Home » Sporty And Cheap European Four-Doors: 2009 Saab 9-3 2.0T XWD vs 2002 BMW 525iT

Sporty And Cheap European Four-Doors: 2009 Saab 9-3 2.0T XWD vs 2002 BMW 525iT

9 3 Vs 525it

Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown, where we contemplate vehicles that might result in serious financial harm. By the time you read this, the world outside my window will, at the very least, start to be blanketed in several inches of fluffy white bullshit. Not exactly ideal, but I’ll still take it over living in Vancouver. Anyway, it’s time to gear up for snow and not say ‘shenanigans’ as we go window shopping for questionable used cars in America’s snowiest state – Vermont. But first, let’s take a look at how our dueling fun economy cars got on.

Cabrio Vs Paseo Final

Ah, that’s not gone well for the Volkswagen. I’ll admit, I could totally see myself in the Cabrio, top-down, bouncing along my merry little way. However, old Toyotas rarely seem to die from anything that isn’t related to rust or suddenly arriving at a standstill, so the Paseo is likely the better daily driver. Anyway, enough with the reasonable cars, let’s get a bit more daring.

2009 Saab 9-3 2.0T XWD – $2,500

9 3 Xwd 1

Engine/drivetrain: Two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic gearbox, all-wheel-drive.

Location: Winooski, Vermont

Odometer reading: 106,284 miles

Runs/drives? Indeed it does.

Vampire Weekend torched a couple of Saabs in the visualizer video for Diane Young, and you might want to do the same to this one if you have to figure out how to source certain replacement parts for this very rare late-model wonder. Still, it might be worth persevering because this is one cool Scandinavian sled. Welcome to the Saab 9-3 2.0T XWD, a quirky Swedish sports sedan with a very unique way of sending power to its rear wheels.

9 3 Xwd 2

Due to friendly relations, Saab got first dibs on Haldex’s Generation IV all-wheel-drive system. However, unlike most Haldex systems, Saab’s XWD could theoretically send 100 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels. It’s a nifty feather in this 9-3’s cap, although this version of XWD doesn’t take the crown due to not having the awesome electronically-controlled rear limited-slip differential found in V6 cars. As for other oily bits, a two-liter turbocharged version of the GM Ecotec four-cylinder engine known as the B207 sends 210 horsepower and 219 lb.-ft. of torque through a six-speed automatic gearbox. Not the most gripping powertrain in the world, but certainly far from the most boring one either.

9 3 Xwd 3

On the outside, the facelifted second-generation 9-3 is as cool and refined as a zinc bar top. Well, it normally does, this one’s looking like it’s been picking its own scabs. The quarter panels are what Jif would call extra crunchy and the front subframe isn’t entirely there anymore. Make no mistake, this thing will need a lot of work to make whole again, as is often the case for cars from New England. However, used front subframes don’t appear to be hideously expensive, so it likely won’t take a ton of money to get this thing on the road again if you’re handy with a wrench.

9 3 Xwd 4

Moving to the inside, there are a few tears in the driver’s seat, but otherwise it’s all business. You can flip most of the instrument lights off with a button marked ‘NIGHTPANEL’ and pretend you’re soaring through the clouds, looking for a place to land. Plus, this generation of 9-3 has one of the most incredible cupholders known to humankind, a dramatic butterfly knife of a beverage receptacle that’s slightly rubbish at holding smaller drinks but brilliant theater. Exceedingly odd, but righteously Saab in a lovable way.

2002 BMW 525iT – $1,950

525it 1

Engine/drivetrain: 2.5-liter six-cylinder engine, five-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel-drive.

Location: Woodstock, Vermont

Odometer reading: 195,952 miles

Runs/drives? Absolutely.

Given the state of that Saab, a suitable challenger needs to strike proper fear into the hearts of car enthusiasts. How about an old BMW featuring significant use of the handyman’s secret weapon? The venerable E39 Touring is a car found in our staff fleet, although I presume Mercedes’ example is in slightly better shape than this one. Still, if you want a big, comfortable, reasonably fun wagon, an E39 Touring is hard to beat.

525it 3

This particular example is a 525iT, which means that it packs BMW’s M54B25 2.5-liter inline-six. It’s not exactly the most powerful engine in the E39 stable, but this 192-horsepower, 181 lb.-ft. aluminum brick of creamy smoothness will certainly get you where you need to go. This one’s got a check engine light attached to it, but that’s almost the nature of old European cars. Power goes through a five-speed automatic gearbox to the rear wheels only, so winter powerslides are virtually assured. This 525iT even comes with a Bentley manual, which means that someone absolutely adored it.

