2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Michael Clark

Photo Gallery:
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi

Tourings and Estates and Combis, oh my!

Like a certain wizard, the parting of the curtain surrounding these transporters reveals the truth: they’re station wagons. (The cars, not Oz.) While we’re being truthful, these modern wagons are some of the most appealing suburban sculptures available, for those of independent means with 50-large in their jeans. Their sporting image quickly erases the childhood memory of Mac-Tac siding and hides of Nauga. Who would’ve thought that you could tip in a throttle blip on the off ramp, with a load of bedding plants, on your way to your tri-monthly Restylane injection (with apologies to trophy wives worldwide)?

Whether you’re a Biff or a Buffy, the Saab 9-3 SportCombi is sure to attract a non-marring tap of your quality footwear. This is the wagon as art, from the same people who have brought us car designs that appear to have been penned by Salvador Dali on an absinthe bender. This week, the Flying Fickle Finger of Interior Debate is bent on the Aero Sport Automatic version, with an MSRP of $53,110 as equipped.


Cabin


2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi. Click image to enlarge

Controls

Bring your gloves! Especially with a -40 Prairie wind chill. They’re more than required, with the Aero’s unique steering wheel grip of leather and aluminum inlay. (It gets cold in Sweden, right?) Column position is manually adjustable for tilt and telescope. Audio controls are found on the right-hand spoke, while the left incorporates the handsfree phone function, which appears to only be available for use with the OnStar system. It doubles as the voice prompter for onboard systems, though the cough syrup lilt of my voice must have sounded like Swedeglish this particular week.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi. Click image to enlarge

There is plenty of info to be accessed through the Info key, which displays its good, bad, and service me memos in green screen, below the speedometer. The menu includes fuel economy, average speed, configurable speed warning and outside temperature, as well as the gateway to accessing the on/off for the Stability Enhancement System. Got the shifts? You can tappa-tappa with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, or slappa-slappa with the manu-gate for the six-speed Sentronic automatic. If you don’t want to get that involved, tap the Sport shift setting switch on the dash.

The cruise control is cleverly hidden on the turn signal stalk, with the accel/decel actuation controlled by an integrated spring-loaded rocker switch on the tip of the stalk. The wiper/wash stalk shares the simplicity, with an Auto setting that appears to sync with the rear wiper when engaged.

The windshield spritz adds a deluge for both headlamp lenses. Headlamps get the Auto setting position, with front fog lamps, as well as rear auxiliary visibility markers for pea soup conditions. Window lifts get Auto descent/lift up front, while the rear glass receives Auto descent only. Exterior mirrors are power and heated, with dip assist for parking. Interior rearview gets compass, auto-dim, and Homelink transmitter.

The auto HVAC controls are delightfully simplistic, with dual zone comfort. The comfort continues, with a rear console-mount vent array. The parking brake handle is cleverly disguised within the contours of the centre console tunnel. A Nightpanel switch kills the interior IP lighting, with the exception of a subdued hue for the speedometer face. The Navi/Audio head unit is corporate GM, with touch screen access, and an MP3 player input.

Convenience

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi. Click image to enlarge

Front and rear doors get ample cubbies, sized right for skinny water bottles. Below the HVAC controls are two cubbies with removable rubber trays. There are three 12-volt DC powerpoints, one below the HVAC, another within the centre console box, and a third in the cargo area.

The console box has a ratchet-action sliding armrest, with no lever control. It ratchets at will, particularly annoying when you’re performing the standard interior rummage for the elusive and wily misplaced item. The glovebox could swallow your scarf, earmuffs, and possibly a size 10 Kamik boot. It is remarkably deep, with a removable rubber tray.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi. Click image to enlarge

There are two front cupholders. The first is found on the dash, revealed with a press of a button. The holder flips out from the dash, eliciting girlish screams of terror from this writer. There are three rubber tabs, which are rather useless when they are cold. The concept is unique, though prone to bounce/spillage when a fully laden cup is along for the ride. The second cup holder is hidden behind a rubbery roll-up door in front of the console box. There is a flip-down panel with a circular hole, which offers nary a cinch for most cups.

Visors receive lighted vanities. Rear seatbacks add leatherette pouches. A dual cup holder tray slides out from the rear seat bottom biscuit, with rubber tab cinchers.

Fit and finish

Everything was going so well. Tactile feel, gaps, and overall fit and finish were beyond expectations. (GM needs to learn more Swedeglish!) Perhaps the design-by-committee contribution was the staples found holding the console cover hide in place. I used to do things like this on my Chevelle, back in the day.

Safety

Relax. You’ll feel downright warm and fuzzy with all of the pillowy goodness in the Aero’s airbag department. Dual frontal bags are joined by front seat side-mounts, as well as curtain protection for all seating positions. Add to this the Top Safety Pick Award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The 9-3 series gets the award for the highest ratings of ‘Good’,

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi. Click image to enlarge

during frontal, side, and rear impact tests (www.iihs.org). Front seatbelts receive positionable anchor points. Rear headrests are shingle style, for improved visibility when not in use.

Seats

Ample bolstering and sensuous leather hides make the Aero the perfect place for a sit-down. Front seats get the heat treat, with two-step toasty control. Eight-way power seats arrive for driver and passenger, as well as manual lumbar twist dials. The 60/40 rear bench has a centre armrest, which also doubles as the pass-through passage.


Spare/Trunk/Cargo

The “Born From Jets” theme appears on the cargo floor lever, which lifts up a robust carpet-topped plywood floor. The subwoofer comes up with it, mounted in the recess of the oversized temporary spare. (Yes. That’s what I said.) Saab has included a hook to hold the floor up and away as you access the spare. Speaking of access, you’ve got access to Roadside Assistance for a whopping 60 months or 160,000 kilometres. The cargo cover is easy to slot into place, and the dual rear pillar lamps are much appreciated.

2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi. Click image to enlarge

The roof rails show nothing in the way of stock mounting hardware, so expect a trip to the Accessories section of the dealership to actually make use of them. One area of concern is the latch points on the rear of the seatbacks for the kids’ car seats. One would think that a recessed design would exist. These look like something you attach a come-along to.


Engine


2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi. Click image to enlarge

They say there’s a 2.8-litre turbo mill in there somewhere. Only your dealer knows for sure, because he’s the only one that should be poking under the bonnet of this Saab. Fluid levels are easy to access, as well as fill points. I shudder to think of the accessibility costs for maintenance upon warranty expiration.


Clarkey rating

There is an enticing recipe of think within the confines of the Aero, one that needs to be transcribed into language that the rest of the GM divisions can understand immediately. There are minimal snigglies here, and thankfully, minimal weirdness. By the way, an all-wheel drive version is coming soon. 4.5 stars.

Next week: 2008 VW Touareg 2 V6

Connect with Autos.ca