Every time I go to start Saab's 9-3 SportCombi, I wind up putting the key in the wrong place. I sit there for a few confused, fumbling moments wondering where the hell I am. And then I notice the brilliant yet simple instrumentation and the unique retractable cupholder. Seated within the stylish "Swedish Modern" leather-clad seats, the entire control panel is angled around the driver, aircraft-style. And then it hits me like an aquavit tidal wave: You're in a Saab, dummy. The key is in the center next to the parking brake, right where it should be.
If you've owned a Saab before, you are in for few surprises with the SportCombi. Everything is right where it should be. Saab tends to retain its designs, rather than rush into the next big thing. In this case, that's a good thing. The 9-3 was solid at birth, and its sound genetics have aged gracefully.
We often talk about cars in anthropomorphic terms: technical Germans, passionate Italians, and determined Brits. In Saab's case (and like most of the Swedes I know), the terms steady and solid come to mind. From the moment we took the keys from J.W. Vester, Saab's answer man, the 9-3 SportCombi has left a unified impression of solidity on its drivers. You just know you're going to get there quickly and safely. Occasionally, we find ourselves wishing our destinations were further away, just to spend more time in it. Passengers tend to relax in the SportCombi the same way they do when seated in a private jet. I suppose this is a Saabism, one of those unique traits that makes a Saab a Saab. And trust me, this car is full of Saabisms, a few kind of strange but all serving to make this car a singular experience.
That we love wagons is a well-known fact. Europeans share our enthusiasm, too, where wagon variants typically out-sell their sedan counterparts 3:1. Owning a sport wagon in Europe denotes an active lifestyle, and people use their cars, accordingly. We intend to use the SportCombi to full effect. Art Director Platt has already ordered a roof rack to fit his 10-foot Bruce Jones surfboard, while Hallstrom has his eyes on a pet partition for his 80-pound Labrador. Personally, I have 300 pounds of bathroom tile waiting to be picked up. So far, the SportCombi has been relegated to high-speed cruising duties, a job you'd think it was born to do. Its pronounced aerodynamics make the Saab behave like a cruise missile, and it seems to relish autobahn duty. At 85 mph, the tach barely tickles 2000 rpm, and wind noise is negligible. The 250-bhp turbocharged V6 produces gobs of low-end torque, and it's a good idea to have a solid grip on the steering wheel before launch (yeah, there's some torque-steer). So far, we've left a good 50 feet of rubber on the local freeway onramp.
The Saab 9-3 SportCombi has proven to be a talented steed, both fast and fun to drive. Moreover, the Aero package represents a great value, given its luxury trim level. Standard features are impressive, including leather seats, 17-inch wheels, sport suspension, xenon headlamps, stability control, dual climate control, 300-watt AM/FM stereo/CD player, sport steering wheel with electronic controls, and car alarm. Show me another Euro under $40K with this many options and I'll eat an entire jar of lutefisk.
We've got a year with the SportCombi, and it's off to a solid start. The entire ec crew is happy to have a proper Swede in its stable.
2006 Saab 9-3 Aero Sportcombi
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
2.8-liter V6, dohc, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged,and intercooled
Saab Sentronic six-speed automatic
Peak power: 250 bhp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
Top Speed: 149 mph
0-60 mph: 7.3 sec
Price as equipped: $39,260
Includes: Sentronic automatic transmission, heated sport seats, Navigation, touring package-electronic memory seats, moonroof, rear park assist, rain-sensing wipers, integrated Homelink, MP3 connection.
This is the first Saab I've really driven extensively in the last couple years. I have to say I'm impressed. Considering what you get for the money you spend, the 9-3 SportCombi-or any 9-3 for that matter-is a hell of a good buy. The list of standard equipment is long. Other cars of European ilk may start at a similar price point of around $33,000, but by the time you deck them out with the equipment you want, like a sport-tuned suspension, leather interior, and xenon headlamps (all standard on our Saab 9-3), the closing price skyrockets closer to $40K.
On the road, the car is fast, comfortable and gets pretty good fuel economy. Even so, it still has a few quirks. The throttle response seems a little lazy when you get hard into it, and with this much power going through the front wheels, torque steer could become an issue. The steering wheel is great, ergonomically sculpted, and comfortable to use, with sport paddle shifters for the automatic tranny mounted thereon. It is a sport auto, not a sequential manual like DSG, but it gets the job done reasonably well.
One thing this SportCombi's got that we don't have among our long-termers is the hatchback and extra storage space. Photographers Hallstrom and Simpson were particularly excited about shooting out the back, and homeowners like Bidrawn and Platt seemed to appreciate it, too, rubbing their hands together and mumbling excitedly under their breath about hauling fertilizer, bathroom tile, and so on.
All things considered, this 9-3 SportCombi makes a nice addition to the fleet, and we're grateful to have it.-Karl Funke
Here is room for a group of friends, with cubbyholes and sleek metro styling-all the while keeping me out of a minivan or SUV. I love wagons! This wagon, I'm sorry, I mean SportCombi, was a much-needed redesign from the 9-5 SportCombi. The new upward-raked look to the rear and the narrow, connected windows in the back make it look sportier than other wagons. Of course, it is sporty, with a turbo that delivers impressive performance, lagging only a bit at low rpm. Though even with a lower sport-tuned chassis on the Aero version, the suspension still weeble-wobbles. On first impression, the radio controls are said to be too complicated, but I'm warming up to the jet-fighter, control-panel feel of the dash. For everything that comes with this car, the price is outstanding, and true to Saab's distinctive form, it stands out in the IKEA parking lot. Oh, and dig that crazy cupholder.-Amanda Savercool
This is the sport wagon for me. Unlike the 9-2X, the 9-3 SportCombi is predominantly Saab, and as such, it appeals to the hatchback Saab loyalists, something the company has needed desperately for some time. The wagon provides a true Saab driving experience, which is hugely important for those new to the brand. The last thing you want to do is fool buyers into thinking they are getting something they are clearly not.
Thankfully, no smoke and mirrors here. What you see is what you get: a reasonably priced, practical sport wagon that's very safe and comfortable and genuinely fun to drive. Its styling is basic, but it's clean and it works. Wholly functional, the interior layout is also simple and straightforward. Opt for the Aero package. For a small premium, you get a ballsy turbocharged V6 engine with a six-speed manual, as well as sporty 17-inch wheels and all-season performance rubber, among other well-rounded sport and luxury features. -Robert Hallstrom