Minggu, 08 Juni 2008



By Jonny Lieberman

Five grand. Depending on options, incentives and fire sales, that's the difference between the cost of a Saab 9-2X Aero and a Subaru WRX Sport Wagon. Underneath, there's not much in it: same platform, same bag of tricks. No wonder auto industry wags have taken to calling the Saab 9-2X Aero the 'Saabaru." Now that GM has sold its share of the Japanese automaker and relocated Saab's badge-engineering department to Opel's German digs, the time has come to ask a simple question: Why God, why?

The Aero's exterior offers the best justification for its existence. The WRX has always been a visually challenging automobile. Not to belabor the point: the '06 WRX Sport Wagon refresh is still ucking fugly. Thanks to its nose graft, the Saab 9-2x Aero is a far more handsome sled than its Japanese half-sister. As Saab proved with its brand-stretching Trailblazer into 9-7X trick, their house schnoz gives even the most awkward beast a handsome, vaguely European vibe. Although the Aero's C-pillar is as Swedish as unagi, at least Saab removed the Scooby's roof rails, making the Aero seem lower and sleeker, and added some black cladding around the exhaust, slimming the bulbous butt. If only they'd taken a blowtorch to those tortured side sills…

Once inside, drivers are confronted by GM's goofy attempt at turning Japanese economy into Scandinavian chic. The result: two-toned Ikea door inserts and a motorcycle-themed instrument binnacle. The Aero's shiny center waterfall may be a step up from the old WRX, but the rest of the dash is pure Fuji Heavy Industries: several yards of hard knock plastics enveloping orange and green dials and gauges. Judging from the storage situation, Nordic drivers travel light. Cell phones? Sunglasses? Loose change? Förgätaboutit. And trying to sell young affluent Americans a car without an iPod port is about as stupid as the Aero's stain-magnet white seats– but not quite.

Saab's minimalist makeover extends to the engine room. Displacement grows from 2.0 to 2.5 liters. Although peak power jumps by three– count 'em three– horses, there are eighteen more foot pounds of entirely useful torque on tap. The newfound grunt transforms the wagon's fifth cog into a genuine passing gear. Equally important, it helps minimize the turbo lag that bedevils the WRX; Aero drivers can make it from stop sign to stop sign without multiple sidetrips to the car's redline. The Aero's helm is also blessed with added heft, while the brakes get extra bite. Unfortunately, the Aero's ride quality is just as cruel and unusual as the WRX's, and wind noise over 80 remains on the wrong side of tolerable (though the Aero's optional subwoofer soon fixes that).

Unleash the 9-2X Aero in its natural element and any mechanical shortcomings disappear. Thanks to freak LA weather, I had the chance to play rally hoon in a pit filled with snow and mud. Four wheel drift with all tires spinning? I haven't stopped smiling. On the Angeles Crest Highway– a testing two-laner that exposes many a car's dynamic weakness– the 9-2X Aero's rally-tuned suspension straightened out the tightest of turns. Even the most tortuous twisties were tackled at speed with no fuss, no muss. Like the Subaru WRX, the Saab 9-2X loves being smacked around at eight or nine tenths. Aero drivers seeking that final level of commitment are advised to drop a grand or so on something a little more potent than Potenzas. Ruh-roh! Like that's a thousand clams for tires that would still be in your wallet if you'd bought the Scooby, Scoob.

Aye, there's the rub my canine companion. The 9-2X is an excellent set of wheels if you enjoy driving fast, turning fast, stopping fast and hauling stuff, fast. But for 5G's less, you can buy a Subaru WRX Sports Wagon and spend the five large at your friendly neighborhood Subaru tuning shop. You'd emerge with 450 hp at the wheels, a sick-ass set of Brembo brakes and some embarrassing decals. Plus, there's nothing particularly Saab about this Saab. Where's the quirk? Why aren't the keys next to your rump? Why bother?

