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2009 Saab 9-3 SportCombi ReviewThe Good
Extra power and a ton of extra options, all during a carryover year, mean 2009 won't be a lull for Saab's 9-3.The Bad
A slightly too-harsh ride for the '09 9-3 Aero trim has taken a bit of the pleasure out of pleasure cruising for some owners, and a few cheap-feeling interior materials have received more than a few complaints.
The CarGurus View
The 9-3 is a stellar example of what a compact sedan and convertible can be, and the SportCombi does the same for wagons. Checking options can start bumping up the price quite a bit, and frankly it might just not be worth it. With an Aero styling package newly available on front-wheel-drive trims, that might be the best - certainly the most economical - option.
At a Glance
Saab’s 2009 9-3 SportCombi may be a carryover, but it still offers a wealth of new options and features. As Saab's entry-level wagon, the SportCombi has two trim levels, 2.0T and Aero, comes in front- or all-wheel-drive configurations, and has either a four- or six-cylinder engine, both turbocharged.
As of October 2008, the Saab XWD system was made available on 2.0T models. For the top-tier Aero trim, an award-winning and more powerful 280-hp V6 engine and an electronically controlled limited slip were made standard. For the 2.0T sport FWD trim, an Aero type appearance and performance package is now available that offers upgraded brakes as well as a sport-tuned suspension in addition to styling changes, and 17x7.5-inch five-spoke alloys come standard, as on the Aero models. 2.0T XWD models get 17x7-inch alloys.
Further additions include carbon-fiber interior trim on Aero models, OnStar 8.0 with Turn-by-Turn Navigation, and Bluetooth. Color choices change as well, with Grey now being offered as a new convertible top option, Carbon Grey Metallic and Smoke Beige debuting as new exterior colors, and Glass Grey Metallic replacing Parchment Silver.
Two engines are available, a 2.0-liter for the 2.0T trim and a 2.8-liter for the Aero versions. The inline four-cylinder (I4) 2.0-liter turbocharged engine puts out a healthy 210 hp and still gets an EPA rating of 18/27 mpg. For an extra 70 hp, choose the Aero model’s 2.8-liter V6, which will still hand out a respectable 15/24 rating. At 280 hp, this is an increase of 25 hp over 2008. Both engines have been recommended by Saab for use with 90 octane gasoline.
There are three transmissions, with a six-speed manual coming standard on FWD 2.0T trims, with the option of a five-speed automatic as well. Aero versions and XWD 2.0T's come with either a six-speed automatic or the six-speed manual as a no-cost option.
Both engines are strong, exhibiting little turbo lag, with the 2.8 showing exceptional power throughout the rpm range. Lag is a larger problem with the 2.0, but power builds quickly and confidently, and both automatics compensate well with precise downshifting.
Ride & Handling
The handling of the SportCombi inspires confidence in every trim and configuration, although the Aero trim's stiffer suspension can reverberate bumps rather than absorb. With that in mind, the Aero offers increased grip and handling over the already impressive response of the 2.0T. Steering is light and precise, both at speed and in the parking lot. The SportCombi has a ride and handling that are at the top of its class, especially for a wagon. Weighing in at less than 100 pounds more than the sedan and over 200 pounds less than the convertible, expect to be impressed.
Cabin & Comfort
The SportCombi is a pleasant blend of upscale luxury and sporty appeal, although some owners have complained that selected plastic materials feel cheaper than should be allowed at this level. Controls are well-placed and intuitive, having been well-received overall, with the possible exception of the navigation system's absorption of the audio functions. Interior space is ample and cargo space is quite impressive, with 72.3 cubic feet.
Regardless of trim, buyers will be treated to a leather interior with a power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, OnStar, and 16-inch alloy wheels. However, for those who want a bit more, a Premium Package offers a power passenger seat as well, wood trim, 17-inch wheels, Bose stereo, steering-linked Xenon fog- and headlights, and heated seats.
The Aero will additionally provide a sport-tuned suspension, power sunroof, dual polished exhaust, upgraded seats and brakes, and additional styling upgrades to distinguish it from other trims.
All trims come standard with a host of safety features, a Saab tradition. Dual front, front side, and curtain side airbags are coupled with front-seat active head restraints. Antilock four-wheel disc brakes, an anti-skid system, tire-pressure monitor, emergency inside trunklid release, and daytime running lights are all standard, with the only additional safety feature being a rear obstacle detection system that comes standard on Aero trims.
NHTSA test results awarded four stars in all categories excepting side impacts involving the driver, which earned five stars.
What Owners Think
The 9-3 has been a perennial favorite for Saab, and a natural evolution from the immensely successful 900 series, and the SportCombi has added another layer of utility to the model. With the wealth of upgrades in this carryover year, the addition of the XWD system to the 2.0T trim and the extra horsepower for the 2.8-liter engine have been especially well received. Additionally, the standard limited-slip differential added to the Aero and the Aero-type package for the 2.0T FWD trim have been welcome additions, highly praised by owners.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.