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35 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Within a mile-and-a-half of Abbott Racing's Essex base, I almost bin the R3. I've been driving gingerly as the roads are farm-slimed and I don't know the car, but as I take a fairly modest corner the modified Saab 9-3 runs so far wide that the electronic stability control is triggered, blinking its orange warning light at me from the instrument binnacle.
Much as my pride would like to blame the car for this indiscretion, I simply haven't been paying attention. The mods to this Saab have gifted it with 220bhp at 5500rpm and, more importantly, 229lb ft of torque at 2000rpm and this big ball of energy arrives with so little fuss that it's easy to underestimate the effect it can have on the front end of the car. Especially when the roads are greasy. And 2000rpm is probably what was on the dial when I assumed that a gentle prod of the pedal was going to soothe me cleanly around the corner.
Despite the forces it generates, the R3 is no wild child. Well, provided you remain aware of its potential, that is. Abbott's roots might be in racing (most recently in Saabs, earlier in Fords), but the company understands that what most of its customers want is to whisk around the countryside with a minimum of fuss, but with substantially more urgency than Saab offers as standard. The R3 is intended to be a car in which you can blitz effortlessly down motorways, then occasionally go bonkers just to clear the worries of the world out of your system.
The latest 9-3 has been roundly acclaimed as a neat bit of kit, substantially better than the Swede's previous offering. There's a 210bhp Aero version on the way, but that hasn't hit UK showrooms, yet. In the meantime, Abbott hopes to fill the void.
The R3 is based on the Vector model, whose all-alloy 2-litre turbocharged four cranks out 175bhp and 195lb ft of torque in standard form. Much of the gain in power and torque is down to a brain change for the engine management system (impressively done in-house) although there are also a sports air filter, modifications to the airbox and a freer-flowing rear muffler for the exhaust. Abbott charges £560 for the engine work and £320 for the exhaust; not bad for an extra 35bhp and 34lb ft of torque.

Springs and dampers are swapped for Abbott Racing-developed items and give a 20mm drop in ride height over the standard set-up; brakes and steering are left alone. For this demonstrator, Abbott has added a set of 18in (standard is 16in) Speedline magnesium alloys, but as they contribute, along with the bigger tyres, roughly £2500 to the cost of the conversion, you might want to opt for something easier on the pocket. On the other hand, they do look the biz... Abbott had originally intended to design its own bodykit for the 9-3, but Saab not only got there first, it did so at a price that wasn't worth the bother of trying to compete against.
Prior to almost launching Abbott's pride and joy into the Essex shrubbery, I was taken by just how good the 9-3 R3 looks, hunkered down on its haunches, those big alloys pleasingly squeezing out any surplus space in the arches. As I was to find out later, this car has real street presence, although it has to be said that most of its admirers guessed that it was a BMW; that is, after all, the effect Saab is after.
The 9-3's cabin doesn't quite have the class of German rivals, yet the driving position is excellent, the ergonomics first-rate and the gadget count generous. Grumbles? The diameter of the steering wheel is a tad Merc-like, and it's a shame that the Saab quirk of having to put the gearbox into reverse before you take the key out has gone, but that's all minor stuff.
Flick the key and the R3's fat oval tailpipe starts banging out a hard-edged beat, sort of like a sharp-suited exec subtly revealing he was once a punk. Between about 2000 and 3000rpm this undertone of menace manifests itself as a mildly irritating boom, but after that point, as the turbo tugs on the power curve to raise it swiftly to its 5000rpm peak, the powerplant's tune becomes crisp and exciting yet never intrusive.
The same applies to the way thrust is delivered; you can feel a slight tugging through the wheel at full throttle - though nothing so crass as genuine torque-steer - that gives you a hint of unruliness, but there are no bad manners. Abbott claims a 0-60mph time of 7.2sec, but it's the 50-70mph in fifth figure of 7.4sec that gives a stronger clue where the real strength of the R3's performance lies. Another gauge is to wait until some pesky Lexus IS300 attempts - as assuredly it will - to check the contents of your boot; drop it down to fourth, then wave bye-bye.
Apart from over the worst urban rough stuff, the chassis mods work a treat, making the ride sportingly firm and tidying up the handling. Shame Abbott isn't able to do anything with the steering, which on slippy surfaces doesn't impart enough information for you to press on with confidence.
The R3 conversion doesn't turn the 9-3 into a raging sports car, but that was never the intention. It can be hustled down backroads effectively and with considerable speed, but stashing away long stretches of A-roads with ease and comfort is its forté. The full-house conversion costs £5075, though you'll be pleased to hear both that it can be bought in individual chunks and that Abbott Racing has its own warranty programme. If BMWs bore you and Audis aren't your thing, the R3 is an avenue worth strolling down.

Words/Pictures: Brett Fraser/Brett Fraser

35 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
And more from Auto Express...

We don't tend to feature modified cars as a rule. There are a great deal of cowboys and bodgers out there, and it's all too easy to find a machine which feels fast today but is back in the garage tomorrow with the engine blown.

However, we like the way Abbott has fettled Saabs in the past. The tuning firm used to look after the manufacturer's race teams, and even helped to develop some of its performance road cars. So we were keen to see what it could do with the all-new 9-3.

Saabs have always been the preferred choice of the eccentric, but the 9-3 was a step towards the mainstream as bosses in Sweden sought greater sales success. Nevertheless, swift turbocharged versions of the mid-sized Saab still have a cult following - and the 210bhp flagship 9-3 Aero remains a couple of months away.

Performance car buyers don't like to hang around, though, which is why Abbott Racing introduced this R3 - a tuned version of the 185bhp 9-3 Vector already on sale in the UK.

Thanks to an engine management upgrade, a new air intake system and tuned exhaust, the R3 boasts a useful 220bhp, giving it a 10bhp advantage over the forthcoming Aero. The newcomer's additional 35bhp means there is a usable improvement in performance against the stopwatch.

Sprinting from a standstill to 60mph takes 7.2 seconds - that's 1.3 seconds faster than the standard model. But with 310Nm of torque available from 2,000rpm, the car's mid-range acceleration is even more impressive as the turbo kicks in and keeps on coming to the 6,300rpm red line.

Generally, machines with 200bhp or more going through the front wheels are plagued by torque steer, but Abbott's engineers have kept this to a minimum. It's only when you experiment by switching off the ESP that things can become slightly untidy, with the R3's front end twisting and flinching when the power is applied.

It's not only the electronics which keep the car under control, though - Abbott's sports suspension package also plays its part. Revised dampers and springs mean that the R3 is stiff enough for good cornering and roadholding, while also providing reasonable comfort and refinement when driven on bumpy road surfaces.

Even with our car's optional 18-inch Speedline Corse magnesium wheels, the suspension coped admirably and provided a jar-free ride. The modified geometry beefs up the steering nicely as well, adding greater feel when pushing the Saab through bends. The only complaints we have concern the interior, which hasn't been altered from that of the standard car. Some drivers might find the steering wheel too large, while the plastics on show feel a little on the cheap side.

Which brings us neatly to the cost. Our car's modifications add £4,319 to the £21,316 price of a standard 9-3 Vector - which is the same level as an Audi A4 3.0-litre, but cheaper than a similarly powered BMW 330i. As with all tuning outfits, development never stops, and for fans of performance Saabs there's more good news to come. Because of the firm's link with GM, many of the power boosts used in the 2.2-litre Vauxhall Vectra could be adopted by the 9-3. According to Abbott Racing, this would make it easier to borrow mechanicals and herald a future variant of the R3 offering 260bhp. Gavin Ward
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