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THE ANTI-CROSSOVER: Saab 9-3 SportCombi provides fun car ride, truck utility

I don't want to burst any marketer's bubble, but crossovers have been among us for years.

That overly touted carlike ride with the utility of an SUV started long before the arrival of CX-7s and RX 300s. Maybe the first ones weren't recognized because carmakers didn't include the letter X in the name. But they were there.

We had them as kids; our parents loaded us into those Ford LTD Country Squires (or equivalent Chevy behemoth) to take us to Grandma's or on some family vacation.

But in the '80s and '90s, wagons became passé. Americans wanted Explorers and TrailBlazers. But Europeans stuck with the wagon, shunning brawn for agility and forgoing ride elevation for better handling.

So when I got the chance to test the Swedish-built 2008 Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi, I jumped at it. I have always loved wagons and the SportCombi only furthered my devotion to a group of vehicles no one seems to want to drive.

Wagons have all the practicalities of crossovers without the marketing muscle. They're not part car and part truck, they're just long cars.

And, really, they're not even that long. The SportCombi stretches 183.2 inches; its sedan equivalent measures 182.5 inches.

But the differences are immeasurable. The 9-3 sedan has 15 cubic feet of truck space, whereas the SportCombi offers 29.7 cubic feet with the second row up. Drop it, and you have 72.3 cubic feet available.

Try loading a television into the sedan. Try squeezing it into the second-row seat or in the trunk. Neither proposition works well.

For people in the 21st century, wagons are the way to go.

And if you get the performance provided in the 9-3 Aero SportCombi, you'll never go back to the typical sedan. A fifth door will always offer more help in day-to-day living than a deck lid.

Turbocharged fun

The 9-3 Aero SportCombi mixes sporty ride with pure utility. Really, there isn't much not to like, other than a starting price of $29,630 for turbocharged 2-liter inline four-cylinder engine. Mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic, that engine pushes 210 horses at a very low 2,500 rpm and 221 pound-feet of torque at the same revs.

My $37,960 test vehicle, however, came with the 2.8-liter turbocharged V-6, producing 255 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque. The turbo provided that sneaky speed -- and fortunately, a speed alarm at 77 mph kept reminding me to slow down.

The car whizzed through corners, its 17-inch alloy wheels biting down and never letting go. Even with a wheelbase stretching over 105 inches, its body hardly rolled in fast turns.

I never felt in need of power on the highway or on city streets -- as my six-speed manual transmission seemed to have an excellent gear ratio for quick starts and steady cruising. Whenever I needed power to pass or merge onto the highway, I'd just stomp the pedal and whisk right past one of those big gravel trucks.

Of course, all of that turbocharged fun cost me at the pump, where I had to fill up with premium fuel. I averaged about 21 miles per gallon on the highway, despite an EPA rating of 24 mpg.

However, that did include some city driving, where the V-6 gets 16 mpg. The mileage may be one reason to consider the 2-liter powerplant. It has an EPA rating of 19 mpg in the city and 29 mpg in the city with a manual transmission.

The only complaint I found with the car's performance was the gear shifting.

It felt a little loose and there was some torque steer on quick acceleration. The throws were long, and it was easy to miss a gear down shifting, even after practicing for nearly a week.

But some of that comes from the fact you forget you're in a wagon -- you start to think it's a sports car.

The SportCombi's exterior is impressive. Designers took a lot of cues from the Aero X Concept car. From the windshield forward, the 9-3 is completely reworked -- adopting a much more European look. Its wide face, narrow headlamps and aggressive grille add to the wagon's appearance.

Its profile is distinctive, though a little boxy. It may be inspired by jets, but it looks more C-17 than F-18. The round wheel wells wrap around more than half of the tires, making the Saab look like a low rider. The higher back side increases the car's bulk.

A winning Combi

I really enjoyed the interior of the SportCombi, with its plush leather seats and clean, elegant lines along the dash. The silver trim along the curvy dash and steering wheel brought pop to the instruments without being over the top. There's a Swedish practicality to the form and function in the SportCombi's cabin.

I had only a few complaints. The dash mounted pop-out cup holder was flimsy and couldn't handle a large Dunkin' Donuts coffee cup. I was left to hold it between my legs while shifting, almost causing a burning incident in a Meijer parking lot.

The seat bolsters could have provided more support, but that's a minor point, considering the beautiful black leather and overall comfort.

The SportCombi came loaded with lots of features. An optional moonroof, eight-way power seats, rain-sensing wipers, tire pressure monitor, steering wheel controls and lots of safety devices, including electronic stability and traction control, driver and passenger front and side airbags.

It's a car that pampers your senses with luxury appointments while also feeding your adrenalin with power and performance. That's certainly a winning Combi.

For someone looking for a car with European driving dynamics and Swedish sensibilities, the 2008 9-3 Aero SportCombi should be on the shopping list. It's fun, stylish and has all the practicality of a crossover.

It just performs better than most.

Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at (313) 223-3217 or [email protected].

http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071031/OPINION03/710310376/1148/AUTO01
 

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"Its profile is distinctive, though a little boxy. It may be inspired by jets, but it looks more C-17 than F-18."

Huh, the C-17 Globemaster ?!? :eek: Yeah I can really see the similarities :roll:

 

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At least he was overall positive about the test. Everyone that has ridden in a Saab always compliments the seats. Of course the bolsters could be bigger, but it's a wagon, not a 2 door sport coupe. It's still better than a minivan. There was only one minivan that I remember that could beat almost any car on the road, but it's was an f1 chassis. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaW_35KPDBY&mode=related&search=
http://www.supercars.net/cars/1672.html
So that isn't really practical. I'm sure the ride was rough.
 

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Good review. No mention of "quirky" or the ignition location. I wonder if there is a CUV on the market with better seat bolsters?

I am likely the sportcombi more every day. I wonder when the masses are going to realize that their CUV are just wagons with poor handling and bad fuel economy?
 

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Wow:D Great, fair, and accurate article for a change. He also didn't attempt to compare it to the 3 series.
Not sure about his seat comment though...
 

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It's fun, stylish and has all the practicality of a crossover.

It just performs better than most.

- Almost my new signature. Well said.
 

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SaabKen said:
I thought you drove ............ this ?

So you were the original "Born From Jets" Saaber ? :D
LOL! :lol: Rats, found out again. Yeah, I performed a few "mods" on my 9000 Aero to accomodate Jane and the gang. If you don't mind, I'd love to borrow that graphic for my Avatar. I don't think Astro would mind the switch.
GeoJet
 

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Practicing? He is the auto critic of the DETROIT newspaper and he doesn't know how to drive? :lol:
 
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