- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Saab brings back a car to its product portfolio that helped make it famous. Fifty-eight years ago, 16 Saab aircraft engineers added an automobile line to the company’s airplane production. Some of the best planes for defense and commercial use were the foundation of this Scandinavian company.

For 2006, the automaker rolls out an addition to the 9-3 line, which is the best-selling series in the Saab family. The 9-3 car line includes the 9-3 sedan, convertible and now the new premium midsize wagon, the SportCombi. This five-door wagon offers versatility as well as performance in this most popular Saab segment.

The big news continues, with a new 2.8-liter V-6 Turbo now available in the 9-3 product lineup. Designated for Aero models, this new powertrain is available in the Aero sedan, Aero convertible and of course, the Aero SportCombi. Add 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels with all-season tires and you have the foundation for a performance ride with the welcome addition of carrying up to 59 cubic feet of belongings, with the seats folded down.

For 2006, the 9-3 base SportCombi offers the popular 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine that delivers 210 horsepower and 221 foot-pounds of torque. Estimated fuel mileage is 22 miles per gallon city and 31 highway, which is good news given the current environment. The new offering, the 2.8-liter V-6, is listed at 18 city and 28 highway.

The top-of-the-line, high-performance Aero SportCombi model features an all-new twin-scroll turbocharged aluminum 2.8-liter V-6 engine that delivers 250 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque, making this the fastest Saab ever. A six-speed manual gearbox comes standard, and a six-speed Sentronic automatic transmission with steering wheel controls is available.

The best test is in the drive. A real-life city and country journey revealed the strong points of the Saab Aero SportCombi.

The first impression was how this 3,175-pound car is so well engineered in regard to structural rigidity. Development has progressed to the point of having an extremely fine-handling car, as evidenced by the ride and comfort over the rough surfaces of country roads without sacrificing performance.

Instant acceleration seemed to verify the claim that this V-6 Turbo is the fastest Saab to date. Passing a vehicle on a two-lane country road is a good test of the torque available at low rpms. Ninety percent of the 258 foot-pounds of torque are available from as little as 1,500 rpm with maximum torque available from a very useable 2,000 rpm to 4,500 rpm range. This is the kind of performance that can add greatly to the element of safety when passing or merging into high-speed traffic on expressways.

Also of interest is the smooth transition throughout acceleration with this turbo-equipped automobile. Gone is what is known as “torque steer,” where some turbocharged front-wheel-drive cars pull from side to side under heavy acceleration. Saab’s 30 years of experience with turbocharging really pays off with this high-performance 250-horsepower power plant. The highway manners of the new model get good marks and prove that sometimes “less is more” as Saab engineers often have stated.

If you can use a very practical daily hauler that can also “haul,” this Saab is for you. The 9-3 2.0T SportCombi goes on sale soon with a base MSRP of $27,620. The Aero model with the new 250-horsepower Turbo V-6 starts at $33,620.

An added bonus not found on other cars is an unusual opportunity: enrollment in the Saab Aero Academy. With the purchase of a 2006 Saab 9-3 Aero Sport Sedan, Convertible or the new SportCombi, enrollment in the performance driving school is included in the price. Owners of 2005 model year or newer Saab 9-5 Aeros also qualify.

This school is an intensive two-day course held at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga., and consists of 80 percent advanced handling exercises on specially constructed training tracks and 20 percent classroom time.

Aero Academy enrollees experience a skid pad where they learn how to control a car with proper steering, throttle and brake responses as well as “threshold” braking, which teaches how to apply brakes, improve reaction time and avoid brake lockup.

Lane-change exercises and a slalom course that tests timing, throttle and steering skills are also covered.

At time of purchase, the Saab dealer can help with enrollment into this worthwhile and beneficial training.

Enrollees must pay for their own transportation to Road Atlanta, hotel accommodations and meals. The academy tuition is included with the purchase of an Aero Saab.

Owners of about 500,000 Saab cars still on the roads today know the Saab experience.

The new customers to the Saab family have a pleasant surprise ahead and possibly one of the best learning opportunities available in the car world.

This truly is a new Saab story.

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