Ok, this may be the first in a short series of rants over the next few days.
Regular commenter and all round dude, PT, sent me a link this evening to a review of the Saab 9-3 SportCombi here in Australia. It’s appearing in the Fairfax Press’s car paper: Drive. The reviewer reckons the car’s pretty good for the money and makes some pretty fair and favourable comparisons with the competition:
There is a small but growing sales trend towards European prestige wagons that the SportCombi taps into. It also means a five-door rejoins the 9-3 range, although in previous generations a hatchback was the preferred body shape, and “Combi” refers to that heritage.
For Saab to be riding the wave of a class on the up with fresh product is a novelty. The glacial pace at which it has ground out new-generation vehicles has been the cause of a sales slide here and profitability woes worldwide.
The Australian division has latched onto the SportCombi with alacrity, launching the entry-level Linear 1.8t with an attractive price and specification level. At $45,400, it undercuts the base-model Germans easily. But the Citroen C5 and Volvo V50 both start cheaper.
For Saab to be getting some positive press here, where wankermobiles truly do abound, is a great thing.
The problem? The reviewer has picked it in one:
There is another SportCombi model, the Aero. Powered by a Holden-built turbocharged V6 engine, it starts at a rather more imposing $72,400. For that you get 184 kW and 350 Nm.
The 1.8t doesn’t produce those figures. But it’s not because it has a 1.8-litre engine. It’s a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, but designated 1.8 for marketing reasons. The “t” signifies it’s been mildly turbocharged to produce 110 kW at 5500 rpm, and 240 Nm between 2000-3500 rpm. There is a 2.0t (it really is a 2.0-litre) in the 9-3 sedan range with another 19 kW and 15 Nm.
It might have been worth considering here because the 1.8t feels the pinch of the SportCombi auto’s 1539-kilogram bulk. It’s not slow, just not athletic.
The 9-3 SportCombi is only available in two models here in Australia. The Linear at around A$45,000 or the Aero at $72,400. You can get either the 110kW adequate transporter or the 184kW beasty.
There’s no in-between.
There’s almost $30,000 of wiggle room and no middle ground for the aspiring driver that can’t quite pony up for the Aero.
So what does Mr $60K do when he wants something different, practical and safe for his family and there’s no legit Saab on offer? He goes to the German showrooms and boom, another sale lost. At $60K, surely there’d be room for offering the 150-odd kW engine now present in the Vector SS, i.e. the old Aero engine.
And while I’m at it, why not offer the 129kW option as the base engine rather than the 110kW. I feel quite sure it’s the same engine with a software upgrade to get the extra horses running. 110kW in a modern Saab doesn’t truly belie it’s sporting heritage, and as the writer notes it’s left the heavier vehicle slightly underpowered. That’s a recipe for unhappy customers and reduced repeat business.
My bet is that the 129kW engine gets offered as a next-gen base upgrade around October, but pity the poor punter who’s spent his money already and feels ripped off as he pushes the car harder than it’s designed for in order to get the performance he figured he was buying in the first place.