2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi Vector Wagon review
Swedish looks with awesome performance…
Looks brilliant, Swedish practicality.
Interior looks a little dated, a tad too expensive, evident torque-steer when pushed.
– 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged