Guide to tuning your Saab 9-3

"Thank you for reading this Saab 9-3 tuning guide."

9-3 Tuning

The 2.3 HOT, or High Output Turbo is a stunning engine.

Power starts at 230bhp and this can be lifted to around 290bhp with the mods outlined below.

A note on the 3.0t V6 engine (pre 2001 is the one to go for) after 2001 the 3.0t v6 was noticeably slower and less economical!

It is not easy locating performance parts or tunes or remaps for the 3.0t so it is not ideal for a tuning project.

Many 9-3 owners uprate the handling of their cars as a priority, this will certainly increase your enjoyment of the car. We suggest that you fit uprated suspension and lower the car by 30-35mm. Larger drops require arch work - especially on models already equipped with sports suspension.

Our aim in 9-3 engine tuning should be to increase peak power and Torque at the top end.

Tuning tips and articles

Engine tuning Transmission tuning Care care Intake & exhaust mods Improve handling Forums


Following our tips for tuning your 9-3 you will end up with a practical scorching hatch that will embarrass bigger cars.

Smaller engines do not provide much of a return in terms of power so start with a bigger engine. Engine swaps are a good option if you have a small engine size.

SAAB 9-3 Tuning modifications.

This will help to ensure you retain some economy low down.

This list of the stages and tuning modifications are usually fitted by our members, decide how far you wish to go in your tuning project before you start.

Getting the right performance upgrade kits for your planned usage of the car is a time and money saver. Stage 3 motor sport parts just don't work well on the road and will make the car undrivable.

Please watch our video which covers the 5 principles of tuning your car. Be sure to keep up with our latest YouTube content and subscribe.

Best Engine Mods for your car

  1. Engine Tunes - engine tuning/remapping provides the most advantage in terms of cost savings,  aftermarket ECUs, and piggyback ECUs are all alternatives.
  2. Fast road cams are one of the most significant mechanical changes, but they must be installed by someone who knows what they're doing and they are not always easy to source but you might find a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft.
  3. Intake and Exhaust - Note that on their own these mods will NOT ADD POWER in most cases, but they can help enhance power after other mods by removing the restriction.
  4. Upgrades to turbochargers and superchargers - forced induction is the most efficient approach to increase air supply, allowing you to burn more fuel and make more power. It is one of the most costly upgrades but provides the best gains.
  5. Head work - The goals of porting and flowing the head are to get air flowing into the engine while removing flow restrictions and turbulence.

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Suspension upgrade (drop 29mm - 38 mm.), Sports exhaust, Engine Tunes/Remapping, Panel air filter, Lighter flywheel, Alloy wheels.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: Ported and polished head, fuel pump upgrades, high flow fuel injector, Fast road cam, Power/Sport clutch.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Adding or upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Competition cam, Engine balancing, Internal engine upgrades (pistons/head/valves), Sports gearbox.

Your targets when modding the engine should be a flat and wide torque output. You don't want all the torque to be at the top end of the rev range unless you are creating a motor sport car.

In this article we shall give a brief overview to the best modifications for your car, but we'd encourage you to spend some time on the site looking into the details of each type of performance modification.One of the most cost effective mechanical uprated modifications you can do to your NA (naturally aspirated) engine is to fit a fast road camshaft .

It improves the intake and exhaust flow and pushes up the power if done right. Ideally you'd add other mods and finish up with a remap. We'd also caution you not to go with a motor sports profile cam as this upsets the engines idling and general town driving characteristics.

You will need to ensure that the engine is not starved of fuel so will need to pay attention to the fuelling.

Most power losses, and erratic idling after modified mods are done can usually be traced to timing or fuelling issues. To get sufficient fuel you may need to improve the injectors on your engine.

Uprate the fuel pump to cope with the extra fuel requirements of your tuned 9-3's uprated injectors.

Fast road cams offer one of the biggest performance gains as far as a bolt on part goes. When pushing up the power you will need to pay attention to the fuelling. More power needs more fuel. A fuel pressure boost valve will make the car more responsive and respond better. To get sufficient fuel you may need to uprate the injectors on your engine. Uprate the fuel pump to cope with the extra fuel requirements of your tuned 9-3.

The turbo Saab engines respond well to an aftermarket intercooler and a tune/remap which pushes power from 150bhp to around the 225bhp mark on standard engine internals with little or no reliability issues. We cover engine tuning/remapping a little further down the page.

Handling/Suspension upgrades

Handling modifications are high on most peoples lists for the 9-3.

Good suspension tweaks that dramatically improve handling for the 9-3 include a couple of degrees negative camber and 1-1.5 degrees of toe in or out on the front wheels. Toe in for stability, or Toe out to improve cornering. It would also pay to improve the brakes, by adding larger discs and or higher friction pads..

We would go to a maximum drop of 29mm - 38 mm. on most models. You risk grounding out if you go lower than this.

Turning our attention to the engine we need to get a bit more power out of the top end.

Enjoy your 9-3 to the max with our awesome performance tuning advice - do the right mods in the right order.

The best power gains come from larger engine sizes. The more you start with the bigger the return on investment so engine swaps are good value mods for small engined cars.

SAAB 9-3 Intake and Exhaust.

Now we move on to the intake and exhaust and ensure proper flow through the engine. Maximum power gains come from a full induction kit. On small engines you will actually lose low down power so we suggest you use a panel air filter instead. Do not go with the biggest exhaust you can find - the best for power gains are usually between 1.5 to 2.5 inches.

When you start tuning your 9-3 you will find that the standard clutch starts to complain so get an uprated clutch. NA (naturally aspirated) engines do not achieve big power gains if you tune/remap them but with turbo engines this is another story. A tuned/remapped turbo tuned/remapped turbo will give phenomenal power gain. Adding forced induction will see big power gains but this is usually too expensive to be cost effective. Superchargers are generally easier to add than turbos. Turbos give boost in exponential proportion to increasing engine speed and this can make mapping difficult. The nice steady boost to rpm characteristics of the supercharger make them easier to map. Alternatively you could add water injection to control knock.

The 1.9 TiD offers 150bhp in standard from and this can be tuned/remapped to 190-225bhp. The 2.0 V6 TiD starts at 166bhp and with a tune/remap will produce around 217bhp.

The 2.2TiD offers 120bhp in standard form but a tune/remap can lift this to an impressive 160bhp. One of the best value mods around has to be a tune/remap for a modern diesel. It is worth noting that the recent 52 plate model cannot be tuned/remapped so earlier cars are better.

SAAB 9-3 Wheel modifications.

Alloy wheels will help the brakes cool down and are usually lighter than the steel ones. It is worth noting that although they can look cool on the 9-3 Big alloy wheels will actually decrease your performance.

The larger you go the lower your acceleration will be - this is due to the change in your effective final drive ratio. For this reason we would advise sticking to a maximum wheel size of 18 inches, although we know some of our members have gone larger than this with no problems.

Please join us in our forum to discuss the 9-3 options in more detail with our 9-3 owners. It would also be worth reading our 9-3 tuning articles to get a full grasp of the pros and cons of each type of modification.

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One Response to “Saab 9-3 Tuning”

  1. Aj says:

    I’ve got a saab 9-3, 18 turbo. I would like to fit a bleed valve but unable to find a diagram. Is there anybody that could help me?
    Many thanks in advance.

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