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Car reviews - Saab - 9-3 - range

Launch Story

Saab logo6 Nov 2007

By GEORGIA OCONNELL

SAAB has launched its heavily revised 9-3 range in Australia with a bewildering array of models that seems out of proportion to the number of cars it sells in this country.

Despite an average of only 154 sales per month for the 9-3 this year, the company has unleashed some 48 model variants in the 2008 model year range, priced from $43,400 right up to $93,300.

This is almost double the previous model range and is the result of making more engine variants available in every body and specification level, with manual and automatic transmissions – not to mention a dozen BioPower variants for the essentially unavailable E85 (85 per cent ethanol) fuel.

And it will not stop there because next year Saab will introduce two more significant developments for the 9-3: a new two-stage turbocharged diesel engine called the TTiD, which will be introduced in January or February on sedan and wagon models and, from next June, all-wheel drive variants, though initially only for the V6 Turbo sedan and wagon models.

The new 1.9-litre four-cylinder TTiD engine, which will join the regular 1.9-litre turbo-diesel, has two turbo compressor wheels within a single housing – one for low-down power and the other for higher revs – and they can worked independently or in tandem. Saab claims this will be an Australian first for a production car.

This potent new turbo-diesel engine produces 132kW of power (compared with 110kW for the regular TiD) and some 400Nm of torque (versus 320Nm) produced between 1850rpm and 2750rpm (versus 2000-2750rpm).

All-wheel drive is a particularly significant development for Saab, which has for so long clung to its front-drive roots despite the inability to properly put its turbocharged horses to the ground through the steering wheels.

In fact, the company has been forced to compromise the tune and power delivery of its turbo engines to overcome inevitable traction and torque-steer problems.

Saab realises it has been left behind by its prestige rivals, especially Audi, but claims that its Haldex AWD system will not only bridge the gap but put Saab at the cutting edge of AWD technology.

Although it will initially be offered only in a 206kW/400Nm V6 model called Turbo X from June, expect the so-called XWD (cross-wheel drive) system to expand into other models – not to mention the next-generation 9-5 due for the 2009 model year.

Getting back to the present, the 9-3 comes in three bodystyles – a sedan (called the Sport Sedan), a wagon (called SportCombi) and a convertible (called, surprisingly sensibly, the Convertible).

Each of those three variants can be ordered in Linear, Vector or Aero levels of features specification – although those three levels are not necessarily the same between bodystyles (for example, the Linear convertible includes park assist and electric seats, but not the Linear sedan…)

Linear sedans come standard with electronic stability control, ABS, traction control, 16-inch alloy wheels, heated leather seats, climate control, cruise control and a full-size spare wheel.

Vector sedan adds 17-inch alloys, upgraded leather, power seat adjustment for the driver and park assist.

Having dropped the old low-boost petrol engine, you can now get Linear and Vector level models with a 2.0-litre mid-boost turbo petrol engine that produces 129kW and 265Nm, a BioPower version of the same engine (with the same power output when running on straight petrol, but with 147kW/300Nm when running the higher-octane E85 fuel) or the 1.9-litre TiD turbodiesel engine mentioned earlier.

With the Vector, though, you can also get the high-boost version of the 2.0-litre turbo petrol, which ups the outputs to 154kW and 300Nm.

The Aero level, however, offers just one engine, which is exclusive to the Aero – the Holden-built 188kW/350Nm 2.8-litre turbo V6. That’s right, a less powerful version of the engine that will be fitted to the Turbo X.

Every model is available in manual (a GM-sourced six-speed) or automatic guises – and, just to make it even more complex, there are two different autos depending on the engine.

An Aisin five-speed auto is matched to both the 2.0-litre turbo variants, as well as the BioPower versions, while the V6 and diesel models get a six-speed Aisin unit.

Although not an entirely new car, the latest 9-3 represents a significant departure from the superseded model in terms of styling.

Taking visual cues from the Geneva 2006 Aero X concept car, the new 9-3 sports a deep grille that immediately distances it from the old model, while still retaining a clear Saab appearance.

Similarly swoopy headlights with ‘eyebrow’ lighting add to the more modern look, as do the new doors, which are now bereft of rubbing strips.

But, while clearly moving forward, Saab’s designers have also nodded to the past by incorporating a ‘clamshell’ hood that closes over the top of the front guards, like many Saab models going back quite a few decades.

In the case of the sedan, 70 per cent of the external body panels and parts are new, including everything ahead of the windscreen.

Changes at the rear are not as extensive, but the new tail-light clusters and cleaner bumper designs distinguish the new model from the old.

Inside, though, there is not much to report as the driver is still presented with the flat-faced binnacle that has been a part of Saab DNA for such a long time.

The only significant change – apart from a Bose surround sound system that is standard on the Aero and optional on other models – is a change in basic interior colour from grey to black.

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