Friday, July 10, 2009

The 2009 Saab 9-3 Aero Sport Sedan is pricey, but it’s well worth a test drive. The turbo engine makes it a thrill to get behind the wheel.

Under the hood is a 2.8-liter V-6 turbo that produces 280 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque in a snap. And its quick acceleration is quite stable owing to Saab’s unique all-wheel-drive system called Cross-Wheel Drive — or XWD for short. The 9-3 rides on 17-inch alloy wheels, and it’s overall appearance is consistently attractive in the Swedish tradition.

Saab explains that the state-of-the-art XWD has two critical elements to the system. The first is pre-emptive engagement of the rear wheels to optimize traction at takeoff; and the second is an electronically controlled rear limited-slip differential for variable torque transfer between the rear wheels.

Before explaining all the enjoyment, let’s get the tester’s drawback out of the way. The compact sedan has a base price of $41,885, and with a few options the bottom line was $45,355. But with car sales slipping, I’m sure those prices can be negotiated lower.

The EPA mileage ratings are more on par with those of a full-size sedan: 15 city and 24 highway. The only way to improve on those numbers is to avoid pushing the accelerator pedal hard.

The 2009 9-3 comes with a load of desirable features, such as dual-zone automatic climate control with a cabin filter, and both front seats can be heated. It has an AM/FM/CD Bose surround-sound system, plus XM Satellite Radio. In addition, the 9-3 Aero has many other features expected of a top-notch car, such as power seats, adjustable steering wheel, power windows, headlamp washers, power moonroof, Bluetooth connection, auto-dimming mirror with a digital compass, and the adaptive headlamps turn in the direction of the steering wheel turn. The driver’s seat can be set into memory, and the sideview mirrors are easy to adjust.

Both front and back seats are covered with quality leather, have a sporty appearance and are exceptionally comfortable. The 60/40 rear seat has a 12-volt outlet - and the trunk is spacious.

Another advantage of the car is the offering of OnStar. This system has numerous travel and safety benefits, and it’s simple to use.

The 9-3 tester was an easy car to steer, so I quickly drove to my favorite road areas for a good workout. I was not disappointed in the least as this sedan responds to the slightest touch on both the steering wheel and accelerator pedal. I could tell by the sure-footed way it hugged the road that the cross-wheel drive made this Swedish-built car something exceptional.

That’s probably one of the reasons the 2007 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety made the Saab its top safety pick for the third consecutive year. Also, just named the 9-3 a “Top 5 Wagon” based in part on Saab’s new Cross-Wheel Drive system, designed to optimize the vehicle’s handling and stability in all driving conditions.

Safety is always a concern when evaluating a tester. The Saab 9-3 Aero has received four stars in frontal crash testing, five stars in side crashes for the front row and four stars for the rear seat. In the rollover, it received four stars.

I want to be in a car that is capable of avoiding a crash, and that gives the edge to the 2009 9-3 sedan with the Cross-Wheel Drive, which also features ABS and ESP. Based on that system alone, the $41,885 is a worthwhile investment, as the 9-3 is offering today what’s likely to be the wave of the future.

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