Crapwagon Outtake: X Marks The Saab

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
crapwagon outtake x marks the saab

When Michael Karesh reviewed the Saab 9-3 Turbo X some 6 years ago, he found it wanting. I still want one.

The Turbo X was meant to celebrate three decades of Saab’s turbocharged powerplants, with a limited run of just 600 units. The 2.8L twin-turbo V6 made 280 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque and could be had with a 6-speed manual transmission. Saab’s XWD system, which allowed for rear torque vectoring, was standard.

Buying a used Saab is a bit of a crapshoot, but for the price of a new Hyundai Accent, you can have this 70,000 mile example “no-story automobile”. Is it as good to drive as the equivalent BMW 335i? Probably not. But what it lacks in neutral handling characteristics, it makes up for with gobs of character and sheer novelty.

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  • Bill h. Bill h. on Aug 19, 2014

    We have the 2009 Aero version sedan with pretty much the same features, including the 6 speed manual. Bought it for an even more reasonable price (and with less miles) from someone who was moving overseas, and had among other things an Aston Martin Vantage too (we didn't buy that). And we have a 2010 9-3 wagon, but with the turbo-4 and the auto/manual. So we can definitely do the comparison thing. Obviously the wagon is our hauler/utility car, and better for long trips because the fuel economy is better, yet it doesn't want for power in just about any situation. The Aero is the only 6 cylinder, AWD Saab we've owned, and I use it mostly for occasional commuting and fun backroad stuff, even though it's a noticeably heavier car. The 6 speed sure seems like a close ratio job, reminds me of my old Rabbit GTI in that respect--sometimes I don't even bother with 1st gear and start out in 2nd. Clutch is pretty stiff though. Fuel economy, even during commuting, is not bad (low 20s mpgs) if you're not hooning it--comparable or better than the Sportcombi, though it never gets much better than 25 mpgs max on the highway--it's just too fun to put down the pedal and let the turbo blast you around trucks and slower cars. It is true that the engine compartment is very crowded, and the heat soak from the turbo can be considerable under the hood, so some of the plastic components can deteriorate faster I would think. But yes, you don't see Aeros or Turbo Xs every day, especially with three pedals. Both cars do very well in winter weather; the Aero even with all the power is what I'd use for really snowy days, and it's quite fun. It's true the interiors are nothing to fawn over--the dash is pretty plain in the Sportcombi, but at least the Aero has a carbon fiber epoxy finish. But neither do they seem to deteriorate much either, and the lack of a nav/infotainment screen is of no consequence for us. What is of consequence are the decent quality leather seats and the fact that they're Saab seats, about the best around. So far the Sportcombi has been one the most reliable cars we've ever owned, Saab or non-Saab. The Aero really hasn't given us much trouble either, but my son knows what could be the vulnerable areas and we keep a watch accordingly. In any case, we know that as long as it's kept in decent shape we can sell it to another Saab enthusiast who wants an Aero with the unicornish manual gearbox.

  • Sammy B Sammy B on Aug 19, 2014

    Question for the masses: There’s a 2011 Sportcombi turbo 6MT in my area. Should stay as far away as possible or pick it up right away? 21K miles I drive about 15K/year and will definitely need to put up with snow in the winter

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    • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Aug 19, 2014

      I loved my '08, which was also a 4cyl 6spd wagon, and it has been completely reliable for its current owner. Go for it if the price is right. In many ways I preferred the 4-cyl turbo to the n/a inline 6 in my BMW. It may not sound as good, but it really delivers the goods, especially in the mid-range, while having really excellent fuel economy. The interior is the big letdown, just plain cheap. And the ride handling balance is no match for the Germans.

  • Sammy B Sammy B on Aug 19, 2014

    Thanks guys. Thoughts on longevity/reliability. I have an overall shakey feeling about Saabs, especially now that the brand is gone from US. From that standpoint, what do you guys think? Electrical gremlins and such?

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    • Bill h. Bill h. on Aug 19, 2014

      @Corey Lewis It should be noted that the company responsible for Saab spare parts from Sweden was separate from the manufacturing firm and never went bankrupt. It's still in operation from Nyköping. Whether GM will continue to support spares is more of a question in my mind, but again, some of the stuff was sourced from GM Europe and European suppliers (Bosch etc.).

  • Jason Lombard Jason Lombard on Aug 19, 2014

    I do have a soft spot for the Swedes. The wife has a Volvo wagon (not brown, nor manual), and I was looking for a 9-3 with a manual as a DD. Glad to know (thanks Bill H.) that parts availability isn't an issues—for now at least.