised the future of the brand which was on the verge of introducing their first new model in years with the new 9-5 but Spyker themselves were not in the best financial health and true enough, Saab's troubles resurfaced again recently when it didn't have the money to pay its part suppliers and hence its production has been affected ever since. With Spyker now running out of money to get Saab out of trouble, the Swedish brand was in search of a new financial partner once again.

Taking a leaf out of Volvo's book, Saab looked to China for financial backing and thanks to a Memorandum of Understanding signed with Pang Da Automobile, the factory in Sweden has restarted production to churn out 9-3 and 9-5 models once again.

Saab's ageing line-up is proof that the brand has been lacking the finances in recent years to develop and introduce new models to the market. Hence, Saab models generally have long product cycles. The first generation 9-5 for example soldiered on for 13 years before its successor was finally introduced earlier this year. The 9-3 seems to be following this trend too. It has been updated and refreshed coutless of times since its introduction in 2002, with the last facelift performed in 2007.

Four years on and there's still no sign of a new generation 9-3 yet and so local Saab distributor Trans Eurokars have decided to introduce a special edition 9-3 for Singapore to revive interest in the ageing model in the form of a Hirsch tuned 9-3 2.0t. This is not the first time Trans Eurokars have introduced a special 9-3 model with a factory approved tuning kit - Saab afficianados will remember the 9-3 Troll from some years back.

The big question here is - can the specially tuned 9-3 finally fight on level ground with its closest Swedish competitor, the much newer Volvo S60 that enter its second incarnation just last year? Well, let's find out then!

The second generation S60 might not look as revolutionary as its predecessor when the latter was first introduced in the early 2000s. The S60 stays true to Volvo's contemporary design themes thanks to traditional Volvo styling details like the egg crate inserts on the radiator grille and the sizable shoulders along the flanks but with an extra twist - a particular unique styling feature of the new car is its coupe-like profile that is further accentuated by the elegantly sloping C-pillar, steeply raked rear windscreen and the relatively short rear deck. Volvo describes the styling as a coupe with four doors and they are certainly not far off in their definition. Unlike many other cars that were derived from a concept model out there, the S60's styling stays true to the Concept S60 design study that first appeared in Detroit way back in January 2009.

Next to the S60, the 9-3 looks very long in the tooth indeed. During its last facelift, the 9-3 adopted styling themes from the beautiful Aero X concept. While the updated car retained the familiar silhouette, up to 70 percent of external body parts were all new with the update. This included everything in front of the A-pillar, tail lamps, rear bumper and so on. With its new face, clamshell bonnet and tail end design, the 9-3 looked far more distinctive than previously back then but put it next to the S60 today and the basic styling starts to show its obvious age. The Hirsch car has no distinguishing features from any other base model 2.0t 9-3 saloon models bar the racy stripe in the colours of the Swedish flag on the car here.

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