GM has helped make some changes.... I believe the difference you are noticing is not in the transmission, but in the T-7 control module. Saab has made some major modifications since the T-5 (what you had in your 1999 9-3). If you will notice, the fuel economy has come up about four to five miles per gallon on the highway and two or three in the city. Tires are the second modification made (relates directly to the noise). Saab went from 205/50R16's (9-3 SE) to 205/55R16's. These tires are not as performance oriented as the others (due to the increase in height of the sidewall), but this was done to remedy the issue with bending rims. Since the rims can handle both the 55 and 50 profiles, you can change the tires back....
You could be right about the T-7 vs T-5 control module, but whether control module or gear ratios the result is the same.. less fun. On the tire size, my 99 was the base model so only had 195/?R15's (Michelin). My 2002 is both significantly more quiet, and handles better than the 1999. Haven't noticed much difference in fuel economy, but then I have less than 1000 miles, should improve as the car gets broken in.
Question: Have noticed what looks like splattered carbon deposits on the garage floor below the tail pipe. Cleaned it up once thinking it might be a one time thing, but now its back. A cone shaped pattern about 24 inches long and 12 inches at its widest point. Any ideas?
Sounds like when you are starting the car, soot is being shot out of the tailpipe. This happens to me as well...
I believe the 9-3 has definitely improved since 1999. I am not sure about the shift patterns, as I now have a 5 speed. BUT, I have driven a few automatic loaner 9-3's and they seem to just as "fun" if not more so because of the increase hp. I guess it is personal preference. I am not sure how you drive....
So, are you ready for the new 9-3??? Horsepower is supposed to be up and there is a possibility of a six speed manual!
There is an article about the new 9-3 sedan at http://www.autoweek.com
It's two inches wider and has two more inches of wheelbase.
"A convertible will follow in 2003, with two hatchback- like variants including the all-wheel-drive 9-3X after that." What are hatchback-like variants - one may be a station wagon, but what about the other?
If you care what Consumer Reports shows, they say a 1999 9-3 should have average reliability. The engine and transmission get high marks; the biggest problems seem to lie in the body hardware and integrity and with the power equipment. Run a Carfax report and get it checked out. Good luck!