'The 9-3 leaves too much to be desired to be Saab's saviour'

According to the motoring cliché, architects drive Saabs. The logic being that they enjoy the practicality and aesthetic charm of the Swedish firm's estates and saloons. Not any more though. The ailing company has produced no cars since June, owes nearly €150m and only bankruptcy protection in the Swedish courts is keeping it afloat.

Its financial woes become clear when you consider it has only sold 30,000 vehicles in the last year (conventional logic dictates a carmaker must shift 200,000 to remain healthy). Of those few loyal buyers, most will have opted for the "new" Saab 9-3 and a few for its sportier cousin, the 9-3x all-rounder. Not that it is exactly new – the 9-3 has been around for nine years now.

It may be competitively priced (though resale is an issue), have a new front grill and a tweaked engine, but it still feels its age. My test model came in bling white with a dose of plastic cladding, but the design dates it to the 1990s and inside the styling is stark. It is pleasant enough to drive with a simple gearshift and light steering, but it won't set pulses racing and the Sportswagon badge is rather a misnomer – even the two litre 9-3x I tested fails to offer much in the way of engaging handling.

Such mediocrity is shame as I liked the 9-3 more than I'd care to admit. But I just can't imagine a perfection-seeking architect buying one. And that, as the accountants know, is Saab's problem.

The competition

The Audi A4 Avant offers more exciting performance, while the Volvo XC range competes with the 9-3X.

Saab 9-3 Sportswagon

Price: from £24,120 (£27,510 9-3X XWD as tested)

Engine capacity: 2l (turbocharged four-cylinder)

Power output (PS @ rpm): 220 @ 5300

Max torque (Nm @ rpm): 350 @ 2000 - 4000

Top speed (mph): 146

0-62 mph (seconds): 6.9

Fuel economy (mpg): 35.3

CO2 emissions (g/km): 185

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