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2006 Saab 9-3 Aero

Trollhttan, Sweden It's 4000 miles from Detroit to Trollhttan, but after GM's recent rash of bright ideas for Saab, you'd think it was 4 million. Subaru-Saabs, body-on-frame Saab trucks, and now, what, an Australian-made V-6 for the brand whose devotees live for high-strung fours? Well, yes. And it turns out to be one very smooth move. Turbocharged, all-aluminum, and debuting this fall in the top-dog 2006 9-3 Aero, this new V-6 may just be the best thing to happen to Saab since rally legend Erik Carlsson.

Part of a new GM engine family that includes the excellent VVT sixes in the Cadillac CTS and SRX, Saab's version displaces 2.8 liters and features a clever twin-scroll turbocharger fed by two exhaust ducts (one from each cylinder bank) to improve boost smoothness and efficiency. Matched to manual or manu-matic six-speeds, the engine is good for 247 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, topping the current four-cylinder Aero by a big 37 hp and 37 lb-ft. Complementing this newfound muscle are stiffer front and rear antiroll bars, quicker steering, bigger brakes, Z-rated Pirelli P Zero tires on eighteen-inch wheels, and a pair of fat-and very vocal-tailpipes.

Saab's performance claims for the Aero V-6 sedan-0 to 62 mph in 6.9 seconds and a top speed in excess of 155 mph-seem conservative to us. The car is as quick, composed, and agile as anything that's ever worn the crowned-griffin emblem. Peak torque arrives at a very low 2000 rpm, and although the steering wheel has its headstrong moments, full-throttle acceleration never becomes a wrestling match, as it has in Saab turbos of yore. The company wisely has decided to pare down the 9-3 range for 2006, ditching the base, 175-hp engine and the ever-puzzling Linear and Arc designations. What's left is a standard 9-3 with the 210-hp turbo four and the Aero V-6. The six-cylinder sedan hits showrooms in late September, with a sticker price about $1500 above the current four-cylinder Aero's $33,570; Aero V-6 versions of the convertible and the new SportCombi hatchback will follow in December.