From The Hip
+ Comfort, ergonomics, serenity
- Not a firecracker in the canyons
Saabs have a way of getting under people's skin. I know a couple of guys who buy one, drive it for years, then go straight out and get another. After driving the new-generation 9-3, it's clear that Saab hasn't lost its touch. And it's that tactile quality that really counts. Saabs have some of the most comfortable seats a driver has ever parked his (or her) butt on. Whether it's the workaday commute or the road trip, they're Sweden's gift to the nether regions.
And this gift comes with some pretty fancy wrapping. Hang on to this metaphor before it gets stretched too far, but perhaps the bow on this ribbon is the 2.0-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder engine. It works away quietly and economically until the right foot asks for some boost. At which point, the induction and exhaust notes become a little gruffer, and the speed picks up at a fine rate. Perfect for overtaking, building up to freeway speeds or just plain hooning.
Not that hooning is top of the 9-3's list of favorite pastimes. Its suspension is far from hardcore. The focus is more on straddling the line between comfort and body control. Congratulations are in order, then, because the 9-3 is a champion straddler, even if it loses the battle against understeer. Yes, it would be nice for the front end to hold its line a little tighter now and then, but for the most part, the 9-3 is a perfectly good car to be in and live with.
So much so that, because I just happen to be looking for a car, I've started typing 'Saab' into the search engines of the online classified ad sites. Maybe it's time for me to be one of those guys. Oh, and the 9-3 still has one of the cleverest cup holders in the business.-Colin Ryan
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi 2.0T
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
2.0-liter inline four, dohc, 16-valve, turbocharged and intercooled
Peak Power: 210 hp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 221 lb-ft @2500 rpm
0-60 mph: 8.6 sec.
Top Speed: 140 mph
Fuel Economy: 19/26
Price as tested: $29,250