Detnews and the 9-3SC: Nobody gets it

Reading the latest 9-3 SportCombi review, one from the well respected Detroit News, is an exercise in frustration and satisfaction all at the same time.

The frustration?  Well, GM and all their brands are pretty easy targets – particularly Saab.  They’re big enough to take it, but they’re easy game.  When it comes to parts sharing and design, Saab are always going to be perceived as the junior partner because of their relatively small size. 

Saab’s quest for identity isn’t helped at all when 7 out of 10 journos make a point of regurgitating this rather than focussing on the car itself.  Our hosts, Paul and Anita Lienert spend around 4 or 5 paragraphs reinforcing the thought that Saab ain’t what it used to be.  Rehashed Subaru, Rebadged Chevy…..and the 9-3SC itself – Australian-built engine, some German bits, Japanese transmission.  Only 19% Swedish content. 

On and On and On.  And then they make up for this with "Which doesn’t make the ’06 Saab 9-3 SportCombi a bad or undesirable vehicle."

Great.  The frustratometer flies off the boil and once again you feel like you need to remind an automotive journalist that GM, Saab’s owners, are a global company and that sourcing parts from areas with expertise is what it’s all about when you’re a global company.

But this article doesn’t stop there.  There’s a little more frustration left in this southern-Oz blogger and it’s reserved for Saab’s design team.  Now, I love the 9-3 in all its forms, so don’t get me wrong here – OK?

But….

Something that the writers raised did strike a chord with me and it’s been eating away slowly for a while – an area where perhaps GM doesn’t "get it" just as the authors didn’t "get" the whole global thing.  Lets call it design character.  From the Combi review:

It may not look or feel that Swedish any more, but the new Saab is competent, comfortable and entertaining. It’s just a bit too generic for our taste, especially considering the price tag on our well-equipped 9-3 Aero model was pushing $40,000.

Competent and comfortable are nice.  Generic is not.  I have relatively recent memories of Saabs with maroon velvet interiors.  Green interiors.  Some very funky design cues exist in past models and I’m hoping that in the new models that arise over the next few years, some attention might get paid to the design, layout and individuality of the interior space.  It’s not a retro thing, but a modern application of older principles regarding color and layout.  Not every room has to be a black room.

Over all, the reviewers get past their initial lack of originality and write up quite a thorough, balanced and positive piece of press for the 9-3 Sport Combi.  Particularly the drive train, which gets a big nod from them in it’s 2.8 V6 guise.  I’ve corresponded with a couple of people that have purchased SC’s and they seem blown away by them.  I’m hanging out to drive one myself. 

With such a good car, it’s a shame there’s still some journos that can’t get past the global thing.  And with such a good car, it’s a shame that GM would leave a couple of corners cut.  But that’s economics, I guess.  Popularity will see issues fixed in subsequent model years and life will go on.  Hopefully, as it does, the additions to the Saab lineup will be infused with the character Saab was once renowned for.

You can read the full review here: Saab Builds New Identity

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17 Comments

  1. Just read the article myself about the “genericity” of the 9-3 Saab. Given GM’s current position, despite the recent attention being paid to SAAB, a sale of SAAB is inevitable. Would you agree with me that the company best placed to restore SAAB to its former glory will be Porsche?

  2. Well, Swade, you hit the nail on the head with the headline on this one: ‘nobody gets it’. I’m somewhat pro-GM among us Saabistas, realizing that the good that comes from GM most of the time outweighs the bad. However, these writers have a different expectation of Saab that they do of other GM brands — they expect differentiation. I dare say they would never mention in a Pontiac review that it doesn’t have enough ‘unique Pontiac content’, or that a GMC truck is ‘a carbon copy of the Chevy’. Why would they carp on this topic when it comes to Saab? Certainly, it must be Saab’s heritage of unique styling and innovation. Thus, they are holding Saab to a much higher standard, which is a compliment in itself.

  3. They claim that the SC is too “generic” for their tastes, yet they never elaborate on what makes it that way. In fact they go on to praise just about everything about the car except the steering wheel and the navi system…so what gives?

