SportWagon Aero 2.0T XWD
extended its range with the all-wheel
drive 9-3 XWD Saloon and Sport
Wagon models. Good news for fans
of the marque, but can they tempt
customers away from the latest
Vauxhall Insignia 2.0T 4x4s?
WITH GM PUTTING THEIR SAAB CAR BRAND on the market, sales have slowed down
but life hasn't stopped for the Swedish manufacturer. New models are
on sale and three further new ranges the 9-5 executive saloon and estate,
9-3X and 9-4X SUVs will come to market in the next eighteen months.
After spending 20 years in 'foreign' (GM) ownership, Saab see themselves heading
for independence. This is good news for Saab dealers and, most of all, the marque's
loyal customers who must have wondered where the company was heading under the
control of GM. Initially the American-owned company saw Saab as their 'premium'
brand; then the Saab name was marketed as being their 'green' brand with BioPower
models, which they still have. In Europe, GM now has the new Vauxhall Insignia
as its current premium product, so the reasons for holding onto Saab no longer
The 9-3 is Saab's core model range, with saloon, convertible and SportWagon
estates. Traditionally, UK customers have been older retail buyers or business
user-choosers of all ages who wanted an alternative to the volume models offered
by the 'premium' brands of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Saab owners wanted something
not German but of a higher brand value than the Ford Mondeo or the Vauxhall
Vectra (and now Insignia). They also like the sporting pedigree that is still
associated with Saab.
The Saab 9-3 range comes with a wide choice of engine options and sizes: petrol,
diesel and BioPower; turbocharged and normally aspirated. Prices range from
£18,605 to £34,617. The range, considering the relatively small numbers it sells,
is huge. And now we have the all-wheel drive 2.0T XWD models to go with the
existing 2.8-litre V6 petrol XWD and 2.8 V6 XWD Turbo X. Given the economic
climate with customers down-sizing and going for more tax-friendly models, these
XWD version 9-3s will not sell in large numbers.
Offered in addition to the 276bhp 2.8 V6 turbocharged petrol unit, the new 2.0-litre
turbo petrol unit produces 210bhp and 221lb ft of torque from 2,500rpm for the
XWD all-wheel drive models. Prices are £27,669 for the saloon and £28,746 for
Saab's XWD system is the same as used by Vauxhall for the new Insignia. This
'intelligent' active system continuously distributes engine torque between the
front and rear axles for optimum handling and grip in all driving conditions.
To optimize traction from standstill, the XWD system has a pre-emptive engagement
of the rear wheels which eliminates the need to detect front wheel slippage
before the rear drive is activated.
For sure-footed handling once underway, up to 70% of the torque can be transferred
to the rear wheels during hard acceleration out of a bend, for instance,
it keeps the car balanced, counteracting oversteer and understeer. In optimum
driving conditions a dry motorway only 5-10% of torque is going
to the rear wheels.
The 9-3's suspension has been retuned to accommodate all-wheel drive traction,
as has the steering to improve feedback to the driver. As to whether these XWD
models are truly needed, the loyal sporty Saab driver will no doubt appreciate
the extra traction and perhaps newcomers to the Swedish brand might want all-wheel
drive grip for country use. The Saab XWD high-specification editions will have
to fight for sales against the Insignia 2.0T 4x4 saloons. With Insignia 4x4
prices starting from £22,460 and the 4x4 Sports Tourer from £23,685, that will
be a tough job.
In all other respects the Saab 9-3 XWD models are typical modern Saab: distinctively
styled inside and out although they still feel like old Vectras. All are fully
equipped for their 'executive' status; the seating is comfortable, the interior
is roomy and they have the aircraft cockpit-style instrument panel.
Despite that, they still feel a bit of a compromise and there isn't any real
compulsion to buy one. A Saab doesn't have the ownership brand appeal of a similar-sized
Audi A4 quattro, or the driving dynamics of a rear-wheel drive BMW 3 Series.
And the Insignia 4x4s are a more modern product. So while the realistic engine
size and all-wheel drive will undoubtedly appeal to the Saab enthusiast, the
new Vauxhall Insignia 2.0T 4x4 does it all better and cheaper. David
Saab 9-3 SportWagon Aero 2.0T XWD | £28,746
Maximum speed: 142mph | 0-62mph: 8.2 seconds | Overall test MPG: 21.8mpg
Power: 210bhp | Torque: 221lb ft | CO2 207g/km | Insurance group 16E