2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi Vector Wagon review

Swedish looks with awesome performance…

Model tested:

  • MY2008 SportCombi Vector Wagon 4dr SA 5sp 2.0T (154kW) – $58,400

Looks brilliant, Swedish practicality.
Interior looks a little dated, a tad too expensive, evident torque-steer when pushed.

CarAdvice rating:

– by Alborz Fallah

I am sitting in my Ikea chair, writing a review on a Swedish car – it’s not everyday I can truthfully write that in a sentence.

I like Saab, in the same way I like Mitsubishi and Mercedes-Benz. They have all had their history in making things that fly, and if you can safely make a few thousand pieces of metal fly through the air at hundreds of kilometres an hour, you can make a car.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

Saab which, coincidently stands for Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget (Swedish Aeroplane Company) still makes planes, but the car division has been completely under General Motors control since 2000, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Next time you are out and about, keep an eye out to see how many new Saab sedans or wagons you can spot, there aren’t that many, so buying one of these will put you in a very exclusive club.

First there is the looks, from the front it’s hard to fault the car, it looks almost identical to the Saab Turbo X and it has just the right amount of aggressiveness without looking over the top. But the rear is a little seen-that-before with its frosted lights.

Drive it around town and people will stare, they are usually trying to work out what kind of car it is – in this day and age, this is a good thing.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

Saab buyers are a unique bunch of people, similar to Jaguar buyers. What Saab really needs is to attract new buyers to the brand. Last year Saab sold 1862 vehicles in Australia, which is not bad, but given its competing with the likes of Volvo, Volkswagen and Audi, it can be a lot better- and has been.

The problem the brand faces isn’t so much the cars, as they are mostly brilliant, but the false stigma that people that drive Saabs are weird.

So it was with great pleasure that I took home a Saab 9-3 SportCombi to see if I too would turn into an 11am chai-latte drinker.

Next page…

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

When I say Swedish, its fair to reiterate that while the company is based in Sweden and that the cars are still built there, the entire 9-3 range is actually based on the GM Vectra platform.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

Don’t be fooled though, DNA can only go so far, as the Saab is the more beautiful and smarter sister. It’s wider and longer too, and makes use of Saab engineered suspension to give it that much needed edge in the European luxury market.

Sitting in the car for the first time, you can instantly tell you’re in a Saab. The interior design might not be the best looking for the price, but every single bit of detail has been thought out and built with practicality in mind.

Take this cup holder for instance, one minute you have an innocent piece of plastic hidden away, then all of sudden, with a press of a button, it turns into a proper cup holder that you want to take home with you – and for me to devote an entire paragraph to a cup holder, it has to be special.

click on image to enlarge

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

Then there is the centre console which is tilted towards the driver – not exactly a new concept, but a very practical one nonetheless.

The leather seats are also designed with comfort in mind. This is the sort of car you can take the whole family from Brisbane to Perth in and it won’t miss a beat.

Next page…

You can buy the SportCombi in 8 different variants (each as manual or auto), my test car was the mid-range SportCombi Vector Wagon which is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine (154kW – 300Nm) coupled to a five-speed automatic gearbox.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

The engine uses 9.6 litre of 95 RON fuel per 100km, meaning that in an average year (20,00km) you will be paying around $3,000 to our beloved oil companies.

Saab says it will go from 0-100km/h in 9 seconds, but despite repeated testing, the worst I could do was 8.1! Perhaps Saab should consider employing new drivers for their 0-100km/h tests.

The power comes on hard, but before it hits boost, there is noticeable turbo-lag, which can be a little disappointing at times. But driving it as a day to day car their is more than enough power to get you going, while overtaking on the highway is a breeze.

If you leave ESP on (as you should), you will never feel any torque-steer or traction loss, however if you’re brave enough to turn it off and attempt to power out of a corner, the front-wheel drive setup will lead to torque steer and the Vectra platform shows its ugly head.

Although the SportCombi range starts at $45,900, the $58,400 test car felt a little over-priced. If you’re not badge-conscious, for the same money you can find yourself in a top of the range All-Wheel-Drive 2.5-litre turbocharged Subaru Liberty GT.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

But despite its minor handling woes, I would still pick the Saab. First there is a sense that everything is put together by master craftsmen, absolutely nothing makes a noise no matter how hard you pull or push it.

