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.