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SAAB 9-3 2006 Review

The latest Aero is a battle call for Saab, which has been struggling in Australia.

That's right, Saab of Sweden is now using Aussie-made V6 engines, thanks to the growing global links between the arms of the General Motors empire.

They are the same V6 motors already fitted to the VZ Commodore, but different.

Thanks to turbocharging, the Saab version produces 184kW and 350Nm. That's good enough to make the latest Saab 9-3 Aero the fastest-accelerating car in the history of the Swedish company.

The latest Aero is even quicker than the outrageous, unruly Viggen, which was the benchmark but was a car too far for the previous-generation 9-3 body.

So Holden has given Saab a new hero car, the latest 2006-model Aero, with a 0-100km/h sprint of 6.7 seconds.

The new Aero is more than just an engine, though, because Saab has re-tuned the suspension, upgraded the electronic stability program, fitted 17x7.5 alloys and colour-matched the door handles.

Prices for the Aero start from $69,900 for the sedan, up by $2000, but the Aero Convertible is unchanged at $89,900.

The latest Aero is a battle call for Saab, which has been struggling in Australia.

The company sold only 1510 cars last year, down from 1848 the year before and well behind the company's all-time mark. Its 9-3 is a good car, but good cars don't do well in a field of stars.

The prestige business is loaded with hero cars, though new benchmarks such as the Lexus IS don't come as a convertible.

So the turbo motor is one way to get people back to Saab showrooms, and comes just before the local launch of the 9-3 wagon.

The Sport Combi also has the potential to broaden the reach of the brand with people who want a play wagon and don't fancy a four-wheel-drive.

It also got aggressive on the bottom line last month, slashing $8000 from the 9-3 starter price to make the Linear sedan $39,900.

Saab chief Ralph Stevenson says the Saab brand strength can't be underestimated.

"Now the V6 turbo takes Saab performance to the next level and ensures Aero delivers the most intense Saab driving experience yet," Stevenson says.

ON THE ROAD

The latest Aero is a deceptive car. It is deceptively quick and deceptively refined, and well capable of generating a rush when the turbo starts to spin.

There is a bit of delay from a standstill, or if you are running in a high gear, but once the Aero gets going it is a swift device.

It makes easy work of tough overtaking and hills, and has the mid-range hit to make quick cornering a breeze. Fuel economy is good, too, and the test produced an average of 10.4 litres/100km with some spirited driving.

The Aero development is proof of the reserves in Holden's Alloytec V6, and we're hoping the turbo makes the transition to the coming VE Commodore.

It will never have the all-out grunt of a V8, or the Friday-night bragging rights, but it would be a good choice for people who don't need all their go for all of the time.

Our test car also had the six-speed auto, which works smoothly and has good response.

The buttons on the steering wheel are awkward to use, and the shift pattern is set the wrong way on the lever — needing a pull back for downshifts instead of the sportier push forward — but those are little quibbles.

What really worries us about the Aero Convertible is how much the car has aged.

It still looks good and turns heads, but the 9-3 is a car that was originally done on the cheap and it is starting to show.

The body is good and the engine is great, but the car shakes over broken surfaces and there is not much appeal in the cabin.

Saabs have always been a bit dour, with aircraft-style function put above Audi-style elegance, but the car now looks a bit cheap.

The fold-out cupholder is still a great piece of design, but people expect more than an occasion when they jump into a $90,000 car.

We still like the one-touch folding roof, which works at up to 20km/h to ensure you don't soak in a shower, and there is good back-seat space and a reasonable boot.

But the car is feeling old, which is not a good sign when it still has a long run to stumps.

The engine is really good and makes the Aero a responsive package, but Audi continues to get better and there are a growing number of metal-roof convertibles hitting the scene — Renault Megane and the coming Holden Astra — which are going to make life even tougher.

It does have a big price advantage over its direct rivals, but the starter prices for everything from the Megane CC to the Benz CLK means life is still not going to be easy for the speedier new Saab.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

THE great new engine is a considerable advance on the rest of the Saab 9-3 package, giving the car added appeal for 2006.

66/100

Pricing guides

$8,800
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$4,400
Highest Price
$13,200

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Aero 2.8L, PULP, 6 SP $8,800 – 13,200 2006 Saab 9-3 2006 Aero Pricing and Specs
Linear 2.0L, PULP, 5 SP $6,200 – 9,680 2006 Saab 9-3 2006 Linear Pricing and Specs
Linear 20TH Anniversary 2.0L, PULP, 5 SP $7,300 – 11,330 2006 Saab 9-3 2006 Linear 20TH Anniversary Pricing and Specs
Vector 2.0L, PULP, 5 SP $6,900 – 10,670 2006 Saab 9-3 2006 Vector Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

$5,800

Lowest price, based on third party pricing data

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