Then there is the looks, if you want to be in yet-another-wagon, buy the Liberty, but if you want a little more class and individuality, Saab is the answer.

Next page…

Failing that, there is the built-in Bluetooth voice-recognition system. Now I usually don’t waste time going into the technological features of all the cars I review, but this is worth a mention.

My own car has a retro fitted voice-recognition Bluetooth system which connects automatically to my phone when I sit inside, it cuts the music when someone rings and I can simply yell things at it and it will dial the appropriate person or number (eventually) – not bad for $300.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

The 9-3 test car had a very similar feature built-in, although with one major difference, it actually works! After synchronizing the phone with the car’s on-board computer, I was presented with the best voice-recognition system I’ve ever encountered.

Simply speak the number or say the name of your contact and the car will cut the music and dial away, no need for voice training or any of that rubbish, it just works (some how).

While you’re congratulating the car for being able to understand you better than your wife, you will notice two small steering-wheel mounted buttons to change gears, although a good idea and very well integrated (suited perfectly for your thumb), they are essentially a gimmick. So is the handbrake, which is so well integrated that you will forget where it is.

There is one excruciatingly annoying feature in the 9-3, whenever the car is turned on, the air-conditioning comes on at full blast, regardless of what setting it was set to previously.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

No doubt it’s a feature that can be disabled, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out how and if you have to consult the manual to work out how to use the Air-con, something is not right!

Next page…

Standard features (on Vector spec) include 17-inch alloy-wheels, Bluetooth phone system, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, electric folding mirrors, leather insert trim sport seats, sports leather steering wheel, Automatic Climate Control (ACC), cooled glove box, cruise control, rain sensing wipers and sonar park assist.

Safety is taken care of by ABS, Cornering Brake Control, EBD, front, side and head airbags, mechanical brake assist and Saab active head restraints, all standard.

There is more than enough room in the boot and if you need more, the rear seats will fold down.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

As a whole the 9-3 has one major issue, its just a little too expensive. For $3000 less you can find yourself in a rear-wheel drive BMW 320i wagon and although the Saab has more power, room and finesse, the Beamer does present a viable alternative.

The best thing about today’s luxury market is the power of choice, there is now so much to pick from and Saab is one of the better ones.

Drop into your local Saab dealer and go for a test drive because despite what preconceptions you might have about Saab , the 9-3 SportCombi is the sort of car you can grow to love, while the BMW 320i lacks soul – besides, I’d rather be seen drinking Chai Latte than sporting one of those silly LED-flashing Bluetooth headsets in my ear.

CarAdvice overall rating:
How does it drive:
How does it look:
How does it go:

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi review

Power: 154kW
Torque: 300Nm
Top speed: N/A
Safety: ABS with EBD and Cornering Brake Control – dual front airbags and side and curtain airbags.
0-100km/h: 9 seconds
NCAP rating: N/A
Fuel tank: 58-lires
Fuel consumption : 9.6
Fuel type: 95 RON Petrol

  • Carl

    “The worst he could do was 8.1″ LOL

  • Simon

    Here I was thinking saab has been long forgotten, they never advertise, they are no where to be seen? whats with that?

    I am considering buying a Spec.B liberty in by mid year, but I think i\’ll have to take the authors advice and go see this thing in action.

    How is the warranty? Is saab going to be here to honour their warranty? I don\’t trust these small companies!

  • No Name

    Yeh Carl I had to read it twice. Nice car though but from other tests I’ve read its not in the Audi/Merc/BMW field. Come on GM pull yer finger out and sort the handling.

  • http://www.caradvice.com.au/ alborz

    No Name, you’re right, its not in German territory, mainly because it doesn’t have the badge, most peolpe would rather a BMW badge than a SAAB one for the same price.

    Although you have to remember SAAB give you a whole lot more as standard while the Germans will have u ticking more boxes than a passport application.

  • No Name

    Right there Alborz. Suppose if you want a drivers car then buy the BMW, if you want more buttons to play with and the exclusivity then the Saab your thing. I’ve always admired Saabs but the interiors since GM took over appear to be plasticky.

  • SteveR32

    Simon – Don’t do it…..

    The cars look amazing and may drive well to begin with but they really are sub-standard cars in every way (bar exterior aesthetic treatment).

    My previous car was a 9-3 Vector which I kept for just on three years. Lost 15k on my residual value. (Here’s hoping the R32 will hold up its value a little better!)

