Could the 9-3 SportCombi be the best Saab ever?

OK, so they got the picture wrong…..but this review, and many others like it, rate the Saab 9-3 SportCombi pretty highly. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that an Aero version of this car would be my model of choice were I to do 1,000,000 miles this year in a Saab I’d owned from new (and if I lived in the US).


The overall question, could the 9-3 SportCombi be the best Saab ever, comprises several smaller ones.

First of all: Is it ‘Saaby’ enough?

The quintessential Saab for most people is, of course, the classic 900. It’s the measure by which everything that comes after it should be measured. It was individual. Identifiable. Incredibly practical. It looked like nothing else out there. It had genuine sporting cred and could haul huge loads.

The 9-3 SportCombi is less ‘different’ than the c900, but there’s little doubt about it’s individuality or its Saab identity thanks to that trademark grille, hockeystick line and those iceblock tail lamps. It combines the space and comfort of the Saabs that have gone before it with an award-winning engine that really kicks.

In the Charles River Saab blog that I linked to earlier today, it mentions that one of Saab’s previous US VIPs identified the building blocks of every Saab that’s ever been: safety (both active and passive), performance, comfort, utility and efficiency.

I think the 9-3 SportCombi qualifies on each of those fronts.


Secondly: Is is a ‘better’ car than the 900?

Whilst there’s little that Saab may do in the future (short of building the Aero-X) that will prove to be as revolutionary for the company as the 900 was, there’s little doubt that the 9-3 SportCombi is a better car. If it weren’t, they’d still be building 900s – right?

As much as we like to question things like rattles and electrical issues, there’s little room for argument about the fact that modern Saabs are better designed and better built than older Saabs.

You’re unlikely to get a 9-3 with a sagging roofliner, for instance. You’re also unlikely to buy a 900 that hasn’t had it’s roof liner replaced at some time in the past. This point isn’t meant to be a slight against the older Saabs – it’s just a matter of fact: Technology and advances in design make today’s cars unquestionably better than yesteryear’s.

Do you remember the episode of Top Gear where an Astra Diesel was a pace setter for the three old Italian mid-engined supercars? Well, that’s what I’m talking about. Yes, the ooze more charisma in one tail light than the Astra diesel could hope for in a lifetime – but the Astra corners better, will likely last as long and is infinitely safer. It’s just the hand of Father Time at work in the design studio.

Advances such as ReAxs, SAHR and ESP – just to name a few – similarly make the 9-3 a much better car than its predecessors.

Given that the SportCombi line combines all of those design and build advances, and reinstitutes a lot of Saab’s charm with its lines and its utility, I think it makes a fair case for the title of the best Saab ever.

Of course, you 9-5 sedan and wagon owners might care to disagree. But before you do – consider the added dynamics the 9-3 could have if it weren’t the second model in the lineup and therefore having to bow before the flagship. The 9-5 currently houses a higher top horsepower figure, but the chassis of the 9-3 is built to take a lot more that what the 9-5 would max-out at, and it’d handle it better in stock form.

If there’s one area where the 9-5 still outclasses the 9-3, hands down, it’s in the interior. It was a win to the 9-5 when they both had button dashboards and even now, thought they’ve both dumbed down somewhat, the 9-5 still takes the prize IMHO. The dash isn’t exactly unpleasant in the 9-3 range, but it’s currently less than inspiring and in need of the re-design it’ll likely get when the all-new Epsilon II based 9-3 comes around in a few years from now.

The next 9-5 is quite likely to take the mantle that I’m currently attributing to the 9-3 Sportcombi, but until that time I guess I’ll have to keep on with my SportCombi dreams. You 9-3SC owners count yourselves as fortunate – you’re driving what I believe will become a genuine modern classic Saab.


For the record – my current dream Saab isn’t quite released yet, but it’d be a MY2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi Black Turbo with a Hirsch carbon leather dash kit (and whatever other enhancements Hirsch will be offering at that time).

Gimme one of those in black and I’d be one happy camper.

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  1. Had one on for a weekend, didn’t go much on the interior but damm that car can move. The V6 is a very very sweet engine.

    That car would have to be in my top 3 Saabs:

    1990 900 Aero- Own it
    2002 9-3 Aero- Own It
    2006 9-3 Aero Sports Combi- would be the next Saab i buy,

    al 😉

  2. Let me share some of my thoughts with you, about the 93SC.

    Well, we´ve had several Saab. 5 c900´s and one 9000 Aero. C900 is THE Saab for me, just like you Swade wrote, the Saab that all the successors will be compared to. For years I dreamed about 9000 Aero. And when I got the possibility to buy it I took a change immediately. After three years of driving it, I must admit that we (my wife agrees about this) never really fell in love with that car. No matter how good and progressive it was. It did not have the spirit that 900´s had. We tested other Saabs as well, og9-3´s and 9-5´s. They´re perfect cars, but not just quite there. I didn´t get the feeling that I´d have to have one of those, know what I mean?

