Saab 9-3 Aero 2006 review
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The latter is a sort of consolation comp for clubs who haven't done much the previous season, other than win a minor trophy or achieve better than mid-table respectability.
The top flight is dominated by the iconic Italians and four Germans. (Volkswagen makes it by virtue of owning some of the others and outselling all of them.) The lower tier — as measured in terms of sales and perceived prestige — comprises the lesser Italians, the French and the Swedes.
What's making it tougher for Europe's poor relations is the increasing realisation — at least among buyers not besotted by badges — that Mazda, Subaru and Honda do almost everything they do better, more reliably and miles more cheaply.
Saab's situation is compounded by being owned by that pensions and health-care corporation General Motors, which seems uninterested in the products of its sideline auto business, let alone in those of its Swedish subsidiary.
Despite recent deals and price re-alignments, Saab needs something to justify its still hefty asking price, and to divert attention from its sobering rate of depreciation.
In the latest iteration of the 9-3 Aero, that "something" is a 2.8-litre V6 turbo. This unit — they tell us — makes it the "fastest accelerating" Saab yet.
At any rate, it goes some way to justifying the previously optimistic "sport sedan" tag.
Almost perversely for a mob with a fine heritage in turbo-petrol engines, this one is derived from GM's all-aluminium global V6 engine architecture with its twin-scroll turbocharger from Mitsubishi.
That multinational input translates to response that is immediate and impressive, with 90 per cent of its 350Nm available from 1500rpm and all of it between 2000 and 4500rpm. The unit also powers the top-end Saab SportCombi wagon released a few days ago — more on that next week.
A zero-to-100km/h time of 7.5 seconds is claimed for the auto, 6.7 for the manual.
We spent the week with the auto, a six-speed, Aisin-made unit that adapts to driver usage and senses changes in engine performance, almost always finding the right gear and not hunting once during our time.
So much power through the front wheels naturally means understeer in extremis, with some torque tug through the tiller and electronic intervention. It's all pretty predictable, though, and can be managed by sensible corner-entry speeds.
Nor is it upset by mid-corner bumps or the shocks and shudders regularly delivered by our wonderful roads.
It has been said that the current Saab generation of hardtops looks disappointingly generic next to the distinctive hatches of yore. In black and with its sport accoutrements, however, the sedan is a tidy but purposeful-looking package.
The visual impact garnered not a few "Gee, that looks good, what is it?" comments from the uninitiated of both sexes — none of whom, to the best of my knowledge, has ever deployed shampoo in a professional capacity.
Within, Saab's trademark of subdued stylishness prevails, the beige leather upholstery on our test car tarted up tastefully with black inserts. The wheel is good to hold, though the silver pretend-metallic accents are too obviously plastic, as are the wands and centre console.
Indeed, fit and finish is wanting next to, say, Audi. None of it is exactly fragile, but neither does it imbue you with confidence as to long-term durability.
Then there's the $72,400 price ($69,900 for the manual). Not bad in isolation, but rather steep when the same dough can get you into a German sedan. Or a fast, top-end Soob or Mazda, with about 20 grand change.
As a driver's car, the 9-3 Aero V6 can't match any of them. But as a statement, plus as a gratifying and good-looking ride, it ticks the boxes that see Saab retain a loyal core of customers.
Now to win promotion to the top league.
Range and Specs
|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|
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data