    I realize that it’s not the egg shaped hatchbacks of yesteryear, but the SC looks like nothing else on the road inside and out.

  4. According to the US required window sticker in the courty of origin section, the 9-3 SC’s 6sp manual is from Troll-town. Is the automatic the one from Japan?

  5. Geoff I have to agree with you on that one, the SC looks like nothing else I have ever seen (yes I love it!). The SS is the most beautiful car in its segment bar none. The auto tranny for Saab cars is made by Aisin-Warner who make the best autos in the business.

    As for 19% Swedish content, if you put an ABBA CD in the CD player that could bump it up to 19.5%, correct?

  6. They are right about the “cheap-looking silvery plastic inserts in the steering wheel.” That silver-painted stuff has been infecting cars for the past few years, and it just looks and feels nasty. It reminds me of my very early attempts at building plastic models in the 1970’s, only it doesn’t have the excuse that it was made by an 8 year old. Thankfully, the non-aero cars do not have this feature (yet).

    I find it funny that they couldn’t find the rear cupholders. Aren’t they hidden in the seats just like in the sedan?

  7. Getting a great Saab review from any US autojourno is damn near impossible. This one is typical. But part of the blame needs to be on Saabusas milquetoast PR dept. (among others)Why they don’t make them test every engine as the 2L t/T is more than enough for the 9.3 (and where are the diesel and E85 motors?) FWIW I use that great cupholder everyday and that never-mentioned Reaxs rear axle is the best in the biz! The implication that the sharing of some components or dimensions with lesser cars in GMs stable somehow makes Swede-built Saabs unworthy is BS.

  8. I really don’t understand why people always have to get so bent out of shape over parts sharing. I don’t love my Saabs because of where the parts came from. I love Saabs because they are more like a big metal body glove than a car.

  9. I have to agree with you guys, the review is poorly written. All my customers who have purchased the car love it and have no complaints. This car drives so smooth and handels great for what it is. And yes it does have rear cupholders in the seats, but those who dont know saab’s (but comment on its lack of being a saab) wouldn’t know were to look for the cup holders
    (dumb ass’s)

  10. Living only a few hours from Detroit (DEE – troyt) I have been exposed to the awful writings of Paul and Anita Lienert for years and quit reading them many moons ago. They are crap and their opinions on cars are as meaningful as my opinion on housing regulations in Bangalore. Their articles almost always have at least one factual error or misrepresentation and do little more than dish out what could be called the lowest common denominator of popular opinion. They also constantly talk about their feelings on a car without any reasoning behind it.

    Also I don’t get the constant bashing of the 9-3 as a badge-engineered copy of the Chevy Malibu, when the 9-3 came out first, looks nothing like the Malibu and shares almost no mechanical parts. I think people are just parroting others in an attempt to appear knowledgeable. “Oh, nice car. Too bad it’s just a rebadged Chevy.” Then they walk off feeling smug.

  11. @Bram: I think for average Aero SC buyer, you’ll WANT all the options (there are only about 4-5?), with maybe the expection of roof rails and the navigation system which are not part of any package deal, so omitting same takes away no other “gotta have” features. So that puts you at $35K (less tax, title, tags) before the US and GM card rebates and (sorry) the GM Family discout!! Those are actaully the BEST things about GM owning Saab!

  12. I certainly would not pay for the auto trans and probably not the Touring package. We bought a 2.0T without the premium package. $1,700 seemed like a lot for a better stereo.

  13. Swade, you are not alone on the SAAB interior thing. It’s been getting my goat for a while too.

    The British excel in the WWII Officers Mess interior, the Italians with their sumptuous elegance, and the Germans with their functional gloom. The Swedes on the other hand have all of that class, warmth and utility but with a hint of fun.

    The rather funky colours and schemes (that have the ability to blow the fluff out of one’s belly button and, like the machine itself, are only truly appreciated after a small period of time) appear to have done a Dodo at the alter of GM economics…

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