My New Car: 2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi

The search is over. No more rental cars. No more reading the bus schedule. No more blurry eyes from staring at Craigslist, Buggy Bank, Autotrader, and Bring A Trailer. The search is over.
Make the jump to see my new ride.

To those who follow me on Twitter and my blog, I apologize sincerely for all the wild goose chases. During my two month search, I seriously considered a first generation Insight, an X-Type wagon in Palm Springs that had a breathtaking $7,000 of work done in the last two years, a Lincoln LS, an overpriced Jaguar S-Type with a manual transmission, countless Saab wagons, another Volvo V50 T5 with a stick, and sundry Mercedes and BMW wagons. I was a hot mess.
During my search, every Saab experience was negative. A 9-3 SportCombi Aero 6M for sale by a dealer specializing in used Saabs was never ready for sale due to long waits for one part after another. A low mileage 9-3 SportCombi 2.0T for sale in Bakersfield was being sold by a private seller who only emailed me back on every tenth day that was a prime number. One Saab mechanic tried to talk me out of a Saab, another was extremely rude, and a third simply denied my existence. Maybe it was a sign.
Despite the not-so-subtle hints, my search kept returning to Saabs. During a search of Los Angeles Craigslist, I found this white/cream 2008 SportCombi with the 2-liter turbo and five-speed automatic. I preferred the 2.6 liter V6 turbo with the manual transmission, but that combination was very rare and magnitudes more tedious and expensive to maintain and repair.
IMG_8844 (1)
What really attracted me to this 2.0T was that it had just 43,000 miles, which translates into about 6,000 miles per year. It lived its whole life in Southern California. Two issues bothered me– that it had three owners and that it had no service records. But a thorough pre-purchase inspection by an expert gave me the thumbs up. I flew down to LA with a wad of cash, picked it up, and sped back to the Bay Area.
IMG_8845 (1)
One of the reasons I felt comfortable with the transaction was because the seller is a fastidiously clean Japanese guy. Other than two tiny dings on the driver’s side rear door, the car is cosmetically flawless inside and out. There is zero wear and there are no scuff marks anywhere.
IMG_8852 (1)
The 400 mile drive back home on Interstate 5 was a breeze. I thought the little four cylinder was going to be underpowered, but it was more than adequate on the Tejon Pass. I appreciated the turbo gauge and the smaller font for three-digit speeds on the speedometer was quirky.
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Other than the fact that the Combi feels and drives like a brand new car, I really like the fact that it is so uncommon. Subaru and Volkswagen make perfectly fine wagons, but I wanted something that was a bit off kilter.
One thing that is off kilter is the passenger’s side rear view mirror. Near the outer edge, the mirror’s convex angle is sharper (is that the right description?), thus avoiding the need to crane my neck to check the blind spot. For the first week or so, it was very disorienting.
IMG_8853 (1)
Another off kilter feature is this almost useless cupholder. It can’t hold my 55 gallon drum of sweet tea, interferes with the AUX jack port, and I’ve accidentally struck it with the back of my hand more than thrice.
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The most off kilter feature is the much discussed center console ignition switch. Its novelty wore off almost immediately. I dare not use the cupholder right behind it for fear of spilling liquid on it. Parts, I will discuss later, are hard to come by. But my biggest gripe is how the location becomes a sty when you incorporate phone cords into the equation.
In addition, that’s a bootless e-brake handle on the left. The fact that it’s bootless makes it a de facto guillotine/paper cutter. Last week, I released the handle and nearly sliced my iPhone jack in two.
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Parts availability is the price of admission to the Saab club. First, the car didn’t come with an owner’s manual. I easily found a complete set with leather pouch on eBay. The biggest (and only) problem I am facing now is the left brake light. It’s an LED unit and the controller for it is busted, my new Saab mechanic thinks. A new controller can be had from Sweden for $300. It took my Saab guy two weeks to hunt down a used one here in the States. He’s installing it tomorrow, insh’Allah. If successful, the 9-3 will be perfect.
Parts availability is concerning to the point that I upgraded my car insurance policy this morning to include rental car coverage. I can easily see a minor to moderate collision sidelining this car for six weeks or more.
Hopefully, I get to keep this car for many, many years. My beloved Volvo V50 lasted just nine months when a dumbass in a lifted, matte black Yukon with a bullbar creamed it. I’ve had the SportCombi for about three weeks now and driven it 1,500 miles. In addition to normal errand running and a trip from L.A., I just took it over the Sierras to visit Reno. Note the airplane-themed floor handle.
And speaking of keeping the Combi for a long time, I couldn’t stand the thought of Cooper messing up the pristine leather interior. So it was Amazon Prime I went and I bought this seat cover.
I’m not the guy who parks his car at the far end of the parking lot, but I am terrified of curb rash. This is an example of my parking job. The car is about two zip codes away from the curb.
My only legitimate complaint so far is the driver’s seat’s lack of lateral support. Objectively and subjectively, there are tons of cars that are “better” than this Saab. But for me, this 9-3 is perfect. I am happy.
Images source: Copyright 2015 Hooniverse/Jim Yu