General Motors would have done its customers a better service if they'd given the WRX platform to Pontiac or Chevrolet and undercut the Subaru's price– especially as neither of those divisions has produced a truly compelling sedan/sports wagon in the last forty years. Instead, the General copied Jaguar's ill-fated Mondeo to X-Type strategy and moved the WRX 'upscale.' Oh well. Better luck next time, mein Saab. Meanwhile, the Saab 9-2x Aero is yet more proof that badge engineering is a shortcut to nowhere.


By Jonny Lieberman

Growing up in Southern California, I never understood the whole Swedish car thing. SoCal drivers need an all-weather automobile like tacos need herring. Although a Volvo wagon was the left-wing equivalent of a Ford F250 and a Saab was a cap and gown on wheels, speed-crazed Angelinos found Nordic transportation about as exciting as farm machinery. Then Ford bought Volvo and GM scarfed Saab. Suddenly, performance, handling and luxury were piled onto the Smorgasbord. To freshen-up its range, GM instructed Saab to reengineer an Opel Vectra and call it a 9-3. In this guise, the new Saab 9 - 3 Aero joins German rides in the land of palm trees and lip-injections. Perhaps the General was on to something…

Saab's decision to ditch their traditional hatchback for a three-box sedan raises immediate and uncomfortable questions about the intersection of corporate ownership and brand identity. The Aero attempts to distract the faithful with a rear that looks like a hatch (but isn't) and sporting cues. The Jay Leno chin spoiler certainly grabs your attention, and the dual pipes poking out from the blackened derriere make all the right noises. But the 9-3 is too narrow for such deep cladding and there's an excellent chance parking lot rampage will hammer the low-slung ground effects. The Aero's profile is its best viewing angle, projecting European rakishness. Even if Saab newcomers don't catch a Trollhattan vibe, at least they'll know they're not in Kansas anymore.

The cabin's color scheme is Darth Vader gets creamed. The faux-chrome inserts adorning the Aero's helm and the rabbit hutch-style digital display poking-out from under the windscreen prove that some of Saab's quirkiness has escaped the corporate axe. Needless to say, the Aero's ignition is between the seats, just like Sven's old tractor. However, why are the window rockers near the window? That's sensible, not Saab. The rest of the Aero's ergonomics are fundamentally sound if excessive; over 50 buttons litter the dash. More worryingly, down market GM parts binnage abounds. A handbrake in a $40k car shouldn't feel like little Jimmy's plastic light saber.

Boot the gas and the Aero's 250hp 2.8 liter turbo six looks both ways before crossing the street. A quick glance at the boost gauge indicates turbo lag is no longer the Saab driver's nemesis; a twin-scroll turbocharger fed by two exhaust ducts (one from each cylinder bank) ensures progressive boost. The sluggishness is a simple matter of rotten gearing. Once the rpm count crests 3000, the Deutsche Swede starts to get a serious move on. The sprint from zero to sixty takes a respectable 6.4 seconds, and there's plenty of passing power in the top end of the top gears. Better yet, despite channeling 258 ft-lbs. of torque through 17" front wheels, the Aero's nose stays stable and planted, even at full-stomp.

Like most Euro sleds, the Aero offers F1 wannabes pseudo-paddle shifts via wheel-mounted thumb-flickers. Unfortunately, ironically, Saab positioned the buttons at the 9 and 3 positions; putting classically trained Happy Handers (10 and two position) at a distinct disadvantage. Or not. The actuators are cheap, nasty little buggers. And, like most manual-autos, the shifts are of the light-a-fuse-and-wait variety. Spirited drivers will play around for all of 30 seconds before returning ratio control to the computer.

