But it has delivered with the new 9-3 SportWagon. The name is a fitting title. What were traditionally known as estates are now gearing towards a younger market which see vehicles as an extension to their lifestyle rather than something which is a practical work tool.
Manufacturers have cottoned on to this and are designing models which are more sport than utility, and Saab is no exception.
The 9-3 SportWagon is unmistakably a Saab when you look at it face on, sharing the same styling cues as the saloon, but the new bodywork from the B-pillar rearwards is a wholly new look for the brand, with bolder design and sportier appeal.
Our version – a 1.9-litre TiD diesel with 150bhp – has plenty of zest and feels more refined than some of the petrol versions we have tried.
Saab claims the SportWagon will achieve 46.3mpg on the combined cycle, and so far we’re nearly matching that figure with an average of 43.1mpg.
As we pile more miles on and the engine loosens up, that figure should rise. As for power, the SportWagon has heaps of torque low down in the rev range which makes a huge difference when overtaking.
Such is the mid-range push available that the 124mph top speed seems easily achievable.
And all of this with just 900 miles on the clock when it was delivered. As with the fuel consumption, things should get even better with more miles racked up.
The six-speed manual gearbox offers short, sporty changes and feels tighter than the version in our petrol convertible.
Inside it’s pure Saab, meaning an over-sized steering wheel which doesn’t really fit with its sporty image, the ignition barrel next to the handbrake and the familiar green lighting theme from the backlit instruments. Our model has satellite navigation which is part of the £1,660 Infotainment system upgrade.
This also includes a colour screen and a better stereo. Other features include part-leather seats which give it a more upmarket appearance.
There’s plenty of storage in the cabin, and in the boot there are load dividers and cargo nets to secure shopping bags or luggage.
On the road, the 9-3 SportWagon handles really well.
It grips the road well and when navigating tight bends it feels more like a small car than a lengthy estate.
It will be interesting to see if the SportWagon has the credentials to match Saab’s aim of stealing sales away from Audi’s A4 Avant and the BMW 3-series Touring in the premium market. It certainly has a good chance.
What we expect
With its sporty exterior and agile handling, we’ve got high hopes for the 9-3 SportWagon which will hopefully prove to have substance as well as style. It will be interesting to see if the engine loosens up once a few more miles are on the clock, and if its fuel economy figures are anything like Saab claims it should prove to be an economical choice without compromising a sporty driver.
The manufacturer’s view
‘The SportWagon is an important addition as it will take 24% of total Saab sales in 2006. We are anticipating a 50/50 sales split between fleet and retail but as it gets on to more fleet choice lists, and awareness builds, we are expecting the mix to strengthen to 57% fleet. The 1.9 TiD will be crucial as we expect diesel to account for 80% of SportWagon sales.’
Paul Adler, brand manager – fleet, Saab
Equipment and options
Total options: £2,970
Standard price (OTR): £23,495
Price as tested: £26,465
Model: Saab 9-3 SportWagon 1.9 TiD 150 Vector Sport
Price (OTR): £23,495 (£26,464 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 164
Company car tax bill (2005) 40% tax-payer: £151 a month
Insurance group: 12
Combined mpg: 46.3
Test mpg: 43.1
CAP Monitor residual value: £8,475/36%
Expenditure to date: Nil
Typical contract hire rate: £418