For 2006, the Saab 9-3’s biggest change is the addition of the SportCombi, a premium midsize wagon. It joins the 9-3’s family of sport sedan and convertible; the line-up has also been made neater with the Linear and Arc trim lines merged into a single base model, and the uplevel Aero trim line carried over from 2005. All three body styles are available in both lines.

Other changes include a new turbocharged aluminum V6 engine for Aero models, which also receive 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels with all-season tires. This replaces the high-output four-cylinder that was used on the Aero in 2005 and has been moved into the base line for 2006. Finally, all models receive body-coloured door handles.

Positioned between the entry-level 9-2X and the 9-5, the 9-3 base models use the high-output 2.0-litre turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine, mated to a five-speed manual transmission that can be upgraded to a five-speed automatic. The V6-powered Aero models use a six-speed manual that can be optioned up to a six-speed automatic. The base 175 hp turbocharged four-cylinder used in 2005 has been dropped.

The new SportCombi features Saab’s signature wedge profile and styling cues, with lines that are more hatchback than wagon, but with a wagon’s practical cargo-loading capability. The main cargo floor lifts, dividing the available space into two sections and revealing additional storage in the recessed sub-floor.

The base 9-3 models include twin five-spoke, 16-inch alloy wheels, power driver’s seat, body-colour rocker panels and bumper skirts, and a seven-speaker audio system. Aero models include 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels.

Other available features include climate control, heated mirrors, power windows, variable intermittent wipers, heated leather seats, power locks with keyless entry, power sunroof, and cooled glove compartment. The Arc convertible includes a colour-matched headliner, active rollover protection, and a fully automatic, electrically-operated top.

The beautifully-styled 9-3 is a pleasurable drive, with a richly-appointed interior and very comfortable seats. The new turbocharged V6 improves the experience, offering low-speed torque and high-rpm power.

Based on GM’s Epsilon platform, also used on the Opel Vectra and Chevrolet Malibu, the 9-3 is engineered for safety, with numerous active and passive features. It isn’t as fast as some of the competition, and its front-wheel-drive configuration means it isn’t up to the level of sports sedans from automakers like BMW and Audi, but the price-tag is attractive to those who want European flair with domestic prices. The new SportCombi offers an additional level of practicality, with eye-pleasing proportions and traditional Saab interior quality.

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