9-3 SportCombi in Malaysia (and reasons why the SportCombi won’t be a barn-burner here in Oz – yet)

(Cross-posted at Saab Road Tests)

The Malaysian market’s one we don’t think about much and there’s probably a good reason: they don’t sell many Saabs there so it’s not on the radar very often.

But they do love their Saabs there.

I’ve featured a few tests from Malaysia and they’ve always been positive and enthusiastic. And so it is with this review of the Saab 9-3 SportCombi. The other interesting thing about this test is that it’s NOT a test of the 2.8 V6 Aero. This car’s the 4 cylinder, but it doesn’t rate any lower on the impress-o-meter.

On the go, the 9-3 is quick – thanks to its turbocharged 2.0-litre inline-four-cylinder engine that churns out a respectable 195bhp of power and a very impressive 310Nm of torque.

While it’s not racetrack fast, it’s certainly a car with a lot of grunt. There’s about a second or two of turbo lag, but the sheer force that it produces throughout the rev range – even from as low as 2,000rpm – is perfect for overtaking on a highway and also makes the 9-3 very driveable around town.

I should note at this point that the Malaysian market appears to be getting its 9-3 SportCombis with an option for the beefy four cylinder engine that Australia’s missing out on. If memory serves me correctly, this is the Vector engine in the Sports Sedan here in Australia and previously it was the engine you’d get in a 9-3 Aero (prior to the arrival of the V6). Here in Australia, you can only get a 9-3 SportCombi with the piddly “1.8” engine or the V6. There’s no in between – a lineup failure that Saab Australia would do well to address.

Recent reviews of the 9-3 in New Zealand also rated the 4-cylinder version as a better value-for-money buy (note: they only get the 1.8 as well) and it’s difficult to argue the practicalities if the HOT 2.0 is on offer and you’re not after the flat-out performance of the V6. The i-four in this setup still gives you plenty of punch with about 90% of the boy-racer 9-3 Viggen’s output. This is no slouch.

The Malaysians like the interior, with a special note saved for one of Saab’s specialities, the best seats on the planet (note: this is one of the Saab essentials that GM needs to maintain – and on that idea I think I’ve struck a good idea for another blog post).

I don’t usually rant and rave about car seats but I must say that the Saab 9-3’s buckets are probably the best I’ve ever laid my 6′ 2” (that’s 188cm in the modern world) frame on.

They’re not as hard as the typical German chairs but have as much support, so it feels like you’re sinking your buttocks onto your favourite armchair or business-class seats. They’re fully adjustable, too, so it’s easy to get real comfortable…..

…..As with all Saabs, the 9-3 gives its driver a great view of the outside world. I’m able to judge corners and sides of the car really well.

Taking our attention away from the seats, the rest of the Saab 9-3’s interior is very pleasant too. It’s fairly spacious, with ample headroom for all occupants although rear legroom is a little tight.

Apart from a few flimsy faux wood trimmings, the interior reeks of quality and feels very driver-oriented, with big knobs and clearly marked buttons. It’s a nice place to spend a long time in.

This is a good read and if you’re considering the merits of the four cylinder against the cost of the Aero, it’ll convince you to throughly test drive both.


More about Australia and the 9-3 SportCombi:

The Australian market has just two variants of the 9-3 SportCombi available – a Linear and an Aero.

The Linear has the rather muted 1.8 engine producing 110kW and the Aero has the 2.8 V6 that we’re all familiar with. The Linear SportCombi is priced at A$45,400 and the Aero SportCombi is priced at A$72,400.

With the enourmous price and power difference between the two, I can’t help but think there’s quite a few $50-60,000 buyers out there in Audi and BMW showrooms that could be shopping a Saab if there was a mid-level variant with respectable output.

My thoughts for Saab Australia: Bring a 9-3 SportCombi in Vector trim with 154kW and 310Nm priced at $55,000, market it aggressively against the A4 Avant 1.8T ($59,200 base, 120kW, 225Nm) and BMW 3-series Touring (A$68,900 base, 131kW and 230Nm) and watch your market grow.

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  1. I couldn’t agree more with your marketing suggestion and thoughts. My guess is that the rationale from Saab OZ is that if an in between Combi model is introduced this will erode the Aero potential sales. Well, if that is the case then consider bring the Vector at the A$55 K mark and don’t discount it. However, offer discounts/incentives on the Aero option. Anyone with their head screwed on will understand this approach and realize that more Combi vehicles will be sold. Besides this it will raise the brand awareness and help increase sales of the other models and options !!!

  2. Sounds like they drive the 1.8t (150hp / 240Nm)with the Hirsch Performance software upgrade to 195hp / 310 Nm. As we haven’t delivered any software to Malaysia yet, can just mean that they got it across the border from Singapur :O)

  3. Joe, I think it’d definitely give it a lift. There’s just too much gap there.


    Can you take a look at the Viggen Update posting and tell me if my brake rotors are on backwards. The photos that Edusaab has provided URL’s for (see comments in that post) show Saab factory Viggens with rotors facing ‘forwards’ and ‘backwards’.

    I’m so confused now.

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