- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

Well, leave it to Saab.
At a time when makers of luxury and near-luxury cars are terminating model names in favor of numbers and letters, the Swedish automaker is headed in the opposite direction.
For example, Acura no longer has an Integra; now it's the RSX. The Acura TL used to be the Vigor, and the RL was a Legend.
Cadillac's new car is the CTS. Eventually other Cadillac names will be dropped in favor of letter designations.
Not Saab, which has a long history of finding its own road. Its 9-5 sedans and station wagons have three new monikers: Linear, Arc and Aero. In ascending order, they represent differences in trim but mainly in performance. Sort of reminds you of the old Buick designations: LeSabre, Invicta and Electra and before that Special, Century and Roadmaster.
The Linear gets a 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo engine with 185 horsepower; the Arc has a turbo V-6 with 200 horses, and the performance version, the Aero, gets 250 horsepower from a differently outfitted 2.3-liter turbo four.
None comes cheap. The least expensive Linear sedan has a sticker price of almost $35,000. The Arc station wagon tested for this review started at $39,975 and, with a few minor options, topped out at $41,100. If you're thinking midsize family station wagon, that's a pretty heavy nut. However, if your mind is stuck in the Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo zone which is exactly where the Saab folks would like you to be then it looks quite reasonable.
Truth is, luxury station wagons are a fairly rare breed.
Saab's Arc fits nicely. The styling is understated, tasteful and conservative, which likely is exactly what most of its owners would want.
It's not an all-out sports model (that's the Aero), but it is smoothly powerful, with just enough growl from under the hood to let you know that the Arc is no turgid ark.
The transmission is a slick-shifting five-speed automatic, and notwithstanding the fact that the engine gets a turbo boost, there's hardly a hint of turbo lag as you press the pedal.
Up front, the individual seats are large, deep and comfortable, upholstered in perforated leather.
Outboard passengers in the back seat are treated almost as well as those up front. There's plenty of head and knee room even for passengers who are above-average size. But forget the center position. Like those in most other midsize sedans and wagons, it's cramped and unforgiving, requiring a knees-to-the-chin seating position.
Way back, there's 37 cubic feet of cargo area, accessible through a hatch, which expands to 73 cubic feet if you drop the rear seatbacks. But to make full use of the space, you have to remove the hard cargo-area cover. Most wagons use a rollup, window-shade type of cover. But Saab's hard cover must be folded, though it's sturdy enough to carry light loads. There's a shallow hideaway stowage area under the floor.
Though there are a few annoyances, the interior is tastefully done, with quality materials, including real wood trim.The price tag includes a full range of luxury accouterments, including eight-way power seats up front, memory settings for the driver's seat, a motorized glass sunroof, heated front and rear seats, heated outside mirrors, a stereo with cassette and CD player, GM's OnStar driver assistance system, dual-zone automatic climate control, anti-lock brakes and side air bags. Remote controls for the stereo and OnStar are located on the steering wheel.
The Arc's main nod to Saab's quirky past is the location of the ignition down on the console near the shift lever.The Arc wagon also sorely needs a central locking system. As it stands now, the tailgate must be unlocked independently a bummer when you think you've got everything unlocked and you're ready to load something.

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