Our 9-3 SportWagon epitomises the new thinking at the company, with a strong identity at the front thanks to the three-part chrome-rimmed grille – a hark back to the 9000 version I drove all those years ago.
But at the back the 9-3 brings things back up to date with its futuristic looking clear light lenses.
It signals a move away from the traditional Saab driver of old – eccentric professors and librarians with leather patches on their jacket elbows. Now the brand is appealing to a more youthful audience, and user-choosers are forming an important part of this.
But one thing that hasn’t change is build quality, and the 9-3 still has that hewn-from-a-solid-rock feel to it.
The dash is the usual slabby Saab affair and features a mass of lights and switches which can be confusing at times, especially when it’s dark. It looks impressive but I’m sure it could have been made simpler.
But the real gem of this car is under the bonnet, in the form of that gloriously smooth yet powerful 1.9-litre common rail diesel powerplant. It offers 150bhp (there is a cheaper 120bhp version if you want it) and while it won’t exactly set the Tarmac alight, it pushes the car along at a fair old lick that should keep any sane company car driver happy.
But what is really impressing me is the fuel economy. I don’t exactly spare the horses when I’m driving, yet the 9-3 is returning a touch more than 45mpg – not a bad feat for such a hefty car.
In fact when I first picked it up with a full tank, I began to suspect that there might be a problem with the fuel gauge – it didn’t seem to move for days!
After driving cars with diesel engines like these, it makes me wonder exactly who would choose a petrol model. The 1.8-litre petrol version with a similar power output to our test model costs just £265 less but offers only 30.7mpg on the combined cycle, so there isn’t an argument for the petrol car either in terms of front-end cost or fuel economy.
All in all, it’s been a happy Saab reunion, apart from two niggling faults.
Firstly, I keep getting my fingers trapped between the handbrake lever and the centre console when I release it and secondly, the rear hatch shows a marked disinclination to open.
It was a problem highlighted in the last test by our features editor Adele Burton but as she measures five foot nothing, us more muscular drivers tended to poo-poo her complaints as a lack of strength on her part. But it’s true – it requires the muscle power of a mountain gorilla to get the blasted thing open.
I think a trip to the Saab garage is in order as I can’t believe the tailgate should be this stiff.
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 (2006) 40% tax-payer: £175 a month
Insurance group: 12
Combined mpg: 46.3
Test mpg: 45.2
CAP Monitor residual value: £8,675/36%
Expenditure to date: Nil
Typical contract hire rate: £444