Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Saab 9-3 Aero XWD. Click image to enlarge

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General Motors Canada

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Review and photos by Michael Clark


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Saab 9-3

Could this be the Saab that is absolutely faab?

One can only hope, considering that most of the 9-3 derivatives this reporter has been subjected to have been intent on providing an unlimited supply of front-drive torque steer, with MSRP’s that throw in all-wheel drive on other makes as a general courtesy. Born from jets as they may be, 9-3’s have faced stiff competition, and proven all-wheel drive systems from the rest of the Euro 50K Club. And while this particular 9-3 tester lists its point of origin as Trollhattan, Sweden, the powertrain appears to have more in common with such products as the just-bring-it-here-already Opel Insignia. (At least it isn’t a re-badged Subaru.)

Whatever the game plan, the available cross-wheel drive system on the 9-3 should finally elevate Saab into the realm of Bonafide Contender, against the likes of quattro, xDrive, and 4MATIC. In addition to the regular Inside Story features analysis, this Saab story includes a 1400-ish kilometre shakedown, determining both fuel sip and wheel slip. The MSRP for this Saab 9-3 Aero XWD tester settles in at $52,825. (Pricing shown does not include freight, taxes, or regional incentives.)

The Cockpit/Centre Stack

While the tilt/telescope wheel provides plenty of feature squeal, such as well-positioned control tabs for phone, driver information, and gearbox shift, the other part of that yipe is Saab’s use of alloy inserts on the wheel itself. Translation; you’ll never forget your gloves again. Headlamps and wipers are both equipped with an Auto sense of engagement.

Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Saab 9-3 Aero XWD. Click image to enlarge

Power control tabs for the exterior heated mirrors include a right-hand mirror downward dip, to keep your tires from becoming curb sensors while parking. Full instrumentation includes a sweep seldom seen on most turbocharged vehicles; a turbo boost gauge. The Night Panel switch subdues the rest of the IP bulbs to cut down on evening eye strain, with just the speedo sweep in play. Power windows are of the Auto ascent/descent variety, with a dedicated power trunk release found on the door panel, directly below the window control pod.

The centre stack works well with the GM corporate Navi head unit, though it is high time that the General realizes that not all of their customers wish to re-dedicate their wireless phone identity to the OnStar system. Don’t be a goof; give ‘em Bluetooth. There are still plenty of compelling reasons to subscribe to OnStar, like speedy delivery of emergency personnel in the event of a crash. The dual zone HVAC controls are delightfully simple to engage and customize. The floor shift for the 6-speed Sentronic automatic includes a manual gate, in case you’re not in the mood for the steering wheel-mounted paddles. (I for one am always in the mood for a good paddling.) Feeling frisky and lazy? Simply press the Sport mode switch to the left of the Navi, to provide more spirited shift maps than the stock algorithm.

Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Inside Story: Saab 9 3 Aero XWD sedan saab inside story
Saab 9-3 Aero XWD. Click image to enlarge
Cubbies!

A pox on this glovebox? Nay: it may not lock, but all is forgiven when the cavity is revealed, with proper containment of literature, and one of the deepest caverns in existence. The coolbox vent is cleverly hidden topside, to the right rear. Since most items requiring cooling may encounter condensation, the floor of the glovebox has a removable liner, with a spill containment perimeter levee. Kudos to Saab for getting the flock out of here, as seen on the likes of other flock-lined coolboxes in the Euro set.

Front door side pockets don’t appear to be concerned with bottle indents, while the rear door panels are pocket-free. The centre stack has two well-sized cubbies for phone or music player stowage. A 12-volt DC powerpoint is found below the HVAC bank, with the second electro-juice port found within the centre console. Cupholders are unique, to say the least. The centre stack boasts the Saab signature pop-out-articulate-and-scare-the-kids unit, which is surprisingly usable for most java needs.

The front floor mount cupster, to the rear of the key, has that glorious Scandinavian form and function feel, without ever actually being of any use. At least you can hide it with a roll-top door. In the rear, seatbacks receive storage pockets, and cupholder duties are cleverly hidden, with a pop-out tray in the centre of the lower seat cushion. Speaking of seats, the front seat bottom cushions incorporate handy storage pockets. Man; that’s one pale finger.

The Overhead

The Aero Touring addendum to this particular 9-3 adds an auto-dimming interior rear-view mirror, with integrated Homelink transmitter and compass. The power sliding sunroof is simple in switchery. Visors do not slide, due to real estate, though they are equipped with backlit vanity mirrors. Topside, the roof panel incorporates anchor points for future racking systems.

Seat Treat

8-way power positioning is provided for the front passengers, with three memory positions for the pilot’s chair. Lumbar adjustment is set on dial-up, while both front seats get toasty, with two-step heating. The Inside Story Comfort Dummy returns, to a rear cabin with good headroom and cushion comfort, and scant slivers of legroom. It should be noted that the rear seating position snaps of the Dummy are taken with the front driver’s seat in the optimal position for his 5-foot 8-inch frame, assuming that we would actually let a Dummy drive.

Cargo Embargo

Practicality can sometimes be lost amongst the clawing-at-luxury sedan segment, such as providing a pass-through for the skis but no fold-down seatbacks to cargo-please. The 9-3 gets the pass-through, with lockability, and 60/40 split seatbacks, with trunk-mount releases. Interior trimming of the trunk cavity is first rate, though the inner pull-down for the trunk lid was awkward to use.

Spare care

The cargo floor tips out of the way easily, revealing the space-saver spare. Saab will change it for you, during the first four years or 80,000 kilometres of ownership.

The Mill

Shoehorn, anyone? The 280-horsepower 2.8-litre V6 turbo mill is the epitome of a snug fit, which will no doubt impact future service accessibility. Key fluid fill points are clearly marked, with little need for funnels. It’s not that often that one can exceed the highway mileage ratings from the Utopia known as the Transport Canada EnerGuide, but that’s exactly what transpired during a 1400 kilometre round trip from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay over the holidays. The Guide posts a highway rating of 8.3 litres consumption per 100 litres for the turbo mill. The information display returned an average of 8.0 litres consumption, with a median speed of 95 km/h over hilly terrain. I was a smidge concerned at the decision to send the Aero out into the wilderness without snow skins. Even with potentially treacherous dustings of powder on the road surface, the Aero never broke traction once.

The Verdict

I have to admit, the overall experience in the 9-3 returned minimal complaints, and when not in mileage evaluation mode, the XWD enjoys being pushed. The price point is anything but obscene, when all of the creature comforts are taken into consideration. And while the 9-3 may have more in common with some Chevy Malibu and Opel Vectra platforms, it has removed just enough of the former Saab weirdness to appeal to the mainstream. If servicing and dealer accessibility follow suit, then this Aero deserves every one of this week’s five star rating.

Next week: Porsche Cayenne V6