Saab has changed more than 2000 things about the new model range to meet massive sales expectations. While the platform remains, the biggest news is the addition of all-wheel-drive.

Given Saab's ability and penchant for loads of torque and front-wheel-drive. There are a number of models in the brand's history that could have warranted AWD; involuntary lane-change in a Viggen anyone? but it's here now.

Explore the 2007 Saab 9-3 Range

Destined for our shores early next year, the XWD Saab's designation for the latest-generation Haldex 4 system will hopefully lead the model range back to the forefront of buyers' minds.

Australia's GM Premium Brands director Parveen Batish is aiming for continued sales improvements in 2007, he says the 9-3 will further improve the brand's performance next year.

"We did 1650 last year and this year we're tracking 16.5 per cent up on that. We're aiming for June 30 to be over 20 per cent up. It's been a great start,'' Mr Batish says.

"We've made lots of changes to the way we go to market. We've gone from giving allowances to dealers to customer offers instead. We're trying to be more customer-focused.''

The brand's stated priorities are the new 9-5 and an SUV (which appears to be destined for a 9-4 badge), with a compact car built off the next-generation Astra platform all set to transform the sales tables.

Mr Batish says the only way Saab can compete with the rest of the premium brands in Australia is with a car below the 9-3 and an SUV.

"The only way we'll really compete is going in both directions. It would be great to have those (the smaller car and SUV), we don't have them -- discussions are happening all the time and we're looking in those directions.

"The new 9-3 will help boost sales and you've got to make money to invest in products,'' he says.

The new 9-3 range is expected on sale in Australia during November this year, with the flagship Aero XWD and the TTiD arriving in the first quarter of 2008.

The base model still gets the 1.8l 110kW/167Nm powerplant, with the 129kW/265Nm or 155kW/300Nm models also on offer in the new 9-3.

The Aero gets 188kW (up by 4kW) and 350Nm (or 206kW and 400Nm in the XWD model) and the existing 110kW/320Nm diesel is joined by the 132kW/400Nm two-stage turbo that's particle filter-equipped.

Those tech-heads who've trawled through German spec sheets before will know the Haldex name from some Audi and Volkswagen product, but Saab is claiming all-new first use of the fourth system. Chief among the attributes is a pre-emptive set-up that lays claim to superior response to a lack of traction, with the in-car electronics and traction aids used to determine which wheel is best served with drive torque.

The system also incorporates a rear electronic limited slip differential for added traction as well as a yaw control task, helping to stabilise the Aero XWD under heavy braking and cornering forces.

The AWD system is for now an Aero-only feature, teamed with the 2.8-litre turbocharged V6 -- expect a price premium of several thousand dollars -- along the lines of its German competition's AWD price hike.

Set to wear the Aero badge in its home market of Europe, the second newcomer to the Saab 9-3 range is a second turbodiesel model -- the TTiD two-stage turbodiesel.

Still displacing 1.9 litres, the turbocharger has two turbines -- one small, one large -- which tag-team depending on engine revolutions to provide best-response for outputs.

The new diesel offers 132kW and 400Nm, with sub-6.0 litre per 100km fuel consumption claims.

The new model is easily picked as a Saab. The new snout, which adopts the old clamshell bonnet from Saab's history books, and the inherited face of the Aero X concept car offer ample DNA for identification.

The new headlights with bi-xenon on the top-spec models gain a LED eyebrow, which works along the same lines as BMW's corona rings in supplying daytime running lights as well as a character trait for the new look.

The bumper profiles on the Aero have been tweaked, the door handles have a more integrated look, the rear light lenses are now clear, the flanks of the SportCombi have lost the rubbing strip for a cleaner look, says Saab.

The basic platform remains the same, albeit re-engineered particularly with a view to the rear-drive apparatus, with work being done to quieten the 9-3.

A six-speed manual or automatic are the transmissions on offer, the latter gaining a Sport mode that offers more aggressive gear-changing habits.

Pricing is still far from set but Saab Australia is aiming to get the new model's price tag close to the current range.

With aims of 3000 units per year, the 9-3 will be critical to Saab's plans. A competent, capable and swift machine it is, but only time will tell if the brand can win back the not-so faithful.

The Drive

With memories of the Viggen still strong, it was almost a relief to be settling in behind the wheel of an all-wheel-drive Saab.

Not the somewhat-cynical 9-2X -- which the Saab hierarchy is adamant was a mistake and would not be repeated -- but the new 9-3 XWD.

The Aero V6 turbo version, which offers 188kW and 350Nm, and its recent predecessors are far better controlled than the scintillating and scary Viggen.

The prospect of all four wheels doing clever things electronically to get all that Swedish grunt to ground was plenty to anticipate, with the Swedish staffers putting on a handful of pre-production test cars for some driving on loose dirt, dry bitumen and a long, ultra-slippery skid pan drenched in water.

Our chaperones were riding shotgun;  these were rare test cars after all, but there was no dire warnings of imminent doom for misbehaviour.

Flinging the first car through the U-shaped dirt course certainly kept the minders alert, but the grip, poise and general ability of the all-wheel-drive system felt considerable.

The electronic stability control's threshold felt a little less intrusive, allowing the driver to play a little with the tail on the dirt or wander across the skidpan in varying states of sideways but with decent levels of control.

Repeated laps did little to diminish the first impression, with the turbo V6 getting plenty of grunt to ground and building speed quickly down the short back straight between the dirt and the skidpan, despite the presence of three chicanes.

The other models were available for road drives and while the two-litre BioPower ethanol-slurping engine has plenty to offer, the new diesel is a big step forward for Saab.

Although the Australian sales of the diesel SportCombi have been plentiful, according to the Australian arm of the company, the current powerplant has been accused of excessive noise.

The new 9-3 has been fitted with more engine-bay insulation and the new turbodiesel is much quieter as a result, although you're still aware of its design at idle.

The power delivery has been improved considerably, offering a broad spread of torque and power delivery in the upper rev ranges; most un-diesel like and more like a petrol engine than ever.

In-gear acceleration is ample and the fuel use is frugal.

Time in BioPower 2-litre turbo shows the engine has plenty of output to offer, as well as a thirstier demeanour.

The engine note takes on a harder edge under full throttle but, aside from that, the powerplant behaves as the rest of the Saab engine range does; good torque and power, and not unpleasant engine note.