Once at speed, medium-grade twisties can be tackled at will. The Aero sits 10mm lower than the standard 9 - 3, with firmer springs and stiffer shocks. The Aero's chassis feels as planted as a potato, but rough roads are painful. The lack of suspension flexibility and chassis communication combines with parallel parking grade steering, creating an all 'round dynamic dowdiness. You can whip this front-driver fast and hard, but you'll never be thrilled, amazed or proud. And whenever things get even slightly dangerous– I mean fun– the Aero's all-knowing Nanny flickers her disapproval and rats you out to the Saab's ABS/Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) system. The stability control system is unobtrusively obtrusive; it cuts in often but doesn't make itself known at the helm. The lack of a smile on your face and dopamine surging through your brain is the best indication that the quiet, stern Frau has done her work.

Saab's 9-3 Aero is a fine car: it fails in no serious way and makes short work of long journeys. But it's a machine devoid of meaningful dynamic personality. The Aero's target market– commuting enthusiasts– will know there are plenty of "real" German sports sedans at the same price point. They'll also realize that Saab has lost more than a touch of their odd-ball, Arctic Circle values. Although GM is now committed to Saab's Opelization, they'd do well to remember that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. In Saab's case, that's probably not such a bad idea.


By William C Montgomery

Trollhattansaab.net recently upbraided TTAC for failing to mention their champion amongst a list of station wagon alternatives to SUV’s. According to the Aussie Saab blog, the SportCombi “more than matches its competition on price, performance, specification, utility and safety.” Be that as it may, I wanted to know if Saab’s wagon deserved a place next to Volvo and Mercedes in my list of classic European station wagons. So I grabbed some seat time in an '06 Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi (a.k.a. 9-3 Aero 5-Door).

The 9-3 SportCombi shares the same clean, sensible, sober and forgettable face as all other current Saabs. Thankfully, the Aero’s deeper chin spoiler spices things up… a bit. The wagon’s profile is more, uh, “eccentric.” Blacked-out B and C pillars and an upwards swooping lower window line create a strangely truncated rear window and an odd D-pillar kink. The SportCombi’s rear end shares Volvo’s penchant for twin tower brake lights, which bracket a Pacifica-esque rounded rump. The overall design is handsome enough, though less coherent than the wagon genre’s best examples.

Once inside, the SportCombi’s cockpit is a smorgasbord of black plastic, black plastic and… black plastic. The polymers resemble the material The Dark Knight wore in the Batman movies. Staying with the theme, the steering wheel’s silver insets remind me of the Bat plane. My Saab salesman, however, was entranced by a clever D-shaped plastic piece on the center console, slotted to hold business cards or dry cleaning receipts. The part’s quality (or lack thereof) was strictly squirt gun level chic. In fact, I haven’t seen plastic that cheap since I darkened the door of a Chevy Citation some twenty-five years ago.

The SportCombi’s optional 10-speaker Premium Audio System continues the budget-minded bonanza. Beethoven’s Eroica wasn’t. Three hundred watts and I could still check out of Hotel California anytime I liked. How an audio system dares call itself “premium” with only two knobs (treble and bass) and no EQ or preset mix adjustments is a mystery best left to The General’s multi-national bean counting squad.

At least the Swedes got the driving position right. The glove leather chairs are amazingly comfortable and endlessly supportive. The tilting and telescoping steering wheel easily adjusts for the optimal driving position. The center console-mounted ignition remains lovably Saabish. As with nearly all cars of its size, rear knee room is limited; adults confined to the second row may wish to consult The Geneva Convention. The SportCombi’s back seats fold flat, opening the cargo space to a Home Depot-friendly 72.3 cu. ft.

The SportCombi saves its greatest pleasures for enthusiastic drivers. Awaken its 250hp turbo-fed 2.8-liter V6 engine and the exhaust’s velvety burble speaks of the good times to come. If you like straight-line shove, the wagon won’t disappoint; the SportCombi sprints to sixty in a fraction over six seconds. Better yet, maximum torque (258 ft-lbs.) kicks in at just 2,000 rpm. Save for a brief bit of turbo lag from a standing start, power is instantly available at any gear, at any engine speed.

