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The benefits of an SUV but without the top-heavy bulk.

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Showing its age as a package.


True-to-form Saab quirky style with family-friendly form.

Kez Casey | Aug 8, 2011 | 3 Comments


Vehicle Style: Mid-size crossover wagon

Fuel Economy (claimed): 10.1 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 12.3 l/100km



Just a few years ago Saab’s 9-3 range boasted the most model variants of any car in Australia.

A few years and a change of ownership has seen that range now pared down to a few worthy niche models. Enter the 9-3X: a wagon-cum-crossover that muscles-up to the likes of Subaru’s Outback.

The big difference though, is Saab’s focus on clean ergonomics and a sporty driving experience.



Quality: At first glance the now ageing Saab-style of the interior looks a little out of place in a modern context, but the focus on simplicity still holds up well.

Some plastics however feel gritty and hard - the dash lacks a soft touch appeal - yet the leather seating is soft and supple. The clarity, layout and ease of use of the controls is hard to fault.

Comfort: Seating surfaces feel plush and the powered driver’s seat offers easy adjustment. Plus, plentiful headroom and legroom in the rear add to the 9-3X’s practicality.

Across the rear bench is narrow however - three lumpy teens in the rear will grumble; this is one for young families or two-up travel in the back.

Equipment: Sports seats, performance brakes and a multi-function steering-wheel with gearshift buttons, heated seats and mirrors, a cooled glovebox, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, multi-function trip computer and rugged body cladding.

Storage: While not especially capacious behind the rear seats compared to some wagons, the 477 litres of luggage capacity, with separate under-floor storage is wide and easy to access. Additional storage throughout the cabin is all compact, but well placed.



Driveability: The 9-3X shares its engine with the range-topping Aero sedan, which bestows it with a flexible engine that copes well with the added 205 kilograms that the X carries over the sedan.

Although not blisteringly quick, the 2.0 litre turbo generates 154kW @ 5000rpm and a solid 300Nm of torque from 2500rpm to 4000rpm

Refinement: The advancing age of the 9-3 range lets it down here. The engine is smooth enough with a distinct note, but delivery feels flat, and the six-speed auto is competent, but occasionally throws in thumping down-shifts.

It’s also a little slow with manual shifts.

Suspension: Suspension is raised by 35mm over the standard wagon’s ride height. Up front are conventional MacPherson struts, but the four-link ‘ReAxs’ rear suspension allows for passive rear-wheel steering to counter understeer - a system that works as promised.

The additional ride height doesn’t roll and pitch as expected with firm dampers keeping the 9-3X on track. The trade-off is a stiff ride on rough terrain and corrugated roads.

Braking: High-performance four-wheel disc brakes with 314mm vented front rotors and 292mm sold rears cope well with the 9-3X and its added weight.



ANCAP rating: 5 star

Safety features: ESP with corner brake control, brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist, six airbags, active head restraints, lap/sash seatbelts and head restraints in all seating positions and pre-tensioning front belts with height adjustment.



Warranty: three years/100,000km with road-side assist and six years anti-corrosion warranty.

Service costs: TBA



Volvo XC70 3.2i ($59,950 ) - Volvo offers a more modern, more spacious and more family friendly cross-over wagon. A willing six-cylinder engine and well-sorted automatic help disguise the V70’s added weight. (see XC70 reviews)

Subaru Outback R Premium 3.6i ($55,990) - Subaru pioneered the jacked-up wagon genre and the Outback still delivers exceptional value, generous equipment and solid engineering.

Unusual styling is more of an acquired taste than previous generations however. (see Outback reviews)

Skoda Octavia Scout Premium 103TDI ($45,790) - While the accommodation is a little tighter, the space is utilised to better effect, particularly for rear seat passengers.

The Scout’s diesel powertrain is a little slower, but fuel economy is far superior. (see Octavia reviews)

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.



With the 9-3X, Saab has set out to create a challenger to the likes of Subaru’s pioneering Outback. It's certainly worth considering - its distinctive Saab flair is appealing - but while it is competent enough there’s little in the package that advances the game.

It’s solid and feels built to last, but, at around $60k (plus), it’s pricey; there are better buys around for less cashola.


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