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Road Test


Saab 9-3 Linear SportCombi road test

by Stephen Walker

19th November, 2006


Stephen Walker, Managing Editor with the 
2006 Saab 9-3 Linear SportCombi 
Location: Brighton Le Sands NSW 
Click on the image for a larger view

History reveals that over 4 million cars have been manufactured at Saab's plant in Trollhättan, Sweden. But that is in the past. The present time sees Saab slowing expanding their product line-up as they head into the future under pressure to improve their profit performance for their new master, General Motors. Amongst the newer products from Saab is the 9-3 SportCombi.

A wagon by any other name, it joined the successful 9-3 range in Australia earlier this year. The 9-3 range also encompasses the respected sedan and the highly prized convertible in the mid-sized premium car market. The new 9-3 SportCombi competes in a market with plenty of choice on offer. Amongst the better offerings in this arena are the Peugeot 407 Touring and the new Volkswagen Passat wagon. Additionally, Audi offer their A4 Avant and Mercedes-Benz have their C-Class wagon. Others in this market place are Alfa Romeo, who are struggling with their 159 wagon and BMW, with their over-rated 3-series wagons. It is, therefore, easy to see that Saab has chosen a tough market to tackle.

The Saab 9-3 SportCombi looks good, with its stylish wagon exterior. The dark tinted rear windows make a dramatic statement and the clear tail light lens add to the contemporary appeal, whilst the red shade of the test car radiated sportiness and class. Yet, no extravagance is evident in the presence of this particular model. It just presents itself as a modern wagon with a dashing yet restrained appeal.

On the road, the Saab 9-3 SportCombi impressed with its fine handling qualities whilst the steering and braking performed well. But the suspension was always unhappy on rough roads. Bad roads, which are plentiful in New South Wales, do not suit the Saab 9-3 too well. Speed bumps, which are a nuisance to all cars (not to mention drivers), were also unkind to the Saab, just as they are to numerous other cars.

The test car was fitted with the standard 2.0 litre turbocharged and intercooled 4-cylinder petrol (PULP) engine and matched to a 5-speed overdriveless automatic transmission. Like all Saabs, the 9-3 SportCombi is front-wheel drive.

The 1,988 cc engine produces 110 kW of power at 5,500 rpm and provides 240 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm. This means that performance is adequate, rather than outstanding. But, the performance did not disintegrate to the stage of disappointment. However, during our test we did fully load the 9-3 with 5 adults and we filled the luggage compartment with luggage for two folks who have not yet learned that travelling light is a concept well worthy of consideration! The performance, when the car was fully loaded was still enjoyable. The 240 Nm of torque meant tackling hills with 5 adults on board was well within the capacity of the 2-litre engine.

2006 Saab 9-3 Linear SportCombi 
Location: Brighton Le Sands NSW 
Click on the image for a larger view

Although the manual transmission has overdrive, the automatic does not. Amazing in this day when economy controls so much of what the car industry does. However, the 9-3 SportCombi does not suffer too greatly in the economy stakes. The auto wagon has a test figure (from Saab) of 9.2 litres per 100 kms on the combined cycle. No doubt overdrive would improve this figure.

At this point, it needs to be stated that the luggage area of the wagon is deceptive. From the outside, it looks as though there isn't much luggage space. However, we loaded 2 large suitcases, 2 small suitcases and 1 overnight bag into the luggage compartment. With five on-board and the luggage area completely full there was no space left. Yet, all five were able to enjoy the trip from Newcastle to Sydney in the mid-sized Saab.

Perhaps the telling sign in favour of the Saab is the well presented interior. The well laid out interior featuring parchment leather trim (also available in grey) was superbly comfortable and presented the right ambience for this class of car. If any element of the Saab 9-3 requires endless praise it is the interior. Besides the seating, the steering wheel was also impressive with the right sized rim and the quality of the leather wrap. The steering wheel is adjustable for both height and reach, making for a perfect driving position. The front seats are heated when required.

The test car was priced at $45,400 plus options, which were the automatic transmission at $2,100, metallic paint (Chilli Red on this occasion) at $1,200 and the Linear Sport Pack (includes parking assist, 17" alloy wheels (4), sideskirts, fog lights and electric adjustment for the driver's seat) at $4,000, making a total of $52,700 (RRP) for the package as tested.

2006 Saab 9-3 Linear SportCombi 
Location: Brighton Le Sands NSW 
Click on the image for a larger view

Could a Saab be a Saab without a neat and innovative oddity? Of course not! Saab at one time had the ignition located on the floor out of the way of harm. These days, though, the key slots into the centre console. But Saab still has an oddity .... the headlamp switch is reversed, reminding me of the Daewoo way of doing business with car design. Another oddity with the Saab 9-3 SportCombi is that Saab call the entry level variant the 1.8t despite the fact that the engine isn't a 1.8 litre turbo. Very strange and it's one of many things in life which I do not understand.

Having said that, the Saab 9-3 SportCombi is an impressive package, despite its weakness on rough roads, due to the comfortable and stylish interior and the economical nature of the 2-litre turbo engine. But it is a very competitive environment which this model is endeavouring to crack. Choosing the attractive Saab 9-3 SportCombi will be rewarding for many, but equally, it is easy to recognise that others will be heading elsewhere.

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Other Saab content: here.

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