I have heard my share of the nay-sayers who complain Saab “just isn’t what it used to be” or that it “has lost what made it special.” I don’t really buy into that opinion.
I’d argue that for too many auto tradionalists the slightest change, even dare I say change for the better, is looked down upon. I think Saab picked the perfect time to spread its wings and make a bold statement in the direction it was taking its lineup. A new automotive market demands new things. Those who sit by and idely watch and hope things don’t require them to change – are usually not around down the road.
Saab had been a around, a distinct vehicle, famously safe and dependable, as well as quirky. The 2006 9-3 I recently tested was as unmistakably Saab as anything that has come off the Swedish assembly lines in years. And that, for those nay-sayers, is a great thing. From the distinctive grille to the wedge profile to the headlight assembly, it is purely Saab.
Afterall, a car company whose roots are in aero design should be used to having to move fast and take advantage of technological changes. Saab started the redesign of its lineup in 2003 and the 2006 versions are a continuation of that vision.
While the exterior offers obvious cues to the Saab heritage, inside the cabin you will find more subtle reflection on the rich traditions of Saab. The most famous, and quirky, interior cue is the ignition key placement in the center console between the seats. Yes, the whole week I had the 9-3 I continually reached around the steering column with the key, only to have to foolishly redirect to the console. It takes time, but it is Saab.
While the ignition kept me off balance, the dashboard design was a real favorite. A signature of past Saabs, the dashboard rakes aross in front of the driver, confidently touting that aero heritage, more like a plane than other sedans. Visibility is great and the dash looks amazing at night.
I really enjoyed the 9-3's interior. The standard wood effect trim blends nicely and adds a feeling of sophistication while the leather-wrapped steering wheel featured audio controls for easy, heads-up use. Buttons on the Saab are really tiny, so fat fingers beware.
I found the front seats pretty comfortable for short rides, though one longer trip had me searching for several adjustments. The side bolsters keep you in place whether you are darting in and out of city traffic or slipping into the fast lane off a cloverleaf.
Rear seating in the 9-3 was adequate. Passengers complained a bit about getting in and out, but were extremely comfortable during trips about town. The 60/40 split rear seats can be folded for versatility when carrying one rear-seat passenger and cargo.
Under the hood, my 9-3’s 2.0 liter, 4 cylinder turbo delivered 210 horsepower. It was a fun and exhillerating car to drive and I found the 5-speed Sentronic transmission responsive. There is a 6-speed automatic transmission option ($1,350).
The Premium Package in my 9-3 offered a great looking Red Walnut interior trim, super audio quality in a 300-watt upgrade with six-CD changer and 13 speakers. Yes, I said 13 speakers. A Navigation System was paired with the Premium Package for a total cost of $3,890, which seemed reasonable for the upgrades.
Overall, Saab is just where it wants to be. Positioned as a distinctly different car for those looking to standout in an extrememly cookie-cutter marketplace. The 9-3 is a great car and worth the $32,960.