Paddle shifters mounted just above nine and three o’clock on the steering wheel control the SportCombi’s six-speed automatic. Unlike other sports sedans and wagons, Saab engineers did the Patek Phillipe thing: they chose one shifting algorithm and chose it wisely. The autobox is biased towards sports driving; it delivers crisp, accurate shifts.

The SportCombi Aero’s sport-tuned suspension lowers the car by 10mm and stiffens up the shocks and springs. The set-up delivers an ideal balance of body control and road feel. As you’d expect for a 60.6-inch-tall vehicle, there’s a fair amount of initial lateral roll. But once the SportCombi finds its balance, it maintains its composure during high-speed cornering– regardless of the road surface.

Equally admirable, torque steer is virtually nonexistent– without compromising steering feel. Less commendably, the always optimistic EPA says the SportCombi travels 17 miles for every gallon of gas in the city, and 28 on the highway. The only other major blot on the SportCombi’s dynamic playbook: throttle response. Take your foot off the accelerator under full turbo boost and, for a brief moment, the accelerator pedal seems welded to the floor. I don’t know if this problem was unique to my test vehicle. If not, it’s a completely unacceptable design flaw. If it is, it’s a completely unacceptable manufacturing aberration.

As tested, the 9-3 Aero SportCombi with Touring Package stickers for $36,715. That’s a lot of pre-discount dough for a smallish “entry-level luxury” wagon. For that money, Saab should clean up the interior deficiencies and find a way to switch off the afterburners. On the other hand, the SportCombi’s power and handling are superb for a family hauler. Taken as a whole, there’s no question that the Combi deserves a place in the pistonhead's pantheon of Euro-style station wagons. We stand corrected.


By William C Montgomery

The Saab 9-7x scored eighth place in TTAC’s Ten Worst Automobiles Today awards. Its crime? As Jonny Lieberman wrote so eloquently, “It is a Chevy TrailBlazer with the ignition key between the seats.” With these words echoing in my mind, I set off to test the 9-7x to determine if, indeed, the Born from Jets Saab SUV is nothing more than a Chevy TrailBlazer with the ignition key between the seats.

At first glance, the Saab 9-7x looks just like a Chevy TrailBlazer. On second glance, it looks like a GMC Envoy. Stand to the side and squint and the 9-7x resembles a Buick Rainier. Behold the grille from the straight ahead and, finally, you gaze upon a vaguely Saabish vehicle. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the "TrollBlazer" (referring to the Trollhättan factory where the 9-7x isn’t built) looks like a TrailBlazer pimped-out with 18” alloy wheels. Oh, and blackened ground effects trim designed to foster the illusion of gen-u-ine SUV ground clearance.

Despite deploying equally unconvincing ersatz wood and sharing many of its dials and buttons with its platform partners, the Saab SUV’s interior achieves an elegance denied its sisters under the skin. In quintessentially quirky Saab fashion, a small, fragile cupholder flips out from the dash at the push of a button. Also true to form, the ignition key is located between the seats. Nearly every other feature is standard, including leather chairs, a premium Bose blaster, moonroof, full-time all-wheel-drive and a trailer towing package. My only ergonomic complaint: the seatbelt emanates from the top of the GM-sourced seat back, placed irritatingly and irretrievably lower than my medium-height shoulder.

The 9-7x comes in two flavors: six-cylinder or a V8. The inline 4.2-liter six produces 290hp, while the 5.3-liter V8 stumps-up 300hp. Thanks to GM’s Active Fuel Management system, our always optimistic friends over at the EPA rate both engines at 15mpg city and 21mpg highway. For an extra two grand, the 5.3-liter mill also provides 53 ft.-lbs. more twist and a throaty engine note that's distinctly lacking from the I6. If you’re already throwing nearly $40k toward a fancy TrailBlazer, the larger powerplant seems a perfectly justifiable extravagance.