    Thats a pretty big hit to take on a car that isn’t all that flash to begin with.

    Go check out www dot saabcentral dot com and take a look at all of the issues owners are having. Not worth it IMO.

  • turbin


    You’re right, the early 9-3s (2003-04) weren’t too crash hot. My 2006 Sportcombi has had a few minor issues and they were fixed no-questions-asked. Otherwise it has been a blast. You say you lost $15k, based on what purchase price. Any residual above 60% is doing OK these days given the bum has fallen out of all used values. But, yes, Saabs don’t do as well as the (soulless) Germans in this regard.

  • SteveR32

    Hi Turbin,

    The 9-3 Vector was my second venture into a lease aggreement. I know lease agreements very well and know my residual values well. Trust me… my residual value would have been a fair value for any other car. I know the used car market died on its ar$e in recent times. But not to the tune of (over) 15k.

    Problem lies in the second hand market. NOBODY wants a 3 year old Saab. That includes wholesalers.

    Another reason for the shocking residual values is the discounting Saab dealerships provide. They aren’t selling all that well at the moment so we are seeing fairly large discounts….especially on demonstrators. Feeding that depreciation even more.

    I sold my car and swore I would NEVER buy a Saab again.

    PS Go to www dot saabcentral dot com

    Plenty of good tips to avoid (ridiculous) repairs. (eg. don’t use cleaning agents on internal linings as they peel…….. yes…peel)

    All the best with your car though mate (serious)

  • SteveR32

    Ps Yes you are right the 03/04 models were not all that flash.

    Mine was a 2005 model. They replaced the first one (2004) for being a lemon. (thats for real too)

    I still had issues with the second one, though not nearly to the same extent as the first. (buttons still peeled, auto tranny wasn’t smooth, sunroof had a mind of its own sometimes etc.

    I know the cars very well as I have been a very active member of that Saab forum. I know the cars have vastly improved. I just don’t beleive they have improved “enough” when compared to other cars out there and felt the need to tell others out there before they potentially went through the same trap I did.

    Again – all the best with yours! :) *fingers crossed for my new one too!* :)


  • http://www.trollhattansaab.net Swade

    Simon, do it.

    i.e. go check it out. Not enough people do. Make up your own mind, but that 2.0T engine is well worth a look, the new look is a killer and whilst some will criticise the handling compared to the lauded BMWs, I guarantee that one run through some twisties would have you hard pressed to believe you’re driving a wagon.

    Just check it out, then buy what you want.

  • Mofo

    dont believe Swade, Simon

    he works at a bloody Saab dealership

  • James F

    Great article (very thorough)..

    Personally, ive never liked the aesthetics of the Saab – in and out.. The exterior is a little like 911 in that over 30 years – its a distinctive look (one which Ive never liked for Saab). I am not a fan of the interior either for this new one.. sorry..

    For me, I would rather buy the Liberty GT as you mention even though Saab technically has the better name.

    I think Saab need to look forward to give us (the driver) more!! my pennys’ worth anyway.

  • James F

    Last post: sorry – didnt finish the sentence with 911… I meant to liken the saab to 911 in that both cars have kept the fundamental shape for 30+ years!! thats all..

  • Duck

    Never knew it was based on the GM Vectra platform, but hey u learn something new everyday!

    It looks terrific on the outside, just wonderful!
    Would be nice if there was more power!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And yes as we all know the dash looks pretty old, takes u back to 1999 or 2000!

  • jaycar

    I nearly baught a Sportcombi. They are a great drive, and it feels very safe, and the features are well above its competitors in the same price range. But the RESALE – if you lease one, you are lucky to get the residual back if you do 20K’s a year. Saw a 2003 model with 115K’s for $18grand. That stopped me signing the contract. And the insurance is at least $500 more, and the service costs are huge compared to an Audi, or Subaru for that matter. They are for the person who doesent mind pouring money down the drain for individuality…

  • SteveR32

    Agree Jaycar.

    Was a very painful 15k mistake.

    Don’t do it guys.

    The R32 was worth it tho! :)

  • Duck

    They just didnt want to show of with there 1-100 times……….thats all!

