Born From Jets: The 1999 Saab 9-3 Viggen

The 9-3 Viggen is the underrated, overpowered and charming hatchback released by Saab in 1999. The Viggen is also the daily driver that you never knew you really wanted, but after reading this, you might just want one of these quirky Swedish monsters.

The Viggen is a rare vehicle as well, with an estimated 507 total Lightning Blue Viggens making their way to the US throughout all of the production years. The Viggen was a joint effort between Saab Automobile AB’s Special Vehicle Operations team and TWR (Tom Walkinshaw Racing) in England. Taking a look back at the article I wrote about the Volvo 850R this year, you’ll remember TWR helped in developing the 850R as well.

My friend Jonathan owns the 1999 Saab 9-3 Viggen I had for the day. I had seen this car around the community college that we both attend, but was never able to speak with the owner until I saw him filling it up at the gas station near the college one day. So, I introduced myself and exchanged some contact info and let him know that I would love to review his Viggen. We met up soon after for a photoshoot and so I could get a feel for how it drives.

Powered by a turbocharged 2.3 liter four cylinder with 4 valves per cylinder, the 1999 model year Viggen produced 225 hp and 252 lb-ft torque and a maximum boost pressure of 20psi. The Viggen accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in a modest 6.0 seconds. This car isn’t about a 0 to 60 number though; it’s all about highway pulls. Each gear in the Viggen pulls hard so long as you stay in boost. If you plant the throttle from a dead stop, the front tires will light up in chaos and you are battling the torque steer that these cars are well known for.

The transmission in all Viggens is a 5-speed manual with an open differential, a part which many owners swap for a quaife limited-slip differential. Shifts are short, notchy, and fairly precise. The clutch is somewhat heavy and almost feels like the clutch out of a vehicle that is much older than a 1999 model year. The overall driving experience is almost old-school and antiquated. It features heavy controls and is very driver involving. I like all of this, because it’s something that isn’t available in any new car being sold today. This car feels mechanical and that’s one of the main reasons that I like it.

On the exterior, the Viggen I had for the day was finished in Lightning Blue with gunmetal painted factory 17” alloy wheels. Complementing the stunning blue are bright yellow brake calipers done by the owner. The Viggen has a unique rear spoiler, sideskirts, front bumper, and rear bumper compared to a standard 9-3. As seen in some of the photos, this particular car is missing its passenger side marker on the front end, fog lights, jack point covers on the sideskirts, as well as a fair amount of curb rash on the wheels. With all of that said though, this particular Viggen is a daily driver quality vehicle, exactly how the owner uses it.

On the interior, the Viggen is an interesting but good place to be. The seats are fantastic featuring massive side bolstering and very good thigh bolstering. These seats are very similar to the seats in the 2008 VW R32 I reviewed not long ago, which I loved. The steering wheel has chunky 10 and 2 notches. The dashboard features a speedometer that reads to a tick past 150 mph and a factory boost gauge, which only reads in the colors blue, green and red. The controls in the center of the dash consist of buttons that resemble an attempt at quality considering GM owned Saab at this point in time. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that the interior doesn’t feel like a parts bin GM vehicle. And let’s not forget the typical Saab placement of the ignition right behind the shifter.

The Saab 9-3 Viggen is the underrated, overpowered, and charming hatchback that I personally want. No, it isn’t the best vehicle I’ve ever driven, but it has something about it that I absolutely adore, although I’m not quite sure what it is. Maybe it’s the body style, the rarity, or the animal it is on the road. I’m not sure. What I am sure about is that I want one now. Concluding this article I’ll leave you with this: If you never get behind the wheel of a Viggen in your entire life, believe me when I say: It is the absolute untamed beast that every reviewer of it says it is. And I want one more than I probably should.

Nathan Christian lives in Lee's Summit, MO and enjoys daily driving his Laguna Blue Honda S2000. Check out his Instagram account (@speedenthusiasts) to view more of his work.

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