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New Models: Hot and estate Saab 9-3 for Geneva
25 Jan 05 14:26

Saab 9-3
Besides its long-anticipated 9-3 Sport Kombi hatch-estate, Saab is to launch powerful V6 9-3 Aero models at the Geneva Motor Show in March. The all-new 2.8-litre V6, sourced from GM's Australian division Holden, has been developed by Saab to give 250bhp thanks to a single asymmetric turbocharger, which will be specific to the Saab models using this engine. We can expect to see the engine, albeit in different states of tune and probably with twin-turbo aspiration, in other GM and GM-affiliate models, such as the upcoming Alfa Romeo 157 and GTV amongst others. It makes its debut in the 9-3 range first, however, and will be offered in the Sport Saloon, Kombi and Convertible versions in combination with Aero specification; the current 210bhp Aero models will continue. The V6 models will be visually identified only by their badging and twin exhaust tailpipes, though they will also receive minor modifications to their suspension and upgrades to their ESP and traction control systems, including the addition of a hill start aid to prevent rolling backwards in both the six-speed manual-transmission and auto versions.

The V6 engine will not, however, be fitted in the current 9-5 range, though it will probably feature in the all-new replacement line-up, still said to be a good two and a half or three years off after Alfa Romeo pulled out of the joint platform development programme. In the meantime, Saab is to revise the current 9-5 this summer; the new-look models will be launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, and will feature redesigned front and rear ends and an updated interior - only the doors, roof and windows are said to be the same. The 2.2-litre TiD diesel engines will be replaced by the 150bhp 1.9 TiD 16v unit already offered in the 9-3 (and also used in the Vectra, Signum and Alfa 156) though the 3.0 V6 TiD will continue. The 120bhp 8-valve version of the 1.9 may follow if Saab considers that there is enough demand, but this hasn't yet been confirmed.

Sport Kombi spy shot
Further down the line, a more powerful version of the 1.9 TiD unit is also under development; fellow GM brand Vauxhall are said to be looking at an output of around 180bhp for some of its models, and this uprated version is likely to make it into the Saab range - including the 9-3 Cabriolet, marking the debut of a diesel engine in this model. Eco-friendly Saab enthusiasts will be interested in the 9-5 Bio-power, too: a model which can run on both petrol and organically-sourced ethanol, a clean-burning fuel gaining popularity across Europe. This goes on sale in Sweden next month, where it will benefit from tax breaks, exemptions from congestion charging and even qualify for free parking, and Saab is considering introducing it to the UK, although ethanol suppliers are thin on the ground as yet.

More details of the new 2.8 V6 and the 9-3 Sport Kombi will be revealed nearer to their Geneva unveiling, including the final decision on the name of the five-door Kombi for the UK. This was to have been called Sport Hatch, until Vauxhall took the name for its three-door Astra; whilst Kombi is likely to remain its name in Scandinavia and some other Continental markets, it is thought to be an unfamiliar term for British buyers. Whatever it's called, the Kombi is expected to attract a number of new buyers to the Saab range as well as satisfying existing owners of five-door old-shape 9-3s and 900s, who had no immediate replacement for their hatches. So far, the 9-3 saloon has appealed to a high number of 'conquest' customers new to Saab, many trading in BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 saloons in favour of something a little more unusual, and the Kombi is expected to draw in the Touring and Avant crowd as well.

2005 also brings the launch of the 9-6X, twin to the Subaru B9X Tribeca 4x4-crossover, though so far this has only been confirmed for America; it will go on sale either very late this year or in early 2006. However, Saab engineers in Sweden are said to be studying whether the car could be modified for Europe and whether it is feasible to produce a diesel-engined version or less thirsty petrol versions. Saab is also waiting to gauge the success in Europe of similarly-themed models such as the Nissan Murano and Mitsubishi Outlander (both also offered only with high-powered petrol engines). We are unlikely to see official imports of the 9-2X "Saabaru", though.
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