2006 Saab 9-3 SportCombi

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This year, Saab revealed the third variant of the 9-3 model line, the SportCombi. The name may be strange, but it allows hard-core Saab people who were disappointed by the current 9-3's trunk-back configuration to think of this new model as the 9-3 hatchback they were hoping for, while everybody else will recognize it as a 9-3 wagon. The SportCombi was previewed--very accurately, it turns out--by the Sport Hatch concept first shown at the 2003 Frankfurt auto show. The new wagon goes on sale in October as a 2006 model.

Like its sedan and convertible siblings, the SportCombi will be offered in three trim levels: Linear (base), Arc (midlevel), and Aero (sporty top spec). Aero versions of the SportCombi, and all 9-3s, will have a new, turbocharged, six-cylinder engine for '06. The 2.8-liter V-6 will offer 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, and can be combined with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. The engine is a part of GM's new 24-valve DOHC V-6 engine family, seen also in the Cadillac STS and SRX (as a 3.6-liter), the Cadillac CTS (3.6 and a 2.8, but without the turbo), the Buick LaCrosse (3.6) and some Australian Holdens. The 2.8-liter turbo combo is a Saab exclusive, however, with parts such as the cylinder heads, valves, pistons, and camshafts unique for this application. Saab is predicting a 0-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds for the sedan and 7.0 seconds for the wagon.

Linear and Arc versions of the SportCombi--and the other two 9-3s--will use the 210-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four. Currently, Linear models use a 185-hp version of that engine. In all 9-3s, the front wheels will continue to do the driving, with Saab president Debra Kelly-Ennis admitting only that all-wheel drive for the 9-3 is on her "wish list."

The SportCombi will battle the Volvo V50, Jaguar X-Type, Volkswagen Passat, Audi A4, BMW 3-series, and Mercedes C-class in the burgeoning premium small-wagon market, where its 60 cubic feet of cargo space (25 cubic feet with therear seats in place) is more than some, less than others. The 60/40 split folding rear seat has a standard ski pass-through. Saab is quoting a starting price of the base Linear of "well under $30,000," which we take to mean about $27,500, or a few hundred dollars more than its sedancounterpart.

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