2009 Saab 9-3 Aero Sportcombi: Scandinavian Manufacturer Stays Strong With Trendy Sport Wagon
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Saab, the Swedish-based division of General Motors might have recently filed for bankruptcy (reorganization) protection, and it might be spun off into its own independent company or be purchased by another group, but it remains a solid manufacturer of well-built automobiles, and indications are that it will be around for a long time. The Saab Aero 9-3 SportCombi is one of those well-built vehicles.
An upscale sport wagon created to recoup lost sales when the 9-3 moved from hatchback to sedan in 2003, the Saab SportCombi 9-3 debuted for the 2006 model year and became instant hit with the performance and style crowd. SportCombi is Saabspeak for sport wagon, and from the moment the driver inserts the key in the center console (not on the dash or near the steering wheel), it can be seen readily that the 9-3 is not the traditional wagon that America grew up with in the 1950s and ’60s. Instead, it is a wagon for the 21st century with hip young buyers as well as young marrieds in mind.
Utilizing design cues from Saab’s Aero X Concept, 9-3 shows off a powerful front end, smooth demeanor, large front grille, smaller side grilles, semi-overwrap-style hood and dual bright-finish tailpipes that herald out “sporty”. Headlights wrap around the sides and the xenon cornering lamps adjust horizontally in conjunction with the vehicle’s steering for greater visibility.
Aggressively platformed on a 105.3-inch wheelbase, the SportCombi measures 183.2 inches in length, 69.4 inches in width and 60.6 inches in height and a curb weight of nearly 3900 lbs.
Assembled in Trollhattan, Sweden, the Saab 9-3 is built largely with German (35 percent) and Swedish (20 percent) parts, but it is powered by an Australian-built 2.8-liter turbocharged V-8 that rumbles out 280 horses. Coupled with a Japanese-manufactured six-speed automatic transmission, the system produces 273 lbs.-ft. of torque in a broad, flat torque curve to ensure good power in all ranges.
Saab’s 9-3 Aero is EPA rated at 15mpg in city driving and 24mpg on the highway, and a full week of testing on snow-encrusted city streets and well-manicured interstates both north and south of the Mason Dixon Line along Pennsylvania and Maryland, demonstrated an average fuel consumption of 22.1 mpg on premium fuel.
Quick and smooth, my test Aero accelerated effortlessly from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds – not bad for a wagon – and cruised down the quarter-mile in 15 seconds flat. My test version was equipped with Saab’s evolutionary XWD cross-wheel-drive system, an, active-on-demand sst-up that is activated only when required, minimizing the impact on fuel economy while giving the car a sure-footed, dynamic feel.
From a driving experience perspective, the ride is perfect for trendy young drivers and solid for the track or autocross, but it is not gentle for the kids and soccer moms. You feel every road nuance inside, and that gives the driver a genuine feel for the road (or track), but it also gives passengers a jostling feel for potholes, macadam imperfections and asphalt irregularities. Front suspension employs MacPherson struts, gas shock absorbers, anti-roll bar, hydroformed sub-frame, while rear suspension is an independent, 4-link with coil springs, gas shock absorbers anti-roll bar, sub-frame and rear-wheel steering system. Along with power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, the 9-3 is largely responsive during quick maneuvers, with a relatively minor amount of yaw for a wagon.
My test vehicle was complimented by a black interior with carbon-fiber interior finish inserts. The 9-3 is roomy, with seating capacity of two up front and three in the second row. Its cabin joins solid Scandinavian fit and finish with modern electronics and comfort accouterments. Standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control with cabin air filter, heated front seats, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather-appointed sport seats with two-tone upholstery, front side window de-misters, rain-sensing windshield wipers, cooled and illuminated glove box, power moonroof, rear park assist and multi-function information center.
Addressing entertainment, Saab has installed the top-of-the-line Bose Centerpoint surround sound system based on the surround decoding technology in Bose home theater systems.
Safety is a Saab watchword and it is proven with its 5-star NHTSA side crash rating and 4-star ratings in front crash and rollover tests. Safety installs include Saab Active Head Restraints in the front seats, pendulum B-pillar side-impact structure, OnStar 8.0, Bluetooth hands-free calling, automatic air bag notification, stolen vehicle location, emergency services, AccidentAssist, roadside assistance and remote door unlock, anti-lock brakes and traction control, Electronic Stability Program, adaptive driver and front passenger air bags, torso side-impact air bags in the front seats, tire pressure monitoring system and headlamps with a delay (“follow-me-home”) feature .
The ’09 Saab 9-3 Aero Sportcombi is priced at $43,165. My test ride was outfitted with a few extras that bumped the price as tested to $46,835. Those add-ons included a navigation system that replaced the standard radio and increased the bottom line by $2145; 18-inch wheels with Michelin MXM4 high-performance tires ($750) and destination charges of $775.
The Saab 9-3, regardless of the automotive climate, is a confident buy.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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