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2011 Saab 9-3 SportCombi Overview
Need a turbocharged people-hauler that has more room than a sedan but is smaller than a crossover? Consider the 2011 Saab 9-3 SportCombi. This compact wagon is essentially a utilitarian version of the 9-3 luxury sedan and coupe lineup, offering the same four-door (or two-door), five-passenger family friendliness, along with 59.5 cubic feet of cargo area with the rear seats folded. Saab, now under the auspices of the Netherlands-based Spyker Company, is well aware of the 9-3 SportCombi’s dated appearance, among other shortcomings, and promises a complete re-working of the 9-3 lineup in the next year or two. In its favor, however, at least for purists, the 9-3 SportCombi is one Saab that’s truly a Saab and remains unaffected by the company’s late sojourn with General Motors.
In any case, the 2011 SportCombi boasts three trims, the Base (aka 2.0T), the X AWD (introduced for the 2010 model year) and the top-shelf Aero. All are powered by a turbocharged inline 4-cylinder (I4) engine, with both the Base and Aero available only with front-wheel drive (FWD). The X trim, meanwhile, uses Saab's unique XWD that is, at heart, a tweaked all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. The highly touted XWD monitors and transfers torque between the front and rear axles as needed, while the standard rear limited-slip rear differential swings up to 50% of added torque between the two rear wheels, again, as needed.
Though not facing the competition its less-spacious siblings endure, the 2011 SportCombi is still beset by such luxury entries as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon and the Cadillac CTS. Other, more plebian, but certainly no less worthy rivals are Kia’s popular Soul, Subaru’s AWD Outback, and Volkswagen’s Jetta SportWagen.
Again for 2011, Saab offers only one engine for the 9-3 SportCombi line. This turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 powerplant combines with a variety of transmissions, depending on trim selection, for 210 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. The Base SportCombi is delivered with a 6-speed manual transmission good for 21/31 mpg. The X AWD, meantime, comes with a standard 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission, while the Aero is equipped with a standard 5-speed shiftable automatic. Mileage for the two transmissions, by the way, works out to 17/27 in the X AWD, and 19/27 in the Aero. Additionally, the Base is available with the 5-speed shiftable automatic, and the Aero can be delivered with the 6-speed stick shift.
Ride comfort in this luxury mini-wagon is described by reviewers as tepid, at best, while handling, at least in the Base trim, is also nothing to write home about. With its standard XWD, the X AWD trim handles better than its lesser siblings, while the Aero, boasting a sport-tuned suspension, fares better than either on winding back roads.
Touted as a luxury wagon, the 2011 SportCombi comes with at least a reasonable number of standard appearance, comfort and convenience features. The Base trim starts things off with a standard rear spoiler and 16-inch alloy wheels outside, while the cabin is endowed with leather upholstery and a power-adjustable driver’s seat. Further amenities in the Base trim include power windows and heated outside mirrors, remote power door locks, cruise control, telescoping tilt-wheel steering, dual-zone climate control and a nifty cooled storage compartment. Simulated wood and simulated alloy cabin trim accents complement the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, while entertainment is provided via a 150-watt, single-CD player with seven speakers. The 9-3 X AWD adds 17-inch alloy wheels and a roof rack outside, while dressing the cabin in simulated carbon fiber trim accents.
The flagship Aero, meanwhile, tosses in such additional features as a standard power tilt-and-slide moonroof, power-adjustable, heated front sport bucket seats, universal remote garage door opener and electrochromatic rear-view mirror. Entertainment- and techno-wise, the Aero boasts a 6-CD changer, 11 Bose premium speakers, 5.1 surround sound, XM satellite radio and auxiliary MP3 audio input, as well as OnStar telecommunications service that stars Bluetooth hands-free technology.
Options for the Base trim include numerous standard features found in the higher trims, including 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels. Both the X AWD and Aero trim levels can be delivered with DVD-based touch-screen navigation and the popular Premium Package featuring rear parking assist sensors, power-folding and auto-dimming outside mirrors and driver's memory for seats and mirrors. The X AWD is, of course, eligible for the power moonroof.
Standard safety equipment aboard the 2011 SportCombi wagon includes four-wheel antilock brakes (ABS), traction and stability control, front side-mounted airbags and front and rear head airbags. Front head-restraint whiplash protection, dusk-sensing headlights, daytime running lights, and a remote antitheft alarm are also standard across the lineup. The OnStar Safety and Security Plan is standard for the Aero and optional for the Base and X AWD. With the Premium Package, xenon adaptive headlights that swivel on cornering are also available for the X AWD and Aero trims.
Owners of the mirror-image 2010 SportCombi report ride comfort to be problematic in a wagon allegedly devoted to entry-level plush, with over-friendly steering compromising agility to an uncomfortable degree. Fuel efficiency in this compact isn’t bad, but a number of owners complain that they don’t get the mileage advertised by Saab. At least rear seat comfort, a letdown in the 9-3 sedan and rag-top, according to several owners, is bolstered somewhat in Saab’s compact wagon by the comparatively cavernous cargo bay. On an even more positive note, owners praise the 2010 SportCombi’s looks, safety features, fighter-jet-style driver's position, and, most especially, its value.
by Eric Tallberg
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Looking for a Used 9-3 SportCombi in your area?CarGurus has 108 nationwide 9-3 SportCombi listings starting at $4,999.