    When the SS arrived, of course I went for a testdrive. And I really liked the car. Nothing wrong with it, clean lines very good driveability etc. But no hatch, no wagonback, so that´s not for us (our dog travels always in the boot).

    Finally, when Saab showed pics of SportHatch concept, I went all nuts and started collecting pics of it. I was thinking that maybe someday they´ll build that car.
    2005 my dream came true in a form of Saab 9-3 SprotCombi. After testdrive all I could say is that it´s a perfect car for me to fill the place that c900 left. Unfortunately we couldn´t afford to buy such car (cars are very expensive here in Finland) but finally when the interior facelift came, it reminded me of a c900 so much that I could not resist anymore. I took a change and ordered 93SC Vector 1,8t M07.

    Now that we´ve been driving it for 15000km´s, all I can say is that it´s a perfect car! Through and through!! Even the worst winter conditions could not uppset it. To me it´s a best Saab ever, hands down. I feel very much the same as I feel about our c900 aero ´91. Everytime I look at it I get a grin on my face. It´s just soooo cool and perfect! And in the end I want to say that even the “smallest” 1,8t engine does the job nicely (with good suitable sofware, there´s 50 hp´s to be released with a software only).

    So, to me this car is a true successor for c900 Aero, and I believe that it will stand proud to the years to come.

    About the M08. If the 4wd will be practical and offered with 1,8t or 1,9TID engines, it´ll be the next choice for us in the near future.


  3. It’s not really fair to say new 9-3 is better than a c900, there are 20 years difference. But looking back to the c900 compared to everyone else, then looking at the 9-3 aero compared to everyone else, I think there’s no doubt that the c900 was amazing.

    IMHO, id take an spg as first place, I just acquired my second place car (9k aero 🙂 ) and third would be a viggen. Interior HAS to be in order to rank as a favorite Saab for me. My 2 cents…

  4. 9-3 SC is good looking but has the 9-3 crappie interior. The V6 Aero is a gas-guzzler, which is not a «true» Saab characteristic. I’l take any 9-5 over any 9-3 without blinking an eye. Better interior, more space, better fuel economy. My favourite would be the Aero SC in silver or maybe steel grey.

  5. Having driven both the 9-5 Combi and the 9-3 Combi back to back, and suitably beaten both past their limits, I can say that the tires make the biggest difference in the handling. Although the 9-3’s steering is WAY too light, and nowhere near as communicative as I’d like, the fact that a good 75% of them have summer sport tires compared to the majority of 9-5’s having all seasons, makes the 9-3 hang on a little longer.
    Put the same tires on a 9-5, and the 9-5 would embarrass the 9-3.

    That being said, the 9-5 has more support behind it in terms of which one will become the new classic as far as I can tell.

  6. Hey MarkoA,

    Beautiful Vector Combi!

    Is that Jet Black or Nocturne Blue? And did you get the windows tinted after you bought it, or was it that way? I haven’t seen my car yet, but I’m thinking I’ll need to have it done.

    We don’t have too much choice in the U.S. All we have is 2.0T petrol or 2.8T petrol. Nothing else. Wonder if the TiD’s will ever land stateside, methinks not.

