The tradition of Saab hatchbacks began with the 95 Wagon in 1959. Twenty-five years later, during the Swedish brand’s heyday in the mid-1980s, the Saab 900 Sedan was an anomaly in a lineup that consisted primarily of three- and five-door hatches equipped with normally-aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder engines. Today, half of the 500,000 Saabs on American roads are hatchbacks. But when the Saab 9-3 was completely redesigned for the 2003 model year by its bumbling new owner General Motors, the hatchback body style – the thing that kept loyal Saab buyers returning to showrooms year after year – vanished as GM concentrated on a sedan that it thought would help its struggling European luxury division to increase sales with mainstream entry-luxury buyers. GM didn’t get it then, but seems to now. The new 2006 Saab 9-3 SportCombi rectifies the error, even if it’s really a station wagon with a rakish tailgate. As Saab’s Manager of Corporate Communications, Jan-Willem Vester, told us, “The new SportCombi appeals to the hatchback Saab loyalists.”
There’s more news for the 2006 Saab 9-3 lineup than the addition of the SportCombi model. All 9-3s get body color door handles, which do more than you might imagine for making the car look upscale. Last year’s confusing Arc and Linear trim levels vanish, combined into an unnamed standard model. Saab 9-3 Aero versions, the performance editions, get a fresh standard 17-inch wheel and tire combo, as well as a new 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.8-liter V6. Saab 9-3 convertibles have standard leather upholstery for 2006, and the Premium Package on the 9-3 Sedan and SportCombi features genuine red walnut wood trim for the interior.
To learn more about the newest 9-3, the SportCombi, I drove one from the Anza Borrego desert just north of the California-Mexico border into downtown San Diego. I learned how to drive a manual transmission on a 1982 Saab 900 Turbo three-door, and my father is one of those wacky Saab loyalists. In fact, he purchased one of the first 2006 9-3 SportCombis to roll off a dealer lot in Phoenix in December of 2005. And while I haven’t inherited the family gene that causes adoration for quirky Swedish automobiles, the 2006 Saab 9-3 SportCombi turns out to be the perfect antidote to the status quo.