If the automakers were completely honest about how they market the vehicles they’ve designated as “crossovers,” they would instead be calling them either minivans or wagons.
So if the Swedish automaker Saab were to present its 9-3 SportCombi as one of the new breed of crossover utility vehicles, it would be hard for someone to argue against such a designation.
That’s because the SportCombi is as much a crossover as, say, the Nissan Murano, Infiniti FX, Chrysler Pacifica or Dodge Magnum, to name a few.
Calling it a crossover would put it on the list of those trendy new family haulers that are rapidly replacing the standard sport utility vehicle that ruled suburban driveways for most of the 1990s and the early 2000s.
Saab apparently isn’t afraid to call the SportCombi what it really is, a wagon, even though that might cost the company a few sales.
Realistically, the SportCombi isn’t any less a crossover than many of its officially designated crossover competitors.
And with gasoline prices soaring, it’s arguably a better choice than some of those competitors. Our test vehicle, the 2007 SportCombi 2.0T with a six speed manual gearbox, had EPA fuel-economy ratings that rival some compact cars: 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
That’s for a vehicle that has the utility of a compact SUV, the luxury of a premium sedan, and the performance of a sport coupe – all rolled into a package that begins at $27,495 plus $745 freight.
Based on the design of the popular Saab 9-3 sedan, the SportCombi was introduced last year to complement the midsize Saab 9-5 wagon and give consumers yet another alternative to the SUV.
While the car’s official designation is SportCombi, Saab’s marketing materials call it a wagon, something other automakers often are afraid to do with a car of this sort. Wagons long ago went out of favor with U.S. consumers, according to popular belief, replaced first by minivans, then by SUVs, and now by crossovers.
The Saab’s official name actually means wagon. “Combi” is a European automotive term for a wagonlike vehicle. Volkswagen even once called its microbus model a combi.
Wagons – even when they’re called that and not crossovers – have experienced a revival, especially as fuel prices have risen. Many automakers have one or more in their lineups, although some are referred to as “liftback” or “five-door” models rather than wagons – anything to keep from using the “w” word.
But unlike the huge wagons that baby-boomers grew up with in the ’60s and ’70s, these are smaller and much more graceful.
These new wagons, just like the vehicles that are officially called crossovers, offer carlike rides and handling, as well as decent fuel economy, attributes that were lacking in the conventional SUVs.
Whatever you might want to call it, the Saab SportCombi is one of the best of this new breed of family hauler.
Perhaps what I like best about it is that when you’re behind the wheel, you never feel like you’re giving anything up to have the functionality of a wagon.
It handles more like a sports coupe than an SUV or traditional wagon, and is so much fun that you can forget you’re driving a practical vehicle that can haul the kids and their soccer gear all over town This vehicle was designed for U.S. roads and drivers, and gives consumers an upscale yet affordable alternative to cookie-cutter family cars such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
It also offers an alternative to some of the crossovers made from cars such as the Accord and Camry – the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, for example.
The SportCombi is priced about the same as a Highlander, yet it is a premium automobile in the vein of an entry level Lexus or Acura. The starting price is about $3,000 less than that of the Audi A4 Avant, one of the SportCombi’s nearest two competitors; the other is the Volvo V50 wagon.
The base model comes with a turbocharged, 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine rated at 210 horsepower and 221 foot-pounds of torque.
Its fuel economy beats even the base four-cylinder version of the Highlander, rated at 22 city/28 highway, but the Saab has 55 more horsepower.
The 22 city/30 highway figures for the SportCombi 2.0T are with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. But even with the optional five-speed automatic ($1,350), ratings are 20 city/30 highway.
The V-6 Highlander, with just five more horsepower than the four-cylinder SportCombi, has even worse fuel-economy ratings: 19 city/25 highway. Of course, you can get a third row of seating in the Highlander; the SportCombi has only two rows.
With its lower weight, the SportCombi has more zip with its four-cylinder engine than the Highlander does with its V-6.
For those who want more power, though, there is the SportCombi Aero model ($33,700 plus freight), which comes with a turbocharged 2.8-liter V-6 engine rated at 250 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque.
That’s enough power to push this vehicle along like a sports car, yet the EPA ratings are still quite respectable at 18 city/28 highway (manual) and 17/28 (automatic).
Standard with the Aero is the six-speed manual. Optional is a six-speed automatic ($1,350) with a manual-shift option (clutchless) controlled by either the floor-mounted shifter or paddles on the steering wheel.
The SportCombi seats five people quite comfortably, has a soft but not overly cushy ride, and offers decent cargo capacity.
Our 2.0T tester came with the standard six-speed manual, which driving enthusiasts will prefer in this car. For those who have to deal with rush-hour stop-and-go traffic, though, the optional five-speed automatic might be the better choice. Even the five-speed automatic has the clutchless manual-shift function.
A long list of amenities is included in the base price of the SportCombi, such as leather seats, power rack-and-pinion steering, antilock brakes, traction control, electronic stability control, automatic climate control, power windows/mirrors/door locks (with remote), leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, wood-effect interior trim, and cruise control.
Also provided on all models are projector-beam halogen headlights, rear defogger, alarm system, cabin air filter, multi-function driver-information center, heated outside mirrors, tilt and telescopic steering column, 150-watt AM/FM/compact-disc stereo, center armrest with 12-volt power outlet, daytime running lights, and rear fog lights.
The rear seat is a 60/40 split-folding bench, which allows for loading more cargo when you don’t need the rear seat for passengers.
Options on our vehicle included a power moon roof ($1,200), heated front seats and headlight washer nozzles ($550), and OnStar ($695).
Ours also came with a “60th Anniversary Edition” package ($1,825), which tacked on special 17-inch wheels, metallic paint, embossed sport black leather seats with gray inserts, dark walnut interior trim, XM satellite radio, a premium 300-watt audio system with six-disc CD changer, an eight-way power passenger seat, and fog lights.
Total sticker was $32,510, including freight.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com.
2007 Saab 9-3 SportCombi The package: Compact, five-door, five-passenger, turbocharged four-cylinder or V-6, front-drive premium wagon. Highlights: This is the wagon version of Saab’s 9-3 Sport Sedan. It’s based on a new vehicle platform that debuted for 2003 on the sedan model, and is the second wagon in the Saab lineup. Negatives: Can get pricey with the uplevel trim and options. Engine: 2.0-liter I-4, turbocharged; 2.8 liter V-6, turbocharged. Transmission: 6-speed manual (standard), 5- or 6-speed automatic (optional). Power/torque: 210HP/221 foot-pounds; 250HP/258 foot-pounds. Length: 182.5 inches. Curb weight: 3,175-3,285 pounds. Cargo volume: 14.8 cubic feet (behind rear seat). Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock. Fuel capacity/type: 16.4 gallons/unleaded regular. EPA fuel economy: 22 miles per gallon city/30 mpg highway (2.0T, manual); 21 city/30 highway (2.0T, automatic); 18 city/28 highway (V-6, manual); 17 city/28 highway (V-6, automatic). Major competitors: Audi A4 Avant, Volvo V50, Jaguar X-type wagon. Base price range: $27,495-$33,700 plus $745 freight. Price as tested: $32,510, including freight and options (2.0T manual model with 60th anniversary package and other options). On the Road rating: 8.1 (of a possible 10).