2006 Saab 9-3 Sport CombiPosted on October 1st, 2005
Saab’s newest sport wagon is big on fun, easy on gas
By Nina Russin
The Saab 9-3 Sport Combi is a mid-sized sport wagon based on the same platform as Saab’s compact sedan. However unlike the sedan, the Sport Combi comes with a choice of two engines: the base turbocharged four cylinder, or an all-new 250-horsepower V6.
For fans of the old Saab 9-3 Viggen five-door, the Sport Combi offers a similar approach to performance and versatility. Both the base an upscale Aero models are spirited road cars, with road-hugging suspensions and the ability to pull hard off the line.
Gone, thankfully, is the Viggen’s tendency to understeer, thanks to a new rear axle suspension geometry. As a result, the average driver can push the Sport Combi at speed and in turns, without worrying about losing control.
The four-cylinder version won our 2006 Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year award in the best value, on-road category. We loved the Sport Combi for its peppy, turbocharged performance, responsive steering, and just-right cargo area that easily holds a bike with the second-row seats folded flat. The classic Scandinavian design is attractive and timeless: exceptional interior ergonomics make the Sport Combi a comfortable ride for passengers of all sizes.
A great ride on twisting, two-lane roads
We tested the the four-cylinder, turbocharged base model with the five-speed automatic transmission. In addition to its appealing sticker price (beginning at about $27,000), the four-banger gets exceptional fuel economy: 28 m.p.g. average city/highway.
The turbocharger pumps extra air into the engine during hard acceleration to make better power without using more gas. Turbocharging also helps the engine to compensate for altitude, maintaining good performance at elevations up to 8,000 feet. Because the engine is running more efficiently, it also emits fewer bad emissions into the exhaust stream.
The two-lane roads through the canyons around Borrego Springs, California provided the perfect setting for putting the Sport Combi through its paces. A rear roof spoiler kept the wagon tracking flat at all speeds, while minimal aerodynamic drag enhanced gas mileage.
The Sport Combi features Saab’s proprietary ReAxs suspension: the dynamics of the rear axle are tuned to give the wheels better grip in the corners and resist the tendency of the front-wheel drive car to understeer. The system works by turning the rear wheels slightly in the opposite direction of the front wheels.
As a result, a driver can push the Sport Combi to its limits without worrying about a loss of steering control.
A four-wheel independent suspension comes standard, and a low-mounted rack-and-pinion steering rack provides a positive on-center feel when driving at speed. Antilock braking, traction control, and brake assist are standard active safety features.
Ergonomic interior minimizes driver distraction
The driver and front passenger seats are well adapted to drivers of all sizes, with good lumbar support, and a standard whiplash protection system that minimizes the risk of injury in rear-impact collisions. The instrument panel is configured to make it easy for the drive and front passenger to reach both the audio and dual-zone climate controls. The on-board computer automatically turns off warning lights when the driver’s workload is high: determined by heavy braking or use of the signal indicators. The idea is to minimize any driver distraction that could cause an accident. There is also a dimmer that turns down the instrument panel lights at night to reduce driver fatigue.
The upholstery takes its cues from Scandinavian furniture: both the light (parchment) and dark (gray) color schemes give the interior a spacious, airy feeling. All models are available with a choice of three audio systems and a DVD-based satellite navigation system.
The 60/40 split second-row seats are easy to fold flat, creating a long, functional cargo space. A standard tonneau cover hides the cargo fry prying eyes. Cargo nets hold grocery bags or other small items to keep them from spilling out onto the cargo floor. An airplane-shaped handle in the middle lifts up the rear of the cargo floor to reveal a second storage area under the floor with dividers to hold small items in place. Roof rails are standard on all models.
A solid body structure that focuses on safety
A special team of engineers investigate all traffic accidents in Sweden that involve Saabs. As a result, Saab has a database of over six thousand real-life collisions. Product planners use that information to design software for safety engineering.
While the 9-3 Sport Combi is similar to the sedan from the B-pillars forward, the rear of the car is all-new. Engineers reinforced the rear C and D pillars with transverse beams in the floor and roof for loss of the sedan cross-bracing. The central passenger area has a high percentage of high-strength and ultra high-strength steel, to create a rigid body structure without adding weight. The ignition switch is located in the center console, away from the knees, so that it cannot cause an injury if the legs hit the steering column during a collision.
A true Saab through and through
A lot has been written recently about the impact of shared General Motors platforms on the Saab brand. The 9-3 Sport Combi is a unique vehicle, designed and built in Sweden. Long-time Saab aficionados will appreciate its peppy performance, user-friendly interior and Scandinavian design. Newcomers with love the Sport Combi for its fun ride, class-leading safety, and cargo-friendly interior.
Saab’s new sport wagon is a practical car for urban dwellers, with exceptional maneuverability and fuel economy. It also excels on twisting two-lane roads. It has an exceptionally high level of standard active and passive safety features.
Although it is a relatively small vehicle, the Sport Combi can hold a lot of cargo, including camping equipment, bicycles, kayaks, skis, and other essential gear for people with active lifestyles. We love the Saab 9-3 Sport Combi because it does all of these things seamlessly, and for a price within the limits of many new car buyers.
The Saab 9-3 Sport Combi begins rolling into dealerships in January of 2006.
Base price: $27,620
Price as tested: $33,165
Horsepower: 210 @ 5500 r.p.m.
Torque: 221 lbs.-ft. @ 2500 r.p.m.
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 23/34 m.p.g. city/highway
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