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Saab 9.3

2006 SAAB 9.3 Review

by Martha Hindes

Saab 9.3
Saab 9.3 Interior

Heritage plays a big role with a lot of autos. But none seem as big as the supersonic jet aircraft that blast across a TV screen to introduce you to Saab. That latest "Born from Jets" action ad-vertisement is not a stretch. Saab has a long history as an aircraft designer and builder that's also a chief bragging right for the Swedish auto company that doesn't want car buyers forgetting all that advanced technology in the air is related to what drives around on the ground.

No matter that Saab's autos now are under the patronage of General Motors Corp. Or that strikingly similar aircraft cues once dominated every Saab interior. Once inside today's version, despite such pampering luxuries as sumptuous leather and red walnut trim, there's still enough of a feel of technology-laden aircraft dominance for a savvy driver to get the connection.

For 2006, Saab does some consolidations and some expansions of its premium, compact 9.3 series. A new longer, larger SportCombi heads the list, bringing 9.3 models to three, along with sedan and convertible, in two versions each. The new, performance-oriented SportCombi for five is the auto maker's first foray into wagon country. Saab calls its rearward ascending window-line treatment a "hockey stick" look. Paired with sleek visual treatment and a haunchy hatchback rear, it underplays wagon and emphasizes "hatch" demanded by Saab enthusiasts.

The upmarket Aero models, in sedan, convertible and SportCombi editions, get a performance-designed, yet fuel stingy new 250-horsepower 2.8-liter V-6 as standard equipment. The separate Arc and Linear models of a year ago now are combined as a single 2.0T base model, powered by the new 2.0-liter, 210-HP inline four, that's also available for the SportCombi. In Saab tradition, both aluminum engines are turbo-charged. Five-speed or six-speed manual trans are standard, while five- or six-speed automatic Sentronics are optional.

While all 9.3 versions are front-drive, GM's top execs and engineers will tell you that advanced technology and computer chips have made the once vast performance difference in rear- and front-drive vehicles a non-issue. A performance-enhancing technology dubbed "rear-wheel steer" is one reason.

Saab's 9.3 models range from $26,620 to $42,620 base, including destination, with several previous options now standard. Like traditional models, the SportCombi retains the signature five-door, rear hatch accessibility. With SportCombi rounding out the 9.3 lineup, Saab expects to slap-shot this baby right into the net.