Saab 9-3Saab is a builder of cars we want to love, delicately balancing a hippie/artist quirkiness with cutting-edge engineering and, lately, superb style. The new 9-3 symbolizes Saab's future. A completely new design, it is based on GM's European compact platform. Platform sharing no longer means badge engineering. With modern engineering and design, platforms can be defined by a set of weld points, with even basic parts such as floorpan stampings differing significantly. Though it has some GM building blocks, this new Swede is all Saab. Torque steer, the bane of the old 9-3, is all but vanquished.
Wedge- rather than teardrop-shaped, the body is a new direction for Saab's design team, led by Michel Mauer. The interior, while preserving the console-mounted ignition, is likewise a step forward. It has its own "cupholder solution," a particular example of creativity appreciated by many in the 9-5, and the look of the dash and buttons reminds one of an E39 BMW.
Saab is the only car company that builds all turbos, all the time. It re-engineered every part of GM's "world" four-cylinder, the Ecotec, to make a turbo-friendly performance engine. Saab's 2.3L High Output Turbo is among our favorites, and the hot version of the new 2.0L engine promises to be impressive.
Jaguar XJRThough previous XJs might have been cars your rich, aging uncle owned, the new version is decidedly young in spirit and should bring a new group of buyers to the badge-those who enjoy the dynamics of driving.
The new Ian Callum-designed XJ still has its share of Jaguar styling cues, but it's bigger in every dimension, making it a true five-passenger luxury sedan. Even with its growth in size, however, it looks ready to leap and drives like a much smaller car. Credit a lightweight all-aluminum chassis and body, built in an entirely new way to ensure high levels and strength and safety. And also credit an air-spring suspension that makes the new XJ both a comfortable cruiser and a serious challenger to twisting back roads.
Two engine choices make it to America, a naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8, slightly revised from the powerplant found in the Jaguar S-Type 4.2, and the obvious choice for our competition, the supercharged version of the 4.2 found in the XJR. Matched to a suave and sophisticated six-speed ZF automatic transmission, it delivers satisfying pull from its 400 bhp.
But what makes this Jaguar XJ different from all those which have come before will be the grins on the faces of driving enthusiasts when they experience its superior ride and handling.