2006 Saab 9-3 SportCombi

Rear Drivers Side View

SportCombi is a slightly peculiar name, as befits a slightly peculiar car company making a fetish of safety and always emphasizing its aircraft-manufacturer origins.

Yes, you can say that the SportCombi is only a station wagon, but in so doing, you would miss the point of the latest 9-3. This third body variant is the stiffest, sportiest, and Saabiest 9-3 yet. The beleaguered company really needs it to be, as executives expect, the best-selling model, worldwide, in an expanding range that includes-in the United States, at least-both a Japanese sport wagon and an American SUV wearing poorly tailored Saab suits.

Saab's aerodynamicists have achieved a decent, if not outstanding, 0.33 drag coefficient and have executed multiple minor tweaks to reduce wind noise and keep the mirrors and rear window clean, and they even shaped the front suspension arms to keep mud away from the brakes and wheel rims. Departing cabin ventilation air is used to clean up wake turbulence at the rear. But the most impressive aspect of the SportCombi's aerodynamic package is that it manages to ensure zero lift forces at front and rear.

It really does pay off on the road. Compared with a 9-3 convertible, the Aero SportCombi feels far more solid, it's quiet at cruising speeds, and somehow the steering seems more accurate and responsive. The new 2.8-liter turbo V-6 is strong, the six-speed gearboxes-a slick-shifting manual or a tab-switched manu-matic-work well, and the car looks serious. We like the side profile, with its rising beltline and falling side glass, but are less enamored of the "ice-look" taillights, which won't be coming to the States, anyway. It's a nice car and good to drive. Just what Saab needs.

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