Saab 9-3X driven by all fours

Just six months ago it looked like Saab was doomed, as reported in my rather blunt, but sad, post ’Saab: The end’.

But, despite everything, here they are and I was handed the keys of the Saab 9-3X Estate. Although the 9-3 has been around for some time, the 9-3X is the four wheel drive version that was just launched at last year’s Geneva Motor Show.

Saab 9-3X

Powered by a 2.0 Turbo it has slightly raised suspension and the obligatory pretend skid plates to give that off-road appearance. The four wheel drive system is electronically controlled and distributes the torque between the front and rear axles and there is a limited slip differential at the rear.

The 9-3X has the estate car or, as Saab call it, the Wagon body offers a very usable load space with a volume of 419 litres with the rear seat up and 1,287 when it is folded down. The tailgate opens right down to bumper level, making for easy, practical access. As you might expect on a Swedish product, there is a ski hatch in the seat back.

Saab has always ploughed something of a lone furrow as far as motor manufacturers are concerned. From its earliest offerings the Swedish aircraft manufacturer has done things a little differently from the rest.

The Saab 9-3 might have a Vauxhall Vectra platform, thanks to previous owners General Motors, but really does have enough Saab identity clues to keep most aficionados happy.

The ignition key may no longer lock the gears, but it is mounted behind the gearlever on the centre console. The windscreen has more than a hint of wrap-around, and the dashboard is the usual curved driver-focussed panel, with Saab’s sliding lattice air vents. Oh, and there is the usual ‘Night Panel’ Saab aircraft-inspired switch (I have never actually used this feature for anything other than novelty, though!).

The Saab 9-3X is a really effortless and enjoyable car to drive. It’s not one that is going to appeal strongly to the enthusiast. I found the steering precise enough, but just a little bit lacking in feel and the gearlever is also a little floppy. I would prefer both to be just a little bit sharper and tighter.

The cabin is good and the ergonomics are excellent, with one minor but mildly annoying feature. In a strange lapse into form over function, the designers have been allowed to over-rule the normally highly-practical Saab designer. The handbrake lever has been incorporated into the rail around the central console. This may look neat, but the release is not the normal button on the end but a button underneath. Until you get used to it, you will, almost inevitably, get your thumb in the way of completely releasing the brake.

Saab 9-3X

Although it is turbocharged, the two-litre engine really shows the advances that have been made since Saab pioneered turbocharging on road cars. In those early days, when the turbo cut in, I recall it was like some giant planting his big feet on the accelerator as the Saab took off with the front wheels scrabbling for grip. Dramatic, but also, occasionally, scary.

On this, and the previous Saab 9-3 1.8t that I drove some years ago, the power is clearly boosted, but it is delivered in such a way you as to be smooth and totally progressive. Acceleration 0-60 takes 8.2 seconds. Carbon dioxide emissions are 242 g/km.

At £26,805, the Saab 9-3X provides a welcome option for the buyer who wants an up-market load carrier with the added reassurance of four-wheel-drive.

It is a real pleasure to mark the continuation of Saab by writing about this car six months after I thought we might never see another Saab ever again.
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