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  1. Cameron Vanderhorst Avatar
    Cameron Vanderhorst

    Nice Saab! I’m glad you went for it despite all of the “bad signals” and the unavoidable spectre of parts availability (or the lack thereof). How very Hooniverse of you!

  2. Lokki Avatar

    Very handsome! As the owner of car (a 71 Alfa) for which parts can sometimes be hard to come by, I suggest considering doing a “common fail point/unobtanium parts” search on the net and stockpiling those pieces now while they are still around.
    Row52 will even alert you when one come into any scrapyard within 500 miles and you can pay people to pull parts for you. Nothing nicer than having an extra unobtanium tail light or trim piece around

    1. Tamerlane's Thoughts Avatar
      Tamerlane’s Thoughts

      My very understanding wife suggested that I buy an extra brake light controller, just in case.

      1. Vairship Avatar

        Could she be talked into a spare 9-3 sport combi, just in case? 😉

  3. JayP Avatar

    A good looking wagon, er, avant, I mean combi.

  4. Tanshanomi Avatar

    If you buy what you really wanted, you can put up with all sorts of hassles and still be happy about it. If you settle for something that doesn’t tug on your heartstrings to achieve ease of ownership, you’ll be kicking yourself as soon as the first little problem crops up. You did good. (So says the new Kizashi owner.)

    1. Tamerlane's Thoughts Avatar
      Tamerlane’s Thoughts

      *Fist bump*

  5. needthatcar Avatar

    That is one sweet car. If I had to transport a dog in it, he’d definitely be in a pet carrier box. But then, I’m a firm believer that all animals should be housed in an appropriate carrier box whenever they need to be in a car. Too much chance for distraction of the driver or destruction of the car.

  6. DogsOfWar Avatar

    That is one sweet weirdomobile.

  7. CraigSu Avatar
    These are your new Saab Internet friends. I have no doubt you’ll get to know them well. While my ’99 Saab 9-3 SE has performed yeoman service in the 16 years I’ve owned it, it’s about time to put it out to pasture.

    1. Frank T. Cat Avatar
      Frank T. Cat usually has a good selection of more common parts for a lot less, too. None of the niche stuff though.

      1. Kiefmo Avatar

        I concur — I’ve been able to find all of what I’ve needed for the W126 on Rock Auto. For grey-market era, non-USDM cars, you can even select to see the list of parts for the grey-market model.
        Anyway, I have a huge, and still-growing magnet collection. They’re slowly taking over my tool chest.

  8. GTXcellent Avatar

    Välkommen till klubben!

    1. Kiefmo Avatar

      That’s an Epsilon car, right? Shouldn’t that be in German?

      1. GTXcellent Avatar

        I believe the SportCombi was still assembled in Trollhättan, even if it was designed in Rüsselsheim.

  9. CraigSu Avatar

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the cupholder. You’ll break it soon enough.

