Business Week and the 9-3SC

A question for 9-3 SportCombi owners – do you see the lack of 3rd row seating as a downside?


Well, BusinessWeek does.

It’s statements like this that make me question the validity of the rest of the review – which would be a shame as our host, Thane Peterson, really likes the SportCombi. So I’m going to take it as a vehicle-class oversight on his part and as a positive thing. He sees the SportCombi in such a worthy option to your standard crossover vehicle that a seven seat configuration is almost expected.

This is a different class of vehicle, however, one that offers SUV haulage with sports sedan handling. Saab versatility.

Once he gets over the lack of space for kids 3 and 4, Thane likes what he’s presented with:

The 9-3 SportCombi is much better than its marginal U.S. sales would indicate. If you have a family but also want a sporty, fast-moving vehicle in your driveway, this is a good compromise. It looks a little like a stylish Subaru, and handles a lot like a well-made European car.

It looks a lot more stylish than a Subaru, sonny-jim. And once it gets XWD later this year it’ll make Subaru almost irrelevant in the discerning customer’s eye.

Slide behind the wheel, and the Aero SportCombi’s performance matches its looks. My test car had a stick shift, but if you pay up for the automatic, you can also get paddle shifters that add to the driving fun. The Aero is quite quick: I got 0-to-60 times of 7.0 to 7.4 seconds.

The owner’s manual helpfully notes that if you happen to hit 143 mph, the turbo kicks off to slow the car down.

I could discern no turbo lag when I punched the gas. You would barely know the turbo is there if it weren’t for a gauge on the instrument panel.

And then there’s some discussion of the haulageabilityness of the SportCombi, which is becoming one of my favourite points for discussion….

At 183.2 inches, the SportCombi isn’t all that big. In fact, it’s only an inch longer than the 9-3 sedan. However, folding down the rear seats still gives you a huge 70 inch-long, 45-cubic foot hauling space (vs. 40.8 inches and 14.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up). There’s also a pass-through in the middle of the rear seat for carrying long items like skis when you have passengers in back.

I should mention again for the benefit of those that might be visiting here for the first time, those figures for the 9-3 SportCombi put it well ahead of many SUV competitors in terms of cargo capacity. It also has higher towing capacity combined with better mileage (save for the hybrid SUVs).

The full numbers on those stats are available here and it makes for a very interesting list.

The final verdict?

If you want European handling but don’t want to pay up for a German car, this is a good choice. That’s doubly true if you live in one of those neighborhoods where every other car seems to be a Subaru, and you want something different.

I’d go one step further than Mr Peterson and say that it’s a bloody practical drivers car that stands on it’s own two feet regardless of the price point of it’s competitors.

Vive le SportCombi!!

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  1. …”That’s doubly true if you live in one of those neighborhoods where every other car seems to be a Subaru, and you want something different”…

    Or BMW…

  2. it’s this sentence that makes me completely loose faith in this guy as a car reviewer “My test car had a stick shift, but if you pay up for the automatic, you can also get paddle shifters that add to the driving fun.” How can an automatic be funnier than the manual gearbox, has he even tried the paddle shift that Saab offers? It’s so slow and laggy that I could shift two times manually and still be faster than the auto. I really hope that Saab gets an equivalent of the VW DSG gearbox soon because anyting else is a waste of time and money.

  3. Mats, its a way for the reviewer to mention additional options available, even if he didn’t have the opportunity to try them out.

    Saaboy we’re really hatin on bmws lately eh? 😉

  4. Mats, spend a day at one of these media events and you’ll realise how little come of these guys do to earn a living.

    ajf, reliability I’d agree with. I think Saab make a pretty good value proposition at the moment in the US market, though. Suubys have some pretty crappy interiors and soft paint. They get by on reliability and drivetrain but I wouldn’t want to live with one, but that’s just me. I know they’re popular.

    And there’s nothing wrong with a little BMW hating. Keeps them hungry.

  5. Swade, have you driven the current Legacy GT? I thought the interior was on par with the SS and the power was great.

    I think the SS interior is not as nice as my Viggen. And the new Legacy interior is much better than previous Subies or the current Impreza. I’ve also driven the Mazdaspeed6 which is a nice turbo deal for the price of a basic SS.

  6. I remember asking a SAAB sales person why SAAB didn’t offer a 3rd seat in the wagons like Volvo does. She remarked, “That the crumple zone.”
    Boy, that one-liner says it all!
    Sacramento, California

  7. Having a third row shouldnt even be considered as an option for 9-3 owners in my opinion. This is where the 9-5 comes in. Here in the U.S. I really cant think of any other luxury brands that have a third row seat in a wagon except Merc’s E class wagon and the Volvo V70. For someone looking for a wagon/SUV/crossover that is upmarket and a German alternative, the only one is the Volvo V70.
    Now lets play a game of WHERES SAAB…!

  8. I can’t imagine a 3rd row of seats in our 9-3 SportCombi. Totally impractical and not what the car is meant to be. If you want a 3rd row, look for an SUV/XUV.

    As far as Saab vs. Subaru, we looked at both before we purchased. The only Subaru that was comparable to the capabilities/features of our 2.0T 9-3SC was the Legacy GT wagon. More power than the Saab, but worse gas mileage, a couple of thousand dollars higher in price, and a dime-a-dozen on the roads. We felt that the Saab interior was nicer and more comfortable. It seemed to me that we got a lot more value for our dollar with the Saab than we would have with the Subaru. We tend to keep our cars for a long time so the difference in resale values wasn’t a big concern for us.

  9. I do remember a family member renting a Combi-esque Ovlov once that was equipped with a pop-up 3rd row seat, which was quite utilitarian I thought. I do think Saab should do the same, perhaps in the 9-5 Combi, not in the 9-3.

    I just found this video on YouTube that gives a really GREAT overview of the 9-3 Combi. And whats better, they get to showcase it in Fusion Blue! Check this out.

  10. I remember reading a while back that SAAB was refusing to add the third-row seat to their planned 9-6X due to safety concerns. They couldn’t guarantee the safety of passengers in the third row seat that the sister Subaru Tribeca B9 had decided to integrate into their version. The third row is placed right in a “crumple zone”.

    I don’t see there’s any way to put a third row seating setup into a compact wagon like the 9-3 is. MAYBE a very cramped one into the 9-5 wagon, but then how are they going to integrate the SAHR system into that third row? In the Ovlov V/XC70 isn’t the third row kind of in the trunk and rear-facing? I sure wouldn’t put my kids there for fear of a rear-end accident. I thought Ovlov was supposed to be “all about the safety”.

  11. After stewing more on my comments above I began wondering:

    Aren’t passengers seated in the third row (most likely children) of the Subaru Tribeca B9 (and any other three-row vehicle) more at risk in case of an accident?

    I would think that this would be revealed in crash tests, but I don’t think ANY crash tests monitor safety in the third row. Just the front and rear seats.

    Maybe IIHS and NHTSA and EuroNCAP et. al. should incorporate a test of “third row” safety for vehicles whose makers choose to cram more people into their vehicles and seat them in a “third row”. Maybe SAAB will be vindicated in their decision to not integrate a third row for 7 passenger seating in their vehicles.

    It shouldn’t be about how many passengers you can fit in your vehicle, it should be about how many you can fit comfortably and safely.

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