The North American car market has not been kind to the station wagon. Once the focal point of family transportation, this once-proud icon of 1960s domesticity has been reduced to a shell of its former self. Crushed under the tidal wave of minivans that appeared in the 1980s and then finished off by the widespread appeal of sport-utility vehicles in the 1990s, most major automakers shelved their full-size wagons and either reduced their offerings in that segment to compact vehicles or eliminated them completely.
This particular affectation for alternate forms of people-moving transportation was a uniquely American issue. In Europe, wagons never fell out of vogue, thanks in large part to the characteristics of the continent's road and city structure. While minivans and truck-based SUV's might have been well-suited to the wide open spaces found across the Atlantic, in Europe narrow streets and congested roads made these bulky vehicles quite impractical. Wagons, on the other hand, had been in service for generations, and the strong built-in audience for this type of vehicle in combination with the size issue made it difficult for newer alternatives to make any headway amongst buyers.
The two regions of Europe which had the longest traditions of building world class wagons were Germany and Sweden. In addition to the stalwart offerings from Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, drivers could also choose to buy a wagon from a pair of Scandinavian manufacturers: Volvo and Saab. Saab in particular were known for their narrowly focused lineup, which was infused with a sporty spirit that made heavy use of the company's aerospace heritage.
Saab offered wagon versions of each of their two sedans, meaning that both compact and mid-size offerings were on the table. These popular automobiles persisted well into the 2000's, where they were joined by an experimental effort that united the Swedish company with their Japanese stable mates Subaru through corporate parent General Motors. The result was a re-styled edition of the popular Subaru Impreza wagon, dubbed the 9-2x, which would incorporate some of the more interesting performance characteristics of the rally-inspired Impreza WRX.
With a full range of wagon sizes available, Saab makes an intriguing option for buyers interested in stepping outside the norm when it comes to European styling. This article focuses on the best 3 used wagons produced by the Scandinavian car company, detailing the features and specifications that make them so unique.
1999 - 2007 Saab 9-5 wagon
Immediately available in wagon form alongside the brand new for '99 Saab 9-5 sedan, the 1999 - 2007 Saab 9-5 wagon was a bold offering from the Swedish automaker that represented their first fresh vehicle model in several years. A modern wagon which did much to update their mid-size lineup, the 9-5 was a strikingly designed vehicle that would be sold under a confusingly varied number of trims and names over the next 8 years.
In its first year of production, the Saab 9-5 wagon was available with either a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder turbo engine that produced 170 horsepower (185 from 2001 onwards), or a much stronger 200 horsepower 3.0-liter turbo V-6. A special Aero edition of the 4-cylinder would make its way onto the scene in 2000, using a more powerful turbocharger to boost engine output to 230 ponies, a number which would grow to 250 by 2002. In 2004 the V-6 would be removed from the lineup and replaced with a mid-tier edition of the 2.3-liter engine that put out 220 horsepower. In 2006 the slate would be wiped clean and the only available engine would be a 260 horsepower turbocharged edition of the original 4-cylinder motor, a decision that was also carried over to 2007. Early cars can be found with a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual, with a 5-speed automatic taking the place of the original transmission in later models. All editions of the Saab 9-5 are front-wheel drive.
The 1999 - 2007 Saab 9-5 wagon is big inside, especially when it comes to hauling cargo. Up to 73 cubic feet of space can be made available by folding down the rear seats, but half of that remains accessible even when carrying passengers. The automobile pays tribute to Saab's aerospace heritage through a dashboard that wouldn't look out of place in a jet thanks to its efficiently organized, driver-centric design. The 9-5 wagon is also available with the OnStar assistance and vehicle communication package, thanks to Saab being part of the extended General Motors family.
The 1999 - 2007 Saab 9-5 wagon lets drivers explore the road less traveled in an uncommon used wagon that offers startling performance for a family vehicle.
2005 - 2006 Saab 9-2x
Smaller car companies often have a more difficult time developing new models, simply based on the fact that they are not capable of absorbing huge losses should the vehicle in question fail to find an audience. This leads automakers to either focus on a limited lineup of automobiles which possess a proven popularity, or to seek shelter in the form of partnerships with, or ownership stakes from multi-national conglomerates. For Saab, who had traditionally resisted offering more than a few different vehicles at any one time, fresh blood came in the form of the Subaru Impreza, borrowed from Subaru by way of General Motors and given unique front and rear sheet metal in order to better fit in with Saab styling standards.
The Saab 9-2x is a compact wagon which makes excellent use of both Subaru's 4-cylinder engine program and full-time all-wheel drive. The entry level Saab 9-2x Linear is outfitted with a 165 horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, while the Aero sees the same turbocharged, 227 horsepower 2.0-liter unit found in the Impreza WRX. When outfitted with the 5-speed manual transmission that comes as standard equipment, this allows the Aero to sprint to 60 miles per hour in under 7 seconds. A 4-speed automatic transmission is also available as an option, and each engine received a slight power boost for the 2006 model year.
While the interior of the Subaru Impreza might be a bit utilitarian, the 2005 - 2006 Saab 9-2x makes good use of extra amounts of insulation in order to keep the cabin quiet and more refined. Those familiar with the Japanese vehicle will definitely recognize most of the layout and features of the 9-2x's cockpit, in particular the dash. The vehicle's seats are modified to include an active head restraint, but for all intents and purposes the wagon shares many of the same characteristics as its vehicle of origin. Fortunately, this includes excellent cargo space available underneath the rear wagon hatch.
The 2005 - 2006 Saab 9-2x is somewhat of an orphan in the used wagon world, a unique version of a popular all-wheel drive platform that is both quick and capable in everyday driving.
2006 - 2007 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
Not wanting to be left out of the compact wagon market that was so popular on their home continent of Europe and which was also gaining a small following in North America, Saab elected to add a wagon version of their 9-3 sedan to the lineup in 2006. Named the SportCombi, the wagon was a successor to the 9-2x, a vehicle which had been produced in only limited numbers and which hadn't enjoyed a high level of success amongst longtime Saab fans.
When trying to decide which edition of the 2006 - 2007 Saab 9-3 SportCombi to purchase, buyers are faced with two simple engine options. Base models of the 9-3 are equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that is capable of generating 210 horsepower. The Aero edition of the vehicle ups the ante by providing a similarly-aspirated 2.8-liter V-6 that tops out at 250 horses. The former is provided with a 5-speed manual while the latter comes with a 6-speed manual right out of the box. A 6-speed automatic transmission is optional for either vehicle.
In addition to being the quickest, the Aero sedan is the most loaded version of the 9-3 SportCombi. A memory seat, rain-sensing windshield wipers and parking assistance are all available with the higher trim level. The entry-level edition of the wagon is also fairly well appointed, with a full range of power equipment, leather seats and dual climate controls as standard equipment. The SportCombi matches the cargo area of the 9-2 almost exactly, and while it is a compact vehicle passengers in the rear seats fare slightly better than in the vehicle's small wagon predecessor.
The 2006 - 2007 Saab 9-3 SportCombi is a fully matured offering from the Swedish car company which shows that they are capable of running with the best used wagons offered by their Teutonic competitors.