  • Duck

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^Meant 0-100km/h times

  • Duck

    Should be a six speed auto for the price. You get that in a Holden SS ($46,990) or cheaper Skodas

  • Ethan Silk

    Good review…

    i did drive the 9.3 and the 9.5….

    what a piece of shyte they were…

    tarted up vectra’s!!!!

    over priced and under delivered…

    if there is one thing i can commend them on, it would be their safety record… simply they are one of the most safest cars you can drive, more so than Volvo!

    but seriously i’d rather have a slightly underpowered but ultimately a better put together BMW 3 series than an over priced tarted up vectra!

    i also drove the current 3 series in manual guise and oh my god does it handle and i mean insane driving… the saabs cannot compare… period!

  • Frugal One

    Wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy to expensive, underdone, poor resale, FWD, owned by GM, to many little problems/faults etc etc should i go on?

    Wake me when its back and owned by Swedish hands again



  • Flying High

    The only way to buy a Saab is go and test drive it, listen to the Sales man gaff about what a great car it is – mention you want all the options it can possibly come with watch the sales man smile and then say you will think about it and walk away. Guaranteed the sales man will call you back three times and eventually offer you a ridiculously low price as compared to the first price you were offered.

    If you buy it, then expect to hold on to it till it dies 20 years later, because no one will ever buy it from you.

  • washaero

    Whoever is considering a Saab, I highly endorse the mark. I’ve had four and presently own a ’92 900 Turbo ‘vert and an ’06 9-3 Aero Sportcombi, which has been nearly flawless in my nearly two years with it. Had an ’02 9-5 Aero Sportcombi that was a fine car as well.

    Can’t say that about VWs I’ve owned…will never do that again. VWs continue to have significant quality issues — a well documented fact.

    However, drive a Saab for yourself. Don’t let others influence you — it’s YOUR decision afterall!

  • Ebbot

    I must agree with all of you who recomend a test drive. And dont make it a short one go for a trip an test the car. (You should do this with every car you thinking of buying)

    Complaints aboit this car being a vectra are silly. Most cars today share platform but differ a lot.
    The Saab in my opinion give you a lot. Foolproof handling, acceleration that is better in real world than on paper (se review), quite goog fuel economy and smart engenering that helps your everyday motoring.

    Most importan its the safest carmaker on the market. The 9-3 has superb rating for sedan, combi and vert. No other has that. The 9-5 also have the highest standard and that is achieved with 10 year old construction. BMW are the even close?

    People who test drive – usually buy one…

    says it all

  • Flying High

    I test drove a SAAB 9-3 back in 2004, but I bought a Suby Liberty GT. The Suby was cheaper and a FAR superior vehicle in almost every regard save for the 300 function trip computer you find in the SAAB. No SAAB for me thank goodness, Suby over SAAB anyday.

  • andy

    Hi Guys

    Ive owned a saab before (900 aero). Great car but very expensive to repair. Just test drove the new 9-3 aero wagon on the weekend and am going back next week to look again. Now if your purley a BMW fan then dont read this next part cause it will only upset you. This car made the BMW three series look like a toy. All bmw can say is we have near 50:50 weight dis so it’s a drivers car. But to get a three series thats decent then you will need a second morgage. But the saab actually handled better. Acclerated faster (not 0-100 but from 40-100 my goodness).It really is a personal thing but groing up in FWD cars i just think the RWD’s are a handfull. I have to say this though. A subaru libety better than a 93 taking the price into accouant then i aggree…..But i’m not giving my money to the Japanese until the learn that killing wales whilst lying about it is wrong. Go hunt them just stop bloody lying about it.

  • Duck

    Frugal One, whats wrong with GM?

  • Frugal-One

    2 Things

    1.The VE Comm. ute is not avail. witt a BENCH SEAT

    2.They should NOT own SAAB.

    Thats about it!



  • Stephen

    I’ve got a MY07 93 Vector Sport and love the car!! This is my 4th SAAB, prev one being a 2001 95 Aero (black beast & awesome performance & great stereo. Never had big issues with any of my SAABs. This one will sit on 150km/h, but feels like you are doing 100km/h. How about using 6.7L/100km on the highway @ 120km/h in real life. Not everyone wants a SAAB, and that’s partly why I like the brand. I don’t want a BMW 3 series, or Subaru like everyone else. Also, look how out of date 5yr old Jap cars look. Give me a SAAB anyday.

  • carl

    help my voice recognition wont dial any thing saab 93

  • carl

    keeps saying voice not recognised