  7. The 9-3 SC best SAAB ever? Well, I have to admit that I haven’t to much experience with the 9-3 SC.
    But here we go: on Friday 13 this month an old lady lost control over her Suzuki Swift and after having floored the accelerator in reverse (“Oh dear, I pressed the brakepedal what I could manage, but the car still accelerated……”)she hit my mint condition 2001 BMW R1100S motorbike and pushed that into the right side of our 2005 SAAB 9-5 Sport Combi. All this happened in our garage! My bike is a write of, so is the demolition womans Suzuki, but my car is now undergoing some surgery at my local dealer and will be healthy as ever. What this has to do with the 9-3 SC? Well, actually very little, but when I delivered my beloved and damaged 9-5 to the SAAB workshop I received a 2005 SAAB 9-3 SS 1,9 TiD (150hp) replacement car in Vector trim and with a six speed automatic. As mentioned I am not very familiair with the 9-3 NG except for the fact that my brother owns one wich I off course have driven.
    Despite the horror from my garage (I have still not menthaly recovered ;/) ) I was a bit excited over now to have the opportunity to do a couple of weeks testing in the 9-3 SS TiD, but even I hate to say it I wasn’t blown away. Ok, the 9-3 looks very good, but there are some issues with that car that I am not happy to see in a SAAB. First: the interior looks absolutely great, but feels cheap to some extend and the interior makes noises because of some of those cheap plastic elements. The sport seats are great, but not quite comparable with the sport seats in my 9-5 wich are better (more supportive). The audiosystem wasn’t either exactly what I like even they have the same power. The interior in my 2005 9-5 is far better than in this 9-3 SS even they share the same amount of bells and whistles and are produced at the same time. Regarding the TiD powerplant, I still can’t understand the hype regarding those dieselengines. While driving in urban areas it sounds like a small truck, while driving on highways it was quiet and supportive enough. But the diesel engine just don’t have the good characteristics of a gasoline SAAB Turbo engine. I just can’t get used to this diesel.
    Ok, my ‘review’ doesn’t sound good, but on the same time I won’t say that the 9-3 is a bad car. The car is actually a good one in it’s class, but there are some issues with the 9-3 SS that SAAB has to sort out. Even my wife noticed the same issues as I did…
    I love the sight of the 9-3 SS, and especially the SC, but there are some important details to improve. And finally, I can’t understand why SAAB in the latest models (both 9-3 and 9-5 2006+) are using internal doorhandles with such a plastic feeling….
    Anyaway, all cars have their negative issues and SAAB has their as well, and despite that I am quite sure that my next car also will be a SAAB. But I hope not that GM standardize their SAAB fleet too much in the future. SAABs lineup today is alreday closing in to the limit for what I can accept of the GM standardizing.
    Best SAAB ever? SAAB 900 Turbo 16 OG. That car is an Icon where you could transport your broken giant refrigerator in the back of the car to your refrigerator workshop while you were heading towards the race track.

  8. Uhhuh. There´s quite much complaints about SC. So, I´m not going to try to turn anybody´s head. We all have our opinions and ideas and so be it.

    But I just want to point out that to me it´s not really good idea to compare for example 9-5 and 9-3 together. The first one is now ten years old design mainly and latter being lot more smaller and cheaper.

    Maybe it would be a better idea to compare these cars to some in their own league. The same size, price, power and so on.

    I believe that people who loved 900 will like 9-3 and them who enjoyed 9000, they ´d choose 9-5. Quite much different cars after all.

    On the negative side, what I miss on SC, is that the window switches are on wrong place – on the doorpanels. I´m always grabbing the central console first, like in our 900 or in 9000.
    And to me the better engine would´ve been Saab´s own 2,3T instead of 2,8v6t. We pay 6,7US$ for a US gallon of fuel. And the price of 9-3SC Aero 2,8v6t starts from 70850 US$ (calculated from Euros).
    So I guess you all understand why I´d really like to see Saab variable compression or some other with lower fuel consumption. We really have to consider smaller and more efficient engines. That´s the reason why even noisy diesels are very interesting options for us.

    Anyway, I´m really looking forward to see the facelifted 9-3 and especially the AWD. That´s something I´ve always dreamed of as I´ve driven some Audi´s on the slippery winter roads..

    Nevitz, the colour is just plain black. It looks a kind of metallic on a pic but it isn´t. We ordered the car windows tinted. It´s an option you can got to SC. So those windows are not tinted with film, but they are just coloured glass.

  9. I’d agree that it is the best 9-3 out of the current or last generation. Most definitely. Especially if one needs a single car to do most things.

    It is certainly a better car than the SS. The SS I have now is almost regrettable, not that it isn’t a great car, but because I think the Combi looks better and is much more practical.

    I’d still have the convertible over the lot of them if practicality wasn’t important mind 🙂 🙂 🙂

  10. I’ve owned the 9-3 sportcombi for about months and it’s great time. What’s interesting is that when my coworkers are in my car, they are suprised that it’s a Saab – they think it’s a cool looking wagon. I only wish my SC was an AWD.

  11. i wouldn’t trade a gm-900s hatch for a combi. the back of the combi looks like any stationwagon; and frankly, doesn’t even look european. (it’s the first thing i noticed as i followed a 9-3 combi for 40 miles, about 2 hours ago.) on the other hand, the back of the gm-900s hatch looks all saab, and very european.

    sure, there’s a performance hit with not going with a current model, but if i can’t have style too, then why go with saab at all?

    i’m not saying the combi isn’t good looking (as long as it’s not viewed from the back), it’s just that the hatch was really special, both in terms of practicality and design, something at which a wagon cannot excel, due to the confines of its format.

