Saab 9-3

Given that Saab has not launched any new cars in the UK for nearly two years, you could be forgiven for thinking the Swedish firm might be going the same way as MG Rover. However, sales are actually up 40 per cent in 2005, and Saab hopes the new 9-3 Sport Wagon will enhance its appeal further.

For those who want to steer clear of the typical German executive offerings, the new 9-3 Sport Wagon will hold plenty of appeal. It's attractive and practical, and the interior feels well built. However, the Aero V6 Turbo is expensive at £27,795, and is likely to leave keen drivers disappointed. Lower-spec diesel versions will be a much better option.

Given that Saab has not launched any new cars in the UK for nearly two years, you could be forgiven for thinking the Swedish firm might be going the same way as MG Rover. However, sales are actually up 40 per cent in 2005, and Saab hopes the new 9-3 Sport Wagon will enhance its appeal further.

While the saloon has been on sale since 2002, the estate adds practicality to the line-up. As with the four-door, the new load-lugger is based on the Epsilon platform that also underpins Vauxhall's Vectra.

Ahead of the C-pillar, the Sport Wagon is identical to the booted car, yet follows the recent estate trend of having a rounded rump. The frosted lights are sharp, and there is plenty of chrome detailing. Although there is a definite hint of America about the rear end - no doubt courtesy of parent firm GM - overall the newcomer is attractive.

Lift the tailgate and there is a practical boot with a flat floor and clever parcel shelf. This is not only removable, but also slides out of the way. Plenty of luggage hooks are fitted, as is a 12V power supply. Unfortunately, the seats cannot be folded totally flat as the bases do not flip up, but it is easy to lower the seatbacks because you only need to pull on a single lever. Even with five people on board, the Saab has a 419-litre load capacity - not enough to match Audi's A4 Avant, but plenty for most buyers.

Up front, the dash is from the 9-3 saloon, with an ergonomic layout only spoiled by some sharp-edged plastics. What is not so impressive is the chassis. The V6 delivers 250bhp and 350Nm of torque to the front tyres, and the car suffers severe torque steer. Over bumpy surfaces, the wheel pulls and squirms in your hands, and this gets worse under hard acceleration. The suspension also struggles to cope with undulations.

The 2.8-litre engine is characterful, with good refinement at cruising speeds. However, German rivals still offer a more rounded package. It is been a long time coming, but Saab's latest car is already behind the times on the road.

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