I was meant to go straight out of the Peugeot 307 Touring and straight into an auto 9-3 Saab Aero V6 Sedan. The auto Aero V6 was taken off the press fleet for an un-explained reason (this usually means that one of the journo’s broke it!). So instead, I was put into a 9-3 Linear SportCombi for just over two weeks. I guess you could call it our first ‘long-termer’.
As I placed my bottom inside the car, the first few differences I noted (in comparison to the Aero SportCombi) were the lack of a 6th gear, a missing mono-chrome LCD screen, non colour-coded door handles and a much less meaty engine note. The SportCombi range only has two variants, the Aero and the Linear; the Aero being the top-of-the-line model and the Linear being the base model. They also share significant price differences. The Aero model (the one I had driven two weeks back, with extra options) tipped the scales at just over $80,000, whilst the Linear sits in at around $51,000 (with optional automatic transmission and optional Sport Pack; valued at $2,100 and $4,000 respectively).
For those who can’t be bothered doing the math, that’s a price difference of around $30,000! As much as I loved the Turbo V6 engine featured in the Aero, it sure as heck ain’t worth $30,000 more than the Linear model. The Linear model features a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder engine with a low-pressure turbo attached. This equates to a power output of 110kW at 5500RPM and a 240Nm platter of torque that is laid down between 2000RPM and 3500RPM. This also meant a rather meagre zero-to-one-hundred time of around 11.3 seconds, certainly nothing worth bragging about down at the pub.
The 5-speed automatic transmission was again a total let-down. It was so slow and lifeless and really didn’t inspire the driver in me. The engine also turned out a very wimpy note and sounded very strained at high-revs. The vehicle featured the optional Sport Pack which included: Saab park assist; fog lights; colour matched exterior; 17” alloy wheels and electrically adjustable driver’s seat. The rest of the standard features list included: Electronic Stability Program (ESP); leather seats with seat heaters; single disc CD player; dual-zone climate control; electric windows; cruise control; front seat side airbags; roof rail airbag and roof racks.
Don’t worry though, drop the kids off at the baby sitter’s house and head for the hills, there is still some fun to be had. The Linear SportCombi features a much better feeling steering wheel; it’s no where near as big and hard as the wheel in the Aero model. This means that pushing the nimble wagon through bends is far easier and far more enjoyable. The suspension setup in the Linear is much more adequate and realistic, it has enough firmness for a sporty ride, but it’s not overly firm.
In terms of space, the Linear SportCombi is the exact same as the Aero. They only differ cosmetically on the interior, this means somewhat limited boot space. Luckily, the seats are easy to fold down and a flick of the seat lever adds a boot-load of extra space (quite literally). Once again, the heated seats were a godsend. On several frosty mornings they managed to heat up in no time and offered constant warmth with the availability of three heat settings.
The brakes were quite soft to the touch but managed to pull up the car very quickly when dropped down with force. In fact, the ABS program that the Saab uses is far more severe and extreme than most others I have experienced. The best part is that it still offers control over the vehicle’s direction whilst exerting the maximum braking force. The ESP system also works exceptionally well on both tarmac and gravel.
The sound system was pretty average for a Euro vehicle of this calibre; there were door rattles and the front speakers really didn’t offer much clarity at high volumes. There was also only a single-disc CD player, I would have expected more from a $50,000 vehicle.
One area that Saab really does dominate in is the looks department. I’m yet to find a person that thinks the Saab 9-3 SportCombi doesn’t look good. It uses such modern and sophisticated styling that simply can’t be matched by most of its competitors. Sure, the Volkswagen Passat looks good, but the SportCombi looks better, without question.
Fuel consumption was average, at best. The car really needed to be revved out to get any form of pace on board. This meant the turbo was spooling and this inadvertently lead to higher fuel consumption. The average fuel consumption on test was 11.5L/100KM, which is higher than average for a four-cylinder turbo vehicle.
There’s no denying that the Saab 9-3 Linear SportCombi is one of the better European sport wagons on offer. The engine doesn’t offer enough power for spirited driving and can guzzle through fuel when the revs are high up in the rev range. I’m also still confused why the badge on the rear says ‘1.8t’, when the engine is actually a 2.0-litre turbo, opposed to a 1.8-litre turbo, as suggested by the badge.
In terms of competitors, we are once again focussed on the Volkswagen Passat wagon. The Saab is very well built and feels like it will last for many years, as does the Passat. I guess you really need to weigh up your options and go for whichever vehicle you prefer.
If you’re not in the market for a speedy wagon, the 9-3 Linear SportCombi would certainly be an option. It’s a very stylish and practical vehicle and matches the Volkswagen Passat in terms of features. If you don’t mind the somewhat lack lustre engine performance, the Saab 9-3 Linear SportCombi should be right at the top of your test-drive list.
CarAdvice rating (out of 5):
- by Paul Maric