Stylish and well priced

 

Price £28,295
Maximum speed 152mph, 0-60mph in 6.6 seconds
Combined fuel consumption 27.7mpg
Further information 0800 626 556

Things were looking decidedly wobbly for Saab a couple of years back. I feared for it, I really did. Parent company General Motors was in terminal decline, and had little use for a quirky, low-volume European prestige brand draining more resources than the space programme. Saab had lost its design mojo, and was churning out boring, blobby saloons in fewer and fewer quantities in countries that barely knew where Sweden was. Anxious black polo-neck-wearing, home-coffee-grinding, naming-their-children-Olivia-and-Luca-type residents of Highgate formed action committees to see what could be done.

GM remains in dire trouble, of course, and there are still those who predict Saab still could go the way of Rover, but the last year and a half has seen a heartening - and rather startling - renaissance. Last year saw Saab chalk up an all-times sales record and the company became the UK's fastest-growing premium brand. North London is once again chocker with new 9-3 convertibles; and, look, here comes another fresh, cool model: the SportWagon.

Just in case we get too carried away, I should start by admitting that, judged rationally, the new 9-3 estate is not really as good as its chief rivals, the BMW 3-Series Touring and the Audi A4 Avant. With tedious predictability, the Germans are too well engineered, too well built and, in the case of the BMW, too interesting to drive. They have more room in the back too, so if you want a proper estate, look elsewhere.

But, of course, the Saab is not German, which has long been one of its chief selling points. And this particular Saab is actually rather lovely, which is another. It looks great, for starters, with its "iced-look" rear lights; dynamic Nike-tick carriage line; and earnest, chiselled front. Saab has rekindled its Saabishness, but instead of looking faintly orthopaedic, as its cars used to, this one is svelte and sexy. As with all Swedish cars, the seats are very supportive, it steers with reasonable precision, and, depending on which of the seven engine options you choose, it has impressive amounts of thrust. Mine had the - admittedly costly - 2.8-litre V6, which was fantastically quick and smooth, and had none of the turbo lag and torque steer that made old Saabs such a fruity handful. But if you stick to the lower end of the range, you can get a Sportwagon on your drive remarkably cheaply (prices start at £17,995), something that never ceases to surprise about Saabs. Best cup-holders in the business, too.

Saab persists in harking back to its aeronautical heritage (we thought we'd humour them with our location for this week's photo) but, really, talk of fighter jets is rather preposterous when their cars are based on Vauxhalls, and most are made outside of Sweden. Then again, when you are sharing a platform with a Vectra, you've got to find your personality somewhere and it is nice to see that the classic cliff-face dashboard survives, gently wrapping around the pilot, sorry, driver. And, of course, you still turn the thing on by sticking the ignition key in a hole behind the handbrake. Which is silly, but, again, a tiny straw of quirkiness to clutch at in a globally homogenised world.

Saab expects the SportWagon to be its best seller in the UK. If you ask me, that is the least a car this stylish and well priced deserves.

With thanks to Gatwick Aviation Museum

It's a classic: Saab 92

It is easy to forget what a radical, pioneering firm Saab once was. Its first production car, the 92, was launched in 1949 but had remarkably streamlined bodywork.

Its successor, the 96, still only had a two-stroke, three-cylinder engine, but boasted revolutionary safety features, such as seat-belts and, by 1964, dual circuit brakes. It looked like nothing else on the road, was amazingly economical and built a dedicated following - even today, few car owners are more loyal than Saab's.

The 96 was rugged too, with a strong monocoque that, despite a meagre top speed of 92mph and poor acceleration (0-60mph in 17.1 seconds), made it ideal for rallying. In 1966, Erik Carlsson won the Monte Carlo Rally in a 96 Sport and thus was born one of the most unlikely motorsport icons.

The 96 was also remarkably long-lived, remaining in production for 20 years with relatively few upgrades other than the introduction of a V4 engine, disc brakes, a mild facelift and rubber bumpers in the mid-1970s.

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