Saab 9-3 2011 Review
April 14, 2011
$10,230 - $14,080
THIS is a handsome, well-mannered machine for the more genteel, more mature outdoors type. Launched in Europe in early 2009 and based around Saab's 9-3 Combi, the X adds all-wheel drive, a little extra ground clearance plus some exterior cues to distinguish the wagon from stablemates.
It is, says Saab designers, the machine for those who eschew traditional SUV styles; more Timberland than Blundstone perhaps. And if anyone can combine practical solutions for conquering indifferent roads with practical and smooth design for family transport it ought to be the Swedes.
The result here may have been late into the segment - when the likes of Subaru, with the Outback, and Volvo with the XC70 - had already beaten a track into this area. Even one-time stablemates Holden had tackled this niche with the Adventra, that Commodore-based wagon being usurped by the Captiva after a three-year production run.
In fact this Saab 9-3 X - while carrying a very different body - has that Adventra approach with the black wheel arch extensions and skid plates, fog lights and such, dressing up the family wagon into an all-seasons, all roads machine.
At $59,800 the Saab is about line-ball in price with Volvo's petrol-engined XC70, a bit dearer than the top-of-the-tree Subaru Outback and around $20,000 ahead of Skoda's Octavia Scout. Audi's A6 allroad has moved up and out of sight, coming in just a tad over $100,000.
The 9-3 X misses for little over these all-wheel drive rivals; all have the Swiss army knife approach to these designs - give 'em lots of gear and hidey holes and some talking points such as cup holders which fold out in ballet-motions from the dashboard. And there's plenty of leather and comfort features here though it could be hard for this Saab to match the resale values of the Subaru and Volvo.
Underpinning Saab's all-wheel drive adventure wagon is the Swedish manufacturer's XWD system, designed with Haldex and allowing seamless transfer of torque to whichever wheel can find traction.
It also allows up to 85 per cent of torque to be shared between rear wheels. And the system incorporates the usual array of driver aids - ABS, stability programs, traction control and emergency brake control.
The current 9-3 style, tweaked here and there, has been on the roads for almost a decade. There's nothing wrong with that, these shapes are familiar and comfortable. And here, with the aid of the raised ride height (up 35mm) and the adventure-style add-ons - including more aggressive front bumper, dual exhaust pipes - the style still has attraction.
Inside style is also smooth and familiar, right down to the ignition key mounted on the transmission tunnel between the front seats. Dash and instruments are most tidy and very legible. But it's not a big cabin and while the cargo area is a reasonable size, the back seat is best left to smaller people.
The Swedes have long held trophies for safety in cars; other manufacturers may have caught up but the folk at Saab haven't backed away from driver and passenger airbags, roof rail airbags, side airbags and all those primary safety features to keep the 9-3 X upright and pointed in the right direction.
The Saab 9-3 X is a mature and very comfortable machine. It is a sure-footed wagon under all manner of conditions, torque is transferred smoothly and with little fuss on greasy and gravel surfaces. And it can be moved along a country road with confidence, without the high-riding drawbacks of traditional SUVs. The steering hasn't too much life but the ride is excellent in a wagon suited to cross-country cruises.
But the performance-economy ratio with this petrol-engined Saab and its six-speed transmission drags the wagon back. It is a docile engine-transmission combination, adequate rather than adventurous. Saab's claimed city consumption is 15.5l/100km; certainly this test, a mix of city, freeway and country, saw fuel figures closing on 12l/100km. While these may not be alarming numbers, drivers may expect a bit more punch for their petrol.
SAAB 9-3X ***
Warranty: 3 years, 60,000km
Service interval: 20,000km or 12 months
Economy: 10.1l/100km;242g/km CO2
Safety equipment: six airbags, ABS, ESP, ABD, TCS
Crash rating: 5 star
Engine: 154kW/300Nm 2 litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: Six-speed auto
Body: 5-door, 5 seats
Dimensions: 4690mm (L); 2038mm (W);1573mm (H with roof rails)
Tyre size: 235/45 ZR18
Spare tyre: 6.5x16
$10,230 - $14,080