Although the 4,781lbs V8 9-7x moves with some authority, it’s not what you would call fast. If you plan on motoring from zero to sixty, you'll need to set aside a little under eight seconds of your valuable time. The quarter mile comes up (eventually) in 16 seconds. Speed freaks note: the Chevrolet Trailblazer SS has a 395hp version of Corvette’s 6.0-liter LS2 engine tucked under the hood that motivates the Nürburgring-fettled bowtie clad family truckster from zero to sixty in about six seconds, and hits the quarter in 14. Just sayin’…

The 9-7x’ engines are coupled to a knuckle-dragging four-speed transmission that's two cogs short of a quorum. Passing other road users requires an extra two seconds or so for the dim-witted mechanism to select the right gear. With so few cogs to choose from, you'd be forgiven for wondering why the 9-7x doesn't respond a little faster to throttle input. But then Saabistas might also wonder why the brand didn't stick to front wheel-drive turbo four-powered hatchbacks. Just sayin'…

Saab’s suspension tweaks are the brandgineers greatest contribution to the GMT360 platform. The loosy-goosy base TrailBlazer flops though bumps and corners like Michael Richards handles hecklers. (That is to say, dangerously.) In SS form, Chevy’s over-strung suspenders punish and maim. The 9-7x' underpinnings achieve the "just right" ride to satisfy the most discerning automotive Goldilocks. Double A-arm front suspension keeps the front wheels on track while a 1.42” stabilizer bar keeps the Saablaizer relatively flat through the corners. An electronically controlled air suspension manages the live-axle rear end like The Queen of Mean once managed the Helmsely Palace Hotel. All-season P225/55R18 tires complete the package and perform without a peep at eight tenths.

With an updated tranny, this Saab’s other shortcomings might quickly diminish. But is it worth $41,240 for a TrailBlazer whose pinky finger remains politely erect while sipping tea? Most buyers will say– have said– nej. If nothing else, the price isn’t right. The Saab 9-7x is about $5k more than a similarly equipped Chevy TrailBlazer and roughly $2k more than a similarly-equipped Corvette-powered TrailBlazer SS.

I suppose most TTAC readers who voted the 9-7x into the TWAT Hall of Shame never set butt in Saab’s SUV. Its inclusion was a vote against badge engineering and brand mismanagement. And no wonder, given the fatuous claims that the 9-7x is somehow related to Saab’s aeronautic legacy: “Have a Safe Flight,” “Skip the Garage. Get a hangar,” etc. In fact, the 9-7x says more about GM and Chevy than it does about Saab, a dead brand motoring. The 9-7x’ existence begs the question, why aren’t all Chevy TrailBlazers this refined?


Top Gear 9-5 Aero

By P.J. McCombs

Saab may have been "Born from Jets," but there's little about the brand's current offerings that you'd call state-of-the-art. The 9-3 has changed little since its ‘03 introduction. The 9-7X dates back to the ‘02 Chevy TrailBlazer. And the 9-5 has been stuck in holding pattern since ‘98. I recently tested a 9-5 to see if the quirky car lives up to its high tech brand proposition. My range-topping tester's trim designation: "Aero." That pounding sound you hear is GM's marketers driving home the high-altitude hype.

Luxury sedan buyers tend to place beauty at the top of their list of priorities. Fortunately, the 9-5's lines have worn well over the past nine years. But they have, well, worn. In 2006, Saab applied a masked-rider makeover to the front fascia. The result: a familiar face wearing Ray-Bans. In today's world of flame-surfaced shapes, it's not enough. The Saab's crisp, formal three-box shape lacks presence, and displays less than modern panel gaps.

Unfortunately, the 9-5's exterior is the apex of its aesthetics. Stepping into the cabin admits you to the Museum of Premium Interior Materials, circa 1997. The 9-5's instrument panel is utterly artless, a drab plastic escarpment with scatter-shot secondary controls. Buttons and knobs feel hollow to the touch, and a single cupholder collapses loosely out of the dash. Born from a U.S. Airways galley, perhaps.

