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Review: 2004 Saab 9-3 Linear

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MODEL: Saab 9-3 Linear
ENGINE: 2.0-liter turbocharged DOHC four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 175 hp @ 5,500 rpm/195 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed "Sentronic" automatic
WHEELBASE: 105.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 182.2 x 68.3 x 56.8 in.

There are a ton of great features about the Saab 9-3 Linear sport sedan. And as with all Saab 9-3 models since the beginning, there are some quirks, too. In this case, though, the good features outnumber the quirks by a considerable amount, making the car a winner.

The first quirk, and one I never learned to accommodate after a week of driving, was the traditional Saab ignition key location. It's located on the center console. However, for 2003, the "key" is a special electronic fob-like affair you insert into the ignition "hole" and use it like any other key. Also, you don't have to have the gearbox in reverse to remove the key as you do in a standard transmission-equipped Saab, so there was one less problem.

Another quirk, and this seems to be a Swedish national thing because Volvos use the same radios, is the sound system. It's confusing, and I couldn't figure out how to put a CD into the dash-mounted changer without reading the owner's manual. It seemed to make sense once I knew how to do it, but it wasn't as intuitive as with other cars. The radio's memory function was also strange, but another quick check in the manual helped.

Now, what's great about the innovations? Well, there's a small new feature that really helps. Saab has a split right-hand rearview mirror. Like other right-hand mirrors, it is convex, offering a wider view of what may be on your right side. But it's also split, with the right third of the mirror even more convex than the rest of the mirror. So, like the add-on mirrors that the truckers, use, you get an even wider view of what's out there. It's not a lot, but it helps.

Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four that puts out 175 horsepower. An even hotter 2.0-liter engine rated at 210 hp is available. This is hooked to a 5-speed "Sentronic" automatic transmission with a shift option. The combination offered an excellent power-to-the-road combination.

We drove the Saab through a monsoon on one trip and it comported itself well. This year has been a great one for testing cars in wicked wet weather, and the Saab did a great job in some of the worst rain.

We also took the Saab to visit our new grandson. His big brother "escaped" with grandma and grandpa one weekend. Putting his car seat in the back, with the tethers already in place, was a snap. He also enjoyed the sunroof, and when his older cousin came along for the ride, one of the first things he told him about was the sunroof. He enjoyed watching the clouds (when they weren't leaking). Older grandson sat in a booster seat that installs by simply using the existing seat belts and shoulder strap, but both were easy to install and remove. And with both seats installed, there was still enough room back there for another passenger.

Trunk space was excellent. Saab has discovered some magical way to get a ton of trunk space from a small car and we used it all. Back home, there was enough space for three or four golf bags (even though we only used one).

Our Saab came with a sticker price of $32,860, which I felt was high. It resulted from a base price of $25,900 plus the Sentronic automatic transmission ($1,200); front heated seats and headlamp washers ($495); launch package, including power driver's seat, Saab infotainment, in-dash 6-CD changer, exterior color matched trim and the automatic sunroof ($2,595); a wheel upgrade package ($1,000); and a touring package, including automatic climate control, bi-xenon lamps, autodimming mirror with compass and an integrated garage door opener ($995). Add $675 for destination and delivery and you get the bottom line.

The infotainment package consisted of a large high-center-mounted screen that displayed outside temperature, the radio station or CD you were playing, fuel economy, distance to empty, etc. It's a nice feature, but without a navigation feature, it was just a lot of information that didn't aid the driving.

By the way, our fuel economy was 28.7 mpg in mostly highway driving.

The Saab 9-3 Linear (Linear refers to an overall trim package) proved to be a very comfortable car to drive and ride in, even with the traditional Saab quirkiness.