Some 2.8 Aero insight

Autoweek have either driven the 9-3 Aero 2.8 or do a reasonable job of acting like they’ve driven the 9-3 Aero 2.8. If indeed they have driven the 9-3 Aero 2.8, then they do a lousy job of writing up the car.

I show the article, you decide.

Either way, I really can’t wait for this baby to hit the streets. To those who don’t think Saab is in competition with BMW, maybe this will have you thinking otherwise…

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2006 Saab 9-3 Aero

Core Values: Saab Pumps Up Its 9-3 Aero

MAC MORRISON

Published Date: 5/23/05

2006 SAAB 9-3 AERO
ON SALE: September
BASE PRICE: $34,900 (est.)
POWERTRAIN: 2.8-liter, 250-hp, 258-lb-ft turbocharged V6; fwd, six-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 3465 lbs
0 TO 62 MPH: 6.9 seconds (mfr.)

Neither Saab executives nor devotees have had many reasons to smile lately, but on this day the overtly good-natured Swedes manage to flash their biggest grins and extend the warmest of handshakes to visitors of their Trollhattan factory.

snowrearedit.jpg Click to enlarge.

Of course this is the same plant GM recently announced lost its bid to produce the next all-new 9-3 and its European-market sibling, the Opel Vectra, both due to hit a German assembly line in 2008. That development saw Saab CEO Peter Augustsson resign in March, as GM’s creeping corporate hand and the loss of yet more “Swedishness” pleased the boss about as much as it has longtime Saab drivers.

The smiles and handshakes, then, seem to indicate the executives’ temporary relief more than any genuine contentment. They are about to pull the wraps off the 2006 9-3 Aero, now standard with V6 turbo power. The introduction comes on the heels of the 9-3 SportCombi wagon’s Geneva debut (AW, March 7), and between the 2004 birth of the Subaru-based 9-2X and the arriving-at-dealers-any-day-now TrailBlazer-spawned 9-7X. So the execs, by now weary of defending those cars as real Saabs, finally get a chance to talk again about their sweetheart, the 9-3.

Saab’s current 9-3 engine offerings, 175-hp and 210-hp versions of a 2.0-liter turbo four, are smooth and solid performers, fine for boulevardiers shuttling between Saks and Starbucks. But six-cylinder-powered cars lead the entry-luxury segment, and Saab will drop the 175-hp engine for 2006, along with the Linear and Arc model designations. Three years into this 9-3’s life span, public interest is waning; Saab hopes to energize sales, and more importantly, performance, with its V6 turbo, available in the 9-3 Aero sedan and convertible in September and SportCombi in November.

The latest addition to GM’s global V6 engine family, the aluminum 2.8-liter turbo is based upon the normally aspirated V6 of the same displacement introduced on the 2005 Cadillac CTS. To ward off the inevi­table son-of-GM wisecracks, Saab engineers point out they were involved heavily in the engine’s design, with the final year and a half of development taking place in Sweden.

Besides the turbo assembly, the engine features stronger aluminum cylinder heads (with sodium-filled exhaust valves) than does the normally aspirated version, as well as piston-cooling oil squirters, forged crank and connecting rods, unique cam profiles and dual-skin exhaust manifolds. Still, the engine belongs to GM, and at least two of the General’s other divisions have already requested access to it. Don’t hurt your brain as you try to figure out whether this makes GM more Scandinavian or Saab less so.

The V6 makes more of a driver’s car out of the 9-3, pulling much harder and faster than the four-cylinder engines and doing so over a powerband that rivals Kirstie Alley for broadness. The engine delivers its power in a satisfyingly smooth manner, thanks largely to the intercooled Mitsubishi turbo­charger’s “twin scroll” design: The turbo’s architecture separates exhaust gas pulses by way of separate inlet tracts for each cylinder bank; Saab says this improves fuel flow and turbo response.

It works, too, and combined with variable inlet cam phasing provides nary a hint of lag as the throttle opens and the engine builds toward its 250-hp and 258-lb-ft peaks. Maximum torque is on tap from 2000 rpm through 4500, but as torque begins to fade, horsepower continues to build until 5500 rpm. The overall effect is palpable, as the car bolts forward with every touch of the throttle, but it is in the mid-range where the engine shines brightest. So delectable is the passing power that the best bet is to rip right past the java stop and head for the open road.

Other small upgrades—Pirelli PZero Rosso tires, dual exhaust, revised shock valving, uprated anti­- roll bars and quicker steering—contribute to make this Aero the best 9-3 to date. Along with a revised 9-5 arriv­ing in ’06, execs have what they think is an obvious answer the next time someone asks, “What, exactly, defines Saab?”

At least until the Subaru B9 Tribeca-based 9-6X shows up next year, that is.

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