With petrified polymers filling your peripheral vision, it's difficult to feel much love at the 9-5's helm. Is that a Suzuki Forenza's mirror-adjuster pod? It is! Assessed discretely, some of the cabin's bits delight. Chief among these are the 9-5's seats. The chairs are wide, soft and all-day supportive: a welcome departure from the Teutonic class norm. Ditto the large windows and low beltline, which afford an airy view out. Passenger space is first-class.

I'll avoid the usual hoopla over the 9-5's console-mounted ignition, and focus instead on what happens when you twist it: turbulence. On paper, the Aero's 260-horse, 2.3-liter turbo four seems like a timely alternative (20/30 mpg med stick) to the thirsty sixes and V8's common to this class. In person, the mini-mill idles with an economy car's dry, raspy drone, sending the wrong sort of tingles up your spine in the process. In a car that purports to rival 528is and E350s, what we have here is a failure to communicate.

Despite its hopelessly proletarian character, the 9-5's engine has its charms; specifically, its ability to inhale straightaways in strong, gratifying lunges. Unfortunately, with the standard five-speed manual transmission, such efforts are accompanied by strong, less-than-gratifying lunges towards the hedgerows. Torque steer, the tendency for the front wheels to squirm in a rubber-smoking hunt for traction, is obvious by its presence.

Thus, while I normally implore shoppers to consider the stick shift rather than defaulting to the automatic, I'm flip-flopping this time. The autobox quells the 9-5's tendency to torque steer and spares you the numb, ambiguous shift action typical of Saab sticks.

You might expect the 9-5's driven front wheels to spoil its handling, too. In fact, its at-the-limit behavior is remarkably poised. The Aero benefits from a lower chassis (10mm), firmer springs and more aggressive shock absorbers. Hustled around a closed course, the Aero exhibits surprisingly gluey grip and a wispy, tossable nature that eludes most German iron.

Driven below the limit, however, the Aero feels significantly less graceful. Its power-assisted rack and pinion steering is precise enough but over-light, and there's a gritty, insubstantial quality to this aged platform's ride. Arthritis? More like Parkinson's. Textured surfaces feed a steady stream of high-frequency shivers through the 9-5's structure and steering column. Combined with the tingly engine vibes, this car's manners are better compared with Mazda than Mercedes.

Which brings me to a pointed question for prospective 9-5 buyers: why buy a new Aero when you can spend Mazda6 money on virtually the same car, used? For $25k, a low-mileage 2005 Sport Wagon certainly represents a more interesting (and roomier, more agile) family taxi than the CamCord.

Moreover, as competition for the current 5-Series and Infiniti M, the Aero is worse than marginal; it's a curio, an irrelevance. No discerning luxury buyer would suffer the 9-5's downscale tactile sensations, and the Birkenstock-shod professors who used to resonate with Saab's brand values are now tooling around in Prii.

So what does the future hold for the 9-5? Um… nothing, really, unless you're squinting into the hazy distance that is model year 2009. That year's all-new 9-5, built on GM's Epsilon 2 platform, must be a true flagship product. It has to be evocative in design, unique in character and engaging on the road. Otherwise, Saab's promises will continue to ring more hollow than a Viggen's intake nacelle, and must eventually fall silent.


By Alex Dykes

First impressions last. Or in this case, first. Anyway, the slightly-new-for-‘06 (but mostly unchanged since ‘99) Saab 9-5 SportCombi misses the mark at first glance. GM's Swedish division crafted a wagon that looks like a slightly larger Saab 9-3, only uglier. The SportCombi's low greenhouse, swoopy rear windows and huge up-curving C-pillars combine all the worst elements of a ‘00 Saturn SW wagon and a Cadillac SRX. The design says "We wanted to make a wagon, but we only had enough cash for a car-camper shell." Volvo continues to master Skandinavisk chic. Saab goes for cheap chic– and fails.

