New photos show us the Saab 9-3 that might have been

Many car enthusiasts were sad when Saab went out of business but, as Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and James May noted, no one was really sure why. The Swedish company’s offerings were always different, but only rarely good. Now, we do have a concrete reason to miss Saab: the stillborn 9-3.

These photos, published on fan site SaabsUnited, are the outside world’s first good look at the car that was supposed to pull Saab out of its nosedive. The photos were reportedly part of a presentation to potential buyers Pang Da and Youngman.

They show a car that would have looked good in showrooms today. There are a few cues from the last 9-5, including the grille and headlights. However, the 9-3 has a few more dramatic elements, including wraparound taillights and a hatchback profile that recalls the cult classic 99 and 900.

The 9-3 would have reportedly been powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine from BMW, with a possible all-wheel drive hybrid version including a rear-mounted electric motor.

A few low-resolution images of this car were released in February; at the time the car was identified as the Saab 900. The 9-3 designation seems more appropriate, since the unbuilt car isn’t a carbon copy of that iconic Saab.

It’s a new design that nods to the past, which would have helped Saab rebuild its brand identity after years under the heel of General Motors.

After being spun off by GM in the wake of the American giant’s bankruptcy, Saab was acquired by Dutch boutique carmaker Spyker in 2010. It launched the GM-based 9-5 sedan and 9-4x crossover, but both cars were sales flops and the company went bankrupt in December 2011.

Spyker wanted to sell Saab to Chinese investors (hence the alluring presentation photos) but GM blocked that move, afraid that Chinese competitors would get access to its designs.

Instead, Saab went the way of AMC and its remains were picked up by a Chinese-Japanese consortium calling itself National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS). Last fall, the company announced a “new” electric car based on the decade-old platform of the 2011 9-3, which was supposed to be replaced by the car in these photos.

Faced with that prospect, and this glimpse at what Saab was planning before its death, it’s hard to view this situation as anything but tragic.