Saab Cars is reviving its aviation heritage in its latest television commercials, with images of the 9-3 Aero speeding as a formation of fighter jets zooms overhead, so I grabbed a flight jacket and my aviator glasses and climbed into the cockpit.
First, the 9-3 Aero with its 2.8L turbocharged DOHC V-6 is more like an upscale Gulfstream G550 executive jet than one of the fighters depicted in the commercials. So long Top Gun and hello luxury.
However, if you want to do some high-performance flying, just let the 9-3's engine spool up past 3,000 rpm.
This all-aluminum V-6 is new to Saab this year and is the latest member of General Motors Corp.'s global V-6 family, which includes the 3.6L in the Cadillac CTS.
But the turbocharged variant is unique to Saab.
Frankly, this engine's composed and sophisticated performance surprised this year's judges as it politely edged its way onto the 10 Best Engines list – with little argument, I might add.
Fly-boy Banks finds piloting Saab's turbocharged 2.8L heavenly.
For every winner, there is a loser. Unfortunately, the arrival of the 2.8L sent packing another one of my favorite engines, GM's 4.2L Vortec DOHC I-6 (tested in the Saab 9-7X SUV). The Vortec made our list the previous four years.
Although a great engine, the Vortec this year was tragically lost in the shuffle, as other engines (including GM's own 2L supercharged DOHC I-4 in the peppy Cobalt SS) swayed the judges.
Some engines stake their claim with brute power, while others do so with inventive technology.
The beauty of the 9-3's turbocharged V-6 is its smooth power delivery – a vast improvement over Saab's earlier and temperamental 4-cyl. turbo mills.
There are few engines as refined and pleasant as this one. Cycling through the gears, the expected whiff of turbo lag is almost nonexistent, as the peak torque of 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) is available from 2,000 all the way to 4,800 rpm. Very impressive.
Meanwhile, the engine serenely delivers torque as it revs to an assertive 250-hp threshold, aided by the turbocharger's unique twin-scroll architecture with separate tracts that funnel the exhaust pulses emanating from each cylinder bank.
The exhaust pulses for each cylinder bank divide the job of spinning the turbine, reducing lag while increasing boost.
Another feature cool enough to be implemented across other GM brands is the jets that squirt oil onto the pistons to keep them from running too hot.
If only GM could wedge this engine into the Solstice…