Sigh. The General bought Saab in the early '90's to create "premium vehicles;" the 9-5 moniker is a throw-down to BMW's 5-Series. Step inside the SportCombi and you'll understand why the Germans and Japanese only have each other to worry about. From tacky vinyl sun visors, to an economy class "jet inspired" reading lamp, to plastics that are more B210 than BMW, all the SportCombi's beans have been carefully counted.

That said, the 9-5 SportCombi's freshened dash is suitably swish. The car's cockpit finally ditches the million button layout for a tasteful array of modern gauges (including the signature turbo gauge) and decent HVAC controls. Saab ergonomicists spent design time on what drivers touch most: the steering wheel. Regular and perforated cow combine to form a tasteful tiller– albeit swizzle stick thin with freakishly shaped grips reminiscent of Ross Perot's head.

Saab's blessed the base SportCombi with an attractive, fine sounding, easy-to-use audio system. Customers crazy enough willing to lay down $2,945 for the satnav are not so lucky. The system may look at home in a Chevy Trailblazer, but the vast sheet of plastic surrounding the small screen and the ugly rectangular holes are, well, horrible. It's not as ghastly as the wimpy foldout front cup holder, but close.

Below the dash, the bargain-basement mentality returns. The gigantic buttons to the driver's left don't match those on the center console for size, shape or feedback. There's only one set of window switches and one door lock button, positioned in the middle of the car. The rubber coin holder and the ignition key housing in the center console are catchpenny haptic horrors, while the SportCombi's door panels are a riot of low-budget plastics and mismatched coloring.

While your money buys you a whole load of load-lugging, the unrefined feel and design of the SportCombi's major switchgear and minor do-dads are simply not appropriate for a car stickering between $36k and $45k (or a lot less with the inevitable discounts). Oh, and last year, JD Power's mob rated Saab's reliability second to last. So not only does the SportCombi feel cheap, it breaks like it too.

Fire up the engine and the SportCombi reveals its heart and soul. Unfortunately, it's the heart and soul of a squirrel with pneumonia. The sounds under the hood are neither luxurious nor sporty, and the vibrations from the 2.3-liter inline four are obnoxious enough to make Saturn shoppers think twice.

The SportCombi's blown mill stumps up a seemingly adequate 260hp. Provided you don't mind listening to an automotive impression of a cement mixer churning a bag of bolts or wrestling with torque steer for 7.4 seconds, she'll sprint from zero to 60mph handily.

Considering the turbo's spool-'n'-go power delivery, the automatic transmission is by far the better choice; it's a responsive unit that makes the most of the SportCombi's ample torque. But the slushbox lacks the spongy manual's Road Warrior-style overboost feature– 20 seconds of 272 ft.-lbs. of twist, mate– and both five-speed transmissions are a cog shy of the SportCombi's erstwhile competition.

Our tester sported Saab's Aero Package, which includes wonderfully supportive seats with [optional] ventilation, a "lowered sport chassis," and metallic effect trim. Buyers also receive an invitation to Saab Aero Academy where drivers learn how to tame the torque steer monster and modulate the SportCombi's mushy-feeling stoppers.

If you forget sprints and emergency stops (incomplete with reluctant ABS) and point the Saab wagon down a straight, smooth road, no sweat. Throw the SportCombi into a corner and its stiff suspension and thick anti-roll bars work hard to quell the car's natural tendency to plow nose-first towards the scenery. It's doable, but it's a long, long way from nimble. I only hope the Academy offers a crash course in steady throttle application and hanging-on.

It's almost impossible to imagine anyone opting for a Saab 9-5 SportCombi over any alternative. The BMW 535ix Sports Wagon may cost $20k more, but a used one slaughters the Saab in just about any metric you can name. As does the Volvo V70, for roughly the same money as the Swede. Let's face it: unless Saab gets some heavy development dollars STAT, its first impression will be its last.