The latest addition to the line up is the 9-3 SportWagon, an estate version of the well-received saloon version which is set to battle against the likes of Audi’s A4 Avant and BMW’s new 3-series Touring.
From head-on there’s nothing to distinguish the SportWagon from the saloon, and so it continues to the rear doors. It’s only aft of here that there is any difference, with a big estate body grafted seamlessly on.
The only controversial aspect is the clear glass lenses for the rear lights. They looked stunning on the concept car, but in reality, on a grey morning and matched to a silver-coloured body, they don’t stand out as much as the design feature they were intended to be.
The large rear tailgate opens wide to reveal a low loading sill, which makes lifting items into the boot less of a hassle.
The only downside is the carrying capacity. With the rear seats in place, the Saab offers 419 litres of space, compared with 442 for the Audi, 455 for the Jaguar and 460 for the BMW.
With the rear seats folded flat, the cars offer 1,273, 1,184, 1,415 and 1,385 litres respectively. Although these cars are marketed more as lifestyle estates than load luggers, the Saab falls short of its rivals.
However, it does offer a ‘TwinFloor’ stowage system. By opening the aircraft-shaped handle (which harks back to its Viggen jet plane-making division) in the boot floor, it reveals another load area to increase luggage capacity.
The driving experience is exactly as you find in the saloon, with a strong 150bhp turbodiesel engine which sees service in the 9-3 saloon and several Vauxhall models.
This engine has an excess of power in the mid-range, making overtaking an effortless business. On winding country roads you don’t need to go below third gear, such is this engine’s reserves.
Only the gearbox spoils the fun. It has a notchy feel which restricts quick gearchanges and spoils this car’s sporting nature. But this is no surprise, as it does exactly the same thing in the saloon. Other than that, it’s pure Saab, which means an oversize steering wheel, the ignition barrel located behind the handbrake and the aircraft-style dashboard.
The SportWagon is sure to drive Saab’s sales ever further upwards, and the new model is a strong addition to the line-up. It matches its rivals in all areas, except one – the BMW 320d Touring.
BMW’s 3-series Touring remains a far better sporting estate. It’s easily the best of the bunch for driver enjoyment and it has the badge which most drivers still covet.
Saab 9-3 SportWagon 1.9 TiD 150 Linear factfile:
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £21,307
CO2 emissions (g/km): 159
BIK % of P11D in 2005: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 12
Combined mpg: 47.9
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,975/37%
Depreciation 22.42 pence per mile x 60,000: £13,452
Maintenance 2.79 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,674
Fuel 8.96 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,376
Wholelife cost 34.17 pence per mile x 60,000: £20,502
Typical contract hire rate: £378
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles.
Rental quote from HSBC Vehicle Finance
At a glance
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
ALL of these cars are entry- level diesels, although in the case of the Saab and Audi they are in the most powerful diesel format available. The Saab has a clear advantage in front-end price, costing £600 less than the second placed Jaguar. The BMW is the most expensive to buy, costing £3,400 more than the 9-3.
THE Saab offers fleets the route to the lowest service, maintenance and repair costs. Our estimates over three years and 60,000 miles show the 9-3 will cost £1,674 in garage bills, compared to £1,722 for the Jaguar X-type, £1,800 for the Audi A4 Avant and £2,298 for the BMW 320d Touring.
THE Jaguar just wins here thanks to its 2.0-litre diesel which returns a claimed average of 48.5mpg. The Audi, BMW and Saab are all claimed to return 47.9mpg. This means the X-type will cost £5,310 in fuel over three years/60,000 miles while the other three will cost £66 more over the same period.
THE BMW is in a league of its own when it comes to retaining value. CAP estimates the 320d Touring will retain 47% of its cost new after three years and 60,000 miles, putting it firmly in first place here. The Audi comes a close second with a predicted RV of 41%. The Saab retains 37% and the Jaguar 32%.
WITH the exception of the Jaguar, the other three are very closely matched on running costs. The Saab edges the win from the Audi, with the BMW in third place. Even though the BMW is by far the most expensive car here at the front end, it makes up ground with a very strong residual value figure.
EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES
ANOTHER section where all four cars are evenly matched. The Jaguar falls into the lowest benefit-in-kind tax band and will cost a 40% taxpayer £125 a month in company car tax, compared to £136 for the Audi, £148 for the BMW and £127 for the Saab. All four will cost £135 a year in VED rates.
THE Jaguar offers drivers the lowest company car tax bills, but its last place finish in wholelife costs counts against it. Which leaves the Audi, BMW and Saab. They cost a similar amount to run, leaving the choice down to what your employees would prefer to drive. The Audi and Saab are stylish, well-made estates, but the BMW is the best all-rounder here and is worth the extra money in tax.