Among our long-term fleet, the Saab 9-3 Sport Wagon is a real sleeper-nothing remarkable or exceptional, just all-around good. The engine is terrific, tons of low- and mid-range power for everyday driving. The thing eats up freeway onramps with ease and will exceed legal speeds with little effort. The suspension is on the soft side for some tastes, but eminently comfortable for commuting and long trips. Road trips are where this car really excels.

I drove it to Northern California with three passengers. It was comfortable, recorded decent mileage and was inconspicuous enough not to draw the wrong kind of attention. This car has been to the Air Races in Reno, Nevada, done weekend jaunts to Vegas and countless trips to Willow Springs Raceway. It's been a surf wagon, a photo van, even a canyon carver on occasion. The car never sat still on the weekends, which probably says the most about it.

The huge amount of space in back makes it ideal for hauling parts and equipment. At one point, two sets of tires and wheels, plus a full suspension package and various other bits were all stuffed in the cavern created by folding down the rear seats. On photo shoots, the photographer can lie down and shoot out of the rear hatch to get rolling shots.

Our year with the 9-3 has whizzed by and we're sorry to see it go. During this time of testing, we haven't experienced a single mechanical problem. Even the complex flip-out, rotating, dash-mounted cup holder withstood our abuse.

There have been few complaints, but some worth noting. The brake pads threw off more dust than anyone thought possible. Most of us were convinced Saab made a daring move in equipping the car with gunmetal-colored wheels. They were actually silver, but would become dirty within 100 miles of driving. Wind noise was also a small annoyance, but that stemmed from the roof rack and likely could have been cured with an aftermarket fairing.

And it's not really a complaint about the car itself, but we found the lack of aftermarket support annoying. We'd have loved to really open up the engine with a turbo-back exhaust and a computer flash. Sadly, we just couldn't find what we needed.

Saab will soon release the next-generation 9-3. It's reported to be more dynamic than this model and all-wheel drive will be a worthwhile option. We can't wait. With such a short list of gripes on this one and a long list of improvements pending from Saab, this may finally move the 9-3 out of sleeper status and into the big time.

At A Glance
+ Good power on boost, decent economy off boost
- Needs all-wheel drive, dang it
Mileage: 20,978
Fuel Economy: 21.7 mpg

By Michael Febbo
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