Here’s a photo of a rare 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X. I worked at one of GM’s combination Cadillac-Hummer-Saab dealers when these made landfall in the U.S. in the summer of 2007. It was kind of a big deal, as only 2,000 were built for the whole world — and of that, only 600 had been designated for the states.
Seeing this one took me back to those dealership days. In addition to featuring buildings for each of GM’s premium brands, the campus included a Saturn dealer at one end and a Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealer on the other — plus a used car lot, all owned by the same family. The Saab building sat in between the other two “premium” buildings. I still remember the way the Saab building smelled — different from the Cadillac and Hummer showrooms — as if it were screaming “I’M NOT LIKE THEM! I DON’T BELONG HERE! RESCUE ME BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!” The clientele of the trio was quite diverse; made up of three succinctly unique demographics — one was a bit elderly, the other a bit brash and the third a bit … quirky. These were the Saab people.
Not surprisingly, the Saab products were the most enthusiast-geared out of anything I got to drive regularly, and the Turbo X was top dog — a special edition meant to commemorate 30 years of Saab turbos. It also introduced the brand’s first all-wheel drive system, a Haldex unit which it referred to as “XWD.” Additionally, the Turbo X had unique interior and exterior trim pieces, stiffer springs and shocks, a unique turbo boost gauge, Turbo X-specific gray wheels and increased performance via a 25-horsepower bump to the 9-3’s 2.8L turbo V6, bringing the total output to 280. Buyers had their choice of a manual or a paddle-shifted automatic transmission, but they didn’t have a choice of color — all examples of the Turbo X came in black with gray accents. Altogether, the upgrades made for a decent increase in performance over the more plebeian 9-3 Aero.
I recall anticipating the arrival of the Turbo X at the dealership. As this was a relatively high volume Saab dealer, we received a pretty large allotment. The entire stock was delivered in two truckloads over back-to-back days, both carriers packed exclusively with gleaming black Turbo X models. I doubt there have ever been more in one place, except for at the factory in Trollhattan and then at the port through which they arrived stateside. Of the 600 sold in the U.S., 243 Turbo X units were equipped with a manual transmission, and 122 of the 600 were of the SportCombi (wagon) variety, of which only 39 came with a manual — by far the rarest configuration.
The Turbo X is a rare beast, indeed. For perspective, a comparatively huge 5,000 units of the MKV Volkswagen R32 were imported to the U.S. for the same model year. Given the fate that befell Saab just a few years later, this is quietly one of the most uncommon cars out there — and one of the rarest I’ve ever gotten to drive. So rare that I imagine it will be quite a while before I see another one again. Find a Saab 9-3 for sale
Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for a while, helping Germans design cars for Americans. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.