The 9-3 performed better than the model it replaced, the 900, that was previously tested by Euro NCAP. But the 9-3's frontal-impact performance was disappointing. The driver's and passenger suffered high chest loads and the passenger cell started to fail along the roof and upper door load paths. The knee-impact areas were very stiff because the knee bolster has been designed to cope with unbelted occupants. The good news, though, is that the child restraints were the best-performing that Euro NCAP has seen. They lost no points in the tests. Similarly, the side impact-performance could not be faulted.
The restraint systems put too much load on to the occupants' chests, producing a high risk of severe injury. The displacement of the steering wheel made matters worse for the driver. There is a two-stage knee bolster. The first is designed to safeguard belted drivers; the second should prevent forward movement of an unbelted driver. However, in tests using belted dummies, this proved unforgiving. This bolster is fitted for compliance with US law but in the EU belts are required to be worn.
The seat-mounted head and thorax airbag worked very well and there was no loss of points whatsoever. The pole test showed that the head protection device provided a cushion between the head and pole, so making a severe accident survivable.
The child restraints were Saab branded and rear-facing. These used the adult belts for fixing but there were also tethers that attached the rear of the seats to the front seat runners. The protection afforded was excellent and the children's heads were not exposed during the impact. A criticism was that a label on the child restraint warning of the dangers of installing the restraint on the front passenger seat when an airbag is fitted was starting to peel off.
Unfortunately, pedestrian protection on this car was all but non-existent: only two child head protection sites scored points.