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  • 2008 Saab 9-3 Wagon

Avg. Price Paid:$9,016 - $11,036
Original MSRP: $29,615 - $36,250
MPG: 19 City / 29 Hwy

2008 Saab 9-3 Wagon Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Saab 9-3 Wagon was new.

The 9-3 SportCombi is described as a "quite pleasant" driving experience by the Detroit News and others, thanks to a strong powertrain and nimble handling. These qualities and the introduction of an all-wheel drive system solidify the SportCombi's place at number-two in the performance rankings for its class.

Acceleration and Power

Most describe the 2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi's 2.0T's engine, a turbocharged four-cylinder with 210 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, as an adequate performer. However, the general consensus prefers the Aero's 2.8-liter, six-cylinder engine with 250 horsepower.

Forbes says the SportCombi base engine "generates acceptable acceleration" while Consumer Guide finds the 2.0T SportCombi engine "fairly quick." However, Consumer Guide later recalls "passing response dulled by brief turbo lag," summing up the opinions of those disappointed with the 2.0T's power.

To Road and Track, the Aero's V6 is "terrifically smooth and quiet." Meanwhile Edmunds says, "The engine pumps out 258 lb-ft from 2,000 to 4,500 rpm, which make it a member of the flat torque curve club. Most amazing, however, is that the SportCombi puts that power to the pavement without any torque steer."

Your engine preference is a trade-off of power and money. Car and Driver finds the Aero has the power the 2.0T lacks, enough "to twirl the speedo needle to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds." Meanwhile, others explain the 2.0T is a good choice for the budget conscious. "Were I buying a 9-3, I'd much prefer the four-cylinder engine -- a 2.0 liter turbo that puts out just 40 fewer horsepower than the V6 -- with the 6-speed manual," About.com notes., "While it's no speed demon, it's much more willing to put the power to the ground than the V6 automatic, plus it's much more economical."

With a manual transmission, the Environmental Protection Agency rates the 2.0T SportCombi at 19 miles per gallon in the city, 29 miles per gallon on highways. The Aero SportCombi with an automatic transmission receives a rating of 15 miles per gallon in the city, 24 on highways, and 16 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on highways, with manual transmission.

Both the 9-3 SportCombi's trims come standard with an imprecise six-speed manual transmission. The Detroit Free Press reports the shifter is "a bit notchy," while AutoWeek chooses the word "rubbery." However, "opting for the rubbery manual makes for a slightly quirkier ride, which is probably what real Saabophiles want," they state. Drivers also have an option for an automatic transmission -- a five-speed or six-speed Sentronic for the 2.0T and Aero, respectively.

Handling and Braking

The 2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi is generally regarded as a smooth handler with just enough sportiness to live up to its name. Consumer Guide categorizes the wagon as "firm, poised" and "nimble."

Road and Track's reviewer is just one to highlight the SportCombi's MacPherson-strut front suspension with an independent four-link rear, especially as it includes Saab's Re-Axs passive rear-wheel steering system, "tuned to please both Mrs. Smith when she's carting the kids around and Mr. Smith when he wants to crank the pace up a notch." Edmunds also finds Re-Axs works "transparently to give the SportCombi a glued-to-the-ground feel in high-speed sweepers ... it allows the rear wheels to turn slightly when the car is thrown into a corner at high speed, increasing lateral grip and stability."

Re-Axs complements a power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system that's described as precise even if a little light. Newsday notices the light steering at high speeds, but Automotive.com finds the light feel is "not enough to detract from the fun-to-drive factor."

The Saab 9-3 SportCombi's four-wheel disc, power-assisted anti-lock brakes "inspired" Edmunds, who notes the pedal is "firm yet progressive, nose dive is minimal, and we didn't detect any ABS vibration or brake fade over several repeated hard stops." AutoWeek specifically found the Sport Combi "turned in a respectable 121-foot performance," when stopping from 60 mph. The 9-3 SportCombis also come with a traction control system and electronic stability control, appreciated by USA Today for being present but not as overzealous as competitors' systems. "Some wheelspin helps you keep going in sand or deep snow, and spinning the tires can just be plain fun."

All-Wheel Drive

Midway through the model year, Saab will make "Cross-Wheel Drive" (or XWD) available for the Aero trim. XWD sends most of its power to the front wheels when the vehicle is moving at a steady cruising speed but routes torque to the rear if grip is unsure. Edmunds says: "The sophisticated new XWD system is a bright spot, as it adds a level of driver involvement that has been absent from Saabs for years ... But even with its newfound grip and power, the 9-3 Aero XWD isn't hard-edged enough to be considered a true sport sedan or sport wagon."

Review Last Updated: 2/17/09

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