Saab 9-3 SportCommie Test

The city of San Antonio has a superb NBA basketball team. They’re quite likely to win the NBA title this season for the second year running.

What the city lacks, is an adaptable motoring reporter. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh, but when you spend the first third of your report writing about how station wagons are just station wagons, you’re either missing the point of your assignment or stuck back in the 1980’s (or both).

From My San Antonio:

….And even though these cars really are wagons, there’s still a great reluctance on the part of the automotive marketers to come right out and call them that…..

….At a recent GM media event at a hotel adjacent to the Texas Motor Speedway, the 9-3 SportCombi was presented to journalists, and the name was perhaps the most unusual thing about this car, which by all measures is surely a wagon.

Audio quality of cell phones being what it is at times, I had trouble telling my spouse what exactly it was that I was testing when she called me from San Antonio as I was out driving the 9-3 SportCombi on the roads around the speedway.

“It’s a Saab 9-3 SportCombi,” I said into my new high-tech $450 camera-MP3-TV-Web-enabled Sprint phone.

“A Sport-Commie?” she asked, incredulous. “They would call a car a Commie?”

“No, no, a SportCombi,” I said again into my phone. “C-O-M-B-I.”

“A what?” she replied. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly,” I replied. “It’s a station wagon, OK?”

“Well, why don’t they just call it that?” she asked.

I really had no answer to that, and I still don’t.

Well, it’s called marketing. If you think SportCombi’s a strange name, then consider the writer’s own: G. Chambers Williams III. What is it with this first-name-not-being-used-thing that I see from time to time? Is whatever he’s hiding that starts with a ‘G’ less sensible that ‘Chambers’? Golapogos? Gelatinous? Grill? Gatorade?

I digress.

Once he gets over the name thing, Geronimo Williams III actually likes the SportCombi quite a bit. As well he should.

With its lower weight, the SportCombi has as much zip with its four-cylinder as the Highlander does with its V-6.

The SportCombi seats five people quite comfortably, has a cushy ride and offers decent cargo capacity. But it still handles more like a sports coupe than any SUV or traditional wagon.

The car actually is so much fun that you can easily forget you’re driving a practical vehicle that can haul the kids and their soccer gear all over town.

This is the first Saab in the midsize wagon segment, and it follows Saab’s introduction for 1999 of the larger 9-5 Sport Wagon, which was the first wagon in the Saab lineup in 25 years.

Standard in the base model is a five-speed manual transmission, which driving enthusiasts will prefer in this car.

But for those who have to deal with rush-hour stop-and-go traffic, Saab has provided an optional five-speed automatic ($1,350) to go with the 2.0-liter engine.

Those who want more performance can upgrade to the Aero model ($33,620, including freight). It comes with a turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 engine rated at 250 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque, enough power to push this vehicle along like a sports car.

Standard with the Aero is a six-speed manual, which makes this car a lot of fun.

I predict the San Antonio Spurs will beat the Detroit Pistons in a repeat of last year’s NBA finals. But this time in 6 games.

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  1. This is the same kind of nonsense that caused auto manufacturer marketing departments to call hatchbacks “3-door” or “5-door” (I hate that. A “door” is a portal for human entry in and out of a car, IMO). I heard somewhere that the word “hatchback” got such a negative connotation in the United States in the 1970’s when Detroit was putting out sub-par quality hatchback economy cars. Now supposedly when Americans hear the word “hatchback” they think of subpar quality small cars.

    About the “wagon” monniker I think it’s very much the same thing. When Americans think of the word “wagon” they think of the old family truckster with “woody” adhesive applique on the side (see National Lampoon’s Vacation for a good, but rather exaggerated example). This has led manufacturers to call what’s quite OBVIOUSLY a wagon anything from “Avant” to “Combi”. Sometimes they feel the need to accentuate the name by adding the preface “Sport”. You’re not just driving a Combi. You’re driving a SPORT Combi. That makes you even LESS of a soccer mom (here in the States a “soccer mom” is pretty much a derrogatory remark).

    In a way I agree with the reviewer. Just call the thing a 9-3 wagon and be done with it. But I guess then sales would suffer…

  2. … needless to say that in Germany all wagons are called “Kombi” which means “Kombinationskraftwagen”. So hell, “why don’t they just call it that?” in all other countrys? πŸ™‚

    Greetings, Martin

  3. Saab has used the “combi” name before ala the 99 Combicoupe some 30 years ago. So, it’s not really a NEW thing, is it?

    We all know it’s a wagon, that’s a basic automotive shape. So why must it have wagon in the title? They don’t call it a “9-3 Automobile” either. Does that mean they want us to think it’s really a steam locomotive?

  4. In Sweden, all cars with “that kind of stern design” are called “kombi” since the 50’s. It’s derived from the same German word Martin is talking about above.
    And what is the the trademark of a “kombi” if not the COMBIned functionality?

    By the way, what the heck is a wagon? Isn’t that something that big animals drag along?

  5. “Why don’t they just call it a wagon when it is a wagon?”

    Some people need to learn that English isn’t the only language on this planet.
    It’s not a wagon. It’s an automobile.

  6. Ok, this whole wagon thing makes me think of a saying here in Trollhattan that I feel I should explain to all you Saab nuts. At Saab when you talk about the products they call them “bil” which translates to car. At Volvo they call their products “vagn” which translates to…wagon! But everyone knows the difference between a car and a wagon… A wagon has no engine!
    Mention this at a meeting at Volvo and you’ll see a few irritated faces…dont ask me how I know… πŸ˜‰

  7. To Spec: why does SAAB call the 9-5 Kombi the “SportWagon”?

    I don’t know the history of the term “station wagon”, which is where the shortened “wagon” term comes from, but it’s well ingrained in the American psyche. The general public knows what a “wagon” looks like, but if you say “kombi” to most they’ll look at you with a confused look.


  8. The use of the middle name in lieu of the first name is an affectation typical of the denizens of the southeastern United States. It is quite common for many male children to be named identically to their fathers – hence Jr., Sr., III, IV, etc. To differentiate one from the other, sometimes the name used in day to day conversation is the middle name. My middle name, Robert, serves as my sobriquet, although my name is not identical to my father’s.

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