525it 2

Unfortunately, that person didn’t quite adore it enough to tackle the typical tailgate rot in a proper manner. Instead of fixing things the right way, someone’s plastered duct tape all across the are underneath the rear window. Lord knows how much of a water trap that’s been. Still, the silver paint shines like a torch and the basketweave alloy wheels are still absolutely lovely. Oh, and this particular wagon is a very rare slicktop, which means that sunroof leaks simply can’t exist.

525it 4

On the inside, there’s the delightful surprise of beige leather upholstery that makes the cabin feel a damn sight airier than corporate black. While no view of the driver’s outer bolster is included in the ad, the leather we can see looks nearly showroom fresh. It’s the hide of a beast, keep it maintained and it’ll last. In the dashboard sits BMW’s Business cassette player, a head unit with an amusingly dry name. Imagine someone telling you that they listen to business, it’d make your eyeballs roll back so far into your head that your optic nerves would detach.

So there we are, two extremely New England cars for your consideration. One’s very rare but looks like it’s contracted a flesh-eating disease, the other is extremely practical but also a BMW with nearly 200,000 miles on the clock. As ever, choose wisely.

(Photo credits: Craigslist sellers)

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46 Responses

  1. This was my car back in 2018! She was mint and pristine, but I needed something less costly to keep up with. This car was in the showtime series “Escape at Dannemora” seen in the show’s trailer. It was my pride and joy, and kept me safe driving during winter storms! 3/10 recommend

  2. This was my car back in 2018! She was mint and pristine, but I needed something less costly to keep up with. This car was in the showtime series “Escape at Dannemora” seen in the show’s trailer. It was my pride and joy, and kept me safe driving during winter storms. ????

  3. SAAB!!! I actually came across this article while saabing the web for the availability of a saabframe for that exact car listed on craigslist before contacting the owner. I repeatedly lurked that craigslist ad and made multiple attempts to locate a saabframe, but I always run out of time due to saabody else needing to use the toilet, and that’s the only time I’m allowed to saab for saab parts. Anyway, nopony has a frame that I could find any quicker than I found this article, if that’s any indication…. I’ll check occasionally until the ad goes away.

  4. Dang. Twice within a week or so I’ve voted for a BMW.

    BUT.

    This one is a wagon with an inline 6 and rear wheel drive, plus it’s up against a car with a very concerning level of rust. Plus they are both autos and I would prefer to have an automatic wagon since it would likely serve the role of a cushy daily for me.

    But if that Saab lacked rust, I would vote twice for it because I REALLY like it otherwise.

  5. i voted saab. an old friend had a similar choice for his beach car last spring. the roof of his sebring convertible failed in the down position so he left it outside for the winter – oddly, that mitigation failed when winter filled it with water and he had it towed to the junk yard. he told me that story and asked my opinion about candidate replacements: a 93aero v bmw 3-series. my counsel was to avoid the bmw unless it had a factory warrantee, which it did not. he accepted my advice knowing i am a bmw motorcycle/motorad owner/enthusiast/evangelist and got the saab which had, and has, zero issues he’s very happy with it. not exactly applicable to this showdown, but that’s why i voted the way i did.

  6. As a person who spent time living in Vermont, shout out to the Brattleboro Reformer, the walk of the heiffers, Bellows Falls where i lived, and all my buddies up at Mt. SNOW. Yeah rust is like aging, once it starts there is no stopping it. But even though I voted BMW, people complain when cars arent cleaned up for an ad how hard is it to blow off leaves? I question whether it runs and drives reliably.

  7. That generation of Saab 9-3 gets a lot of hate, but as someone who’s owned 2 and helped look after 2 others for family members, they’re very good cars. The 2.0T is the engine to get if you do your own work, and it makes for a lighter, more tossable feeling car. From what I’ve seen, they’re pretty rust resistant overall too, but the rear quarters there can get a little crusty and apparently the subframes can rust as this ones has (although I personally never saw that particular flaw). The gen IV Haldex system had some teething problems with seals, but like most of the mechanical bits on these Saabs, they share a lot with other GM cars. Even the electrical system on the 07+ models is more standard, unlike the fiber-optic system used on the earlier models. Mine were overall quite cheap to keep running, and took to HPDEs & ice racing better than you’d think (although HPDEs do a number on the brakes and front suspension bushings).

    I like the E39 Touring, but considering both of these are automatics and would fill the lux-commuter role, I’ll take the newer Saab in this bout.

  8. I’ve always loved this generation or 9-3. But with that suspension and rear quarter panel rot, it’s at the end of the road. The E39 just needs a new tailgate from the scrapyard. The rest of the E39 body is famously rust resistant.

    When I came home for thanksgiving I saw my ‘97 540i 6MT that I sold to a friend. It looks just as clean as every in that same silver paint, despite 25 years of outside parking in the Midwest. Longevity is in the BMWs favor

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