    1. Kiefmo Avatar

      It’s an automatic — the cupholder is his right hand, since it’s got nothing else to do.
      At least, that’s what I tell myself in my W126, which is completely devoid of anything remotely resembling an orifice that might accept a round-shaped beverage container and hold it reasonably securely.

      1. CraigSu Avatar

        My Volvo 240 wagon puts me in the same situation. Since I don’t allow food or beverages in it though that’s not proving to be problematic.

        1. Kiefmo Avatar

          No edibles in the car?
          I see you’re one of those people…

          1. Sjalabais Avatar


  10. Frank T. Cat Avatar
    Frank T. Cat

    I keep my (fat 4th gen classic) iPod in the useless dash cupholder on my 9-5. After scrubbing all the old coffee stains off of the dash when I got the car, I don’t trust it to do anything else.
    Welcome to the SAAB club. Hopefully your participation in this luxurious Swedish hell goes better than most!

  11. engineerd Avatar

    Congrats on the new ride! I learned during my recent experience that finding the exact right car while shopping the used car market can be like searching for the Loch Ness Monster. You know it might exist, you just can’t find it.

  12. Kiefmo Avatar

    Whew — you got the 2.0T instead of the troublesome 2.8T.
    Looks like a fantastic car! I love the lines of the wagon.

    1. Tamerlane's Thoughts Avatar
      Tamerlane’s Thoughts

      Yeah, my mechanic says the Aero engine is more problematic.

  13. Brendan A. MacWade Avatar
    Brendan A. MacWade

    A fantastic choice. Long live the Saab long roof.

  14. Sjalabais Avatar

    Congrats – again? – but I have to say…reading the post, there’s a lot of focus on the downsides of the Saab. What made you go for this one instead of a PAG or any other of the contenders?
    I arrived in St Petersburg, Russia, today. The mix of cars here is mindblowing. The only Saabs I’ve seen though are as tired as the Russian made vehicles.

    1. Tamerlane's Thoughts Avatar
      Tamerlane’s Thoughts

      I just wanted something different. The ratio of V50s to 9-3 SportCombis around here is about 6:1.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        If that’s all!

    2. dead_elvis Avatar

      And you’re taking lots of photos while there, yes?

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        I already have my friend annoyed for seemingly pointless and frequent cell phone photo stops.

        1. dead_elvis Avatar

          Excellent! What is that?

          1. Sjalabais Avatar

            GAZ Volga 24 – they made it until fairly recently, it just devolved into some ungainly plastic monster. The original is really pretty. Unfortunately, just about everything I see here with the GAZ logo looks like people throw salt rocks at it all winter.

          2. dead_elvis Avatar

            It’s not particularly attractive, whatever version that is, but it’s sort appealing despite the level of filth. Looks like a funhouse version of some mid-60s budget-level American cars crossed with 70s Datsun.

  15. Tamerlane's Thoughts Avatar
    Tamerlane’s Thoughts

    Update: Dropped my car off this morning. Just got a call that the used controller only works for the sedan and not the wagon. I get to pick up the car tomorrow.

  16. nanoop Avatar

    “Parts, I will discuss later, are hard to come by.” Oooh, you can see several years into the future!
    Don’t forget you have Swedish-speaking/understanding folks in the Hooniverse – the scrapyard folks here may have certain hesitations with shipping abroad…

    1. Tamerlane's Thoughts Avatar
      Tamerlane’s Thoughts

      Thanks! Actually, the American junkyard sent the wrong brake light controller. I just found out yesterday. It’s for a sedan instead of a wagon. I’m picking the car up momentarily and will find out the part number/name.

  17. salguod Avatar

    That passenger mirror is interesting,but there is a way to nearly 100% eliminate your blind spots by changing how you adjust your mirrors. Check out the graphic below from Car and Driver. I’ve been driving like this for almost 20 years.
    Full article here:

    1. theskitter Avatar

      Set up your mirrors using objects behind you, and you’ll see how much overlap the side-of-car method creates.