  12. I understand where you are coming from saab9x, but consider its cousin the Opel Vectra wagon.


    The Vectra looks worse than the Suzuki Forenza wagon. Plain bland.

    I think the Combi is sexy! Especially the arse. (Please forgive the vulgarity.)

  13. I’m disappointed none of you noticed in the Bendweekly review of the 9-3SC that the picture they used is of a 9-5SC !

  14. Quote “the back of the combi looks like any stationwagon; and frankly, doesn’t even look european. ”

    I have to disagree here.
    A question, what looks european then? To me, it´s the european cars that sell well and are highly respected here. First it has to be wagon, because wagons are selling more and more every year in europe. On the otherhand it has to be on the smaller side, or from the mid class. It has to be efficient, practical, ergonomical interior, good looks etc.
    Starting from A, I think of Alfa Romeo 159, or Audi A4 or BMW 3 series tourer.

    If we compare 9-3SC to those cars, I´d think that Saab design is a big success. SC´s back is sort of a combination of hatch and wagon. Highly inclined rear window and the side lines behind b-pillars. Narrowing windowline makes the back look way much smaller than it actually is. Only from some angles from the frontside you can tell that the boot is actually quite large.

    From the practicality point of view Saab wins hands down. I did a major comparison last year when we were looking for a new car. I tried to keep open minded for other marks as well. But take A4 for example. Rear door is quite small, there´s a quite big step to the boot (sorry that I cannot explain this correctly due to my poor english) and last there´s painted bumper below. Will it get scratched or what?

    Then Saab has those rear lights, which everyone here tells me, look very cool and good.

    Interior here seems to get lot´s of complaints. But remember that interior is much more than the plastic on a dash, or chrome strip over it. Saab has it all very well. Go for a test drive to some other mark and you know what I mean. Form follows fuction, like Saab used to state in 80´s. Okay, maybe those new cupholders are mistake. But remember, european cars didn´t have much cupholders before they started selling them to the US..

  15. There’s one major drawback for me with the 9-3 and it would prevent me from buying one and is one of the reasons i bought a 9-5. The rear seats don’t fold flat. For an estate i think this is a serious compromise to its utility. We go camping in the 9-5 and if it’s raining we camp in the car on the perfectly flat and solid floor. We can get a wardrobe in the back. The dog, 2 bicycles and more gear then we possibly need all go in there. We can have an orgy in the back etc. etc.

    It was interesting a while ago where there was posted the internal dimensions of the 9-3 and 9-5 estates. The 9-5 was only marginally bigger but for me living with the 9-5 and going over the 9-3 with a fine tooth comb it’s clear that the packaging and the practicality of the 9-5 is far better which i think is a major Saab trait.

    I can’t comment on the best Saab ever as the 9-5 is the first one i’ve owned but i believe for my purposes it betters the 9-3

  16. Of the recent models I could only vote for the 9-5 as the true classic.

    The versatility of the 9-3 SC and its good looks will hopefully bring new customers to saab. But the interior on the 9-3s really lets the side down.

    The SS exterior is good but IMHO no match for the pre 2006 9-5.

    There is something timeless about the 9-5 exterior design, esp the 2004-05 years. The rear is well defined and the side panels are perfectly shaped.

    As for the interior the 2004-05 9-5 is comfortable, stylish and practical. The materials are high quality and that large section of trim (either wood or carbon fibre) is much better than acres of black plastic.

  17. Is the 9-3 SC the best SAAB ever? Yes, yes, yes!!!!
    I own one, a black 1.8t (150hp) auto beige interior and with the 215/55R16 tyres and ALU57 wheels.
    And every time a trip ends I feel sorry that the trip ‘s over.
    You don’t find a car with this level of comfort at every carmaker.
    And although there are complaints about the finish, did any of you compare it to the finish of a 900 of the eighties?
    Rattles and squeeks from all around. Plus a weekly visit to the dealer because something needed to be fixed. Strange that a car with a basically durable design needed so much attention!
    No the 900 might have been a nice car, but even compared to the other cars from that era it was not a very good one.
    I think that all SAAB lovers will eventually fall in love with the 9-3 SC. It make take a while, just as with every new model, but they will fall for it.
    I agree with everyone that there is room for improvement.
    The interior parts have been mentioned by some. They are very right.
    personally I am planning to take the performance upgrade (from 150 to 195 hp) asap because now the response could be better. It is not what I was used to in my old 9-3.
    I am glad not to have taken the 17″ wheels. I would have liked the extra precision but I don’t like loss in ride comfort and I don’t like the extra tyre noise.

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