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Family Wagon That's Fit for a Road Trip
2006 Saab 9-5 SportsCombi wagon

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 19, 2006

GREENSBORO, Ga. Life along Linger Longer Road proceeds at a leisurely pace, albeit not as easily as it did when the name referred to a hunting retreat enjoyed by the wealthy landlords of Greene County.

The developers have moved in. They are people with an eye toward profit and a verbal commitment to history, but not necessarily that part of the history when names such as Reynolds Plantation, the 10,000-acre estate that abuts Linger Longer, carried less than pleasant memories for the county's black populace.

But all of that has changed. Money and development, in conjunction with social and political upheavals that have sculpted the nation over the last 60 years, have worked their magic. A splendiferous Ritz-Carlton Lodge and Resort now crowns the grounds of the Reynolds Plantation. It's partly framed by the waters of Lake Oconee, created in the late 1970s when the Georgia Power Co. completed the construction of the Wallace Dam and backed up the waters of the Oconee River.

It does not matter who you are -- black or white, red, brown or yellow, celebrity or completely uncelebrated -- you can stay at the Ritz at Reynolds as long as you have money, and lots of it. That gives me an idea:

We could solve many of the worlds social and political problems if we gave the most disgruntled people lots of money, a nice set of wheels -- I'm thinking of the 2006 Saab 9-5 SportCombi wagon I drove while here -- and took them to the Ritz.

That is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Money and nice cars have a calming, civilizing effect on people, tend to equalize them and make them more acceptable, or at least more tolerable. I witnessed this firsthand on an extensive road tour of Greene County and environs, traveling routes and visiting places that scared me silly during the heyday of the civil rights movement.

For example, I arrived in the nearby town of Monticello with a racially mixed group, an event that would have triggered local anger and alarm decades ago. But we pulled up in a fleet of Saab 9-5 SportCombi wagons and 2006 Saab 9-5 sedans. Townspeople, black and white, gave us a royal welcome. They admired the cars, which they universally declared beautiful, and their ears perked and eyes popped when they learned we were billeted at the Ritz.

A black woman of the Monticello Chamber of Commerce pulled me aside for conversation. "Pretty car, the Ritz -- we're doing all right, aren't we?"

"We are," I said, and she smiled.

Saab began life in 1937 as a Swedish military aircraft company (Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget). The car division is now owned by America's General Motors Corp. But Saab's current "Born From Jets" marketing theme plays off the company's military origins, which, judging from the SportCombi wagon I drove and the public's reaction to it, is a mistake.

I would suggest: "Beautiful cars for beautiful people. Saab -- Bringing the World Together," because that is what I experienced driving the SportCombi here.

The midsize front-wheel-drive wagon is more friendly than warlike both in styling and performance. Pleasantly proportioned on the outside and ergonomically sensible inside, it makes easy passage of long miles, especially along seemingly endless straight runs and gently curved roads, which is most of what I drove in these parts.

It has a more than adequate engine, which means that with a maximum 260 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque, which is the twisting force the engine exerts on the driveshaft, it is strong enough to get you going in fine fashion. But with an engine cylinder displacement of 2.3 liters, and with four cylinders at that, the turbocharged engine in the 9-5 SportCombi won't keep you going to the gasoline pump.

Saab has stiffened the 9-5 SportCombi wagon's body for 2006. It has made some improvements in the car's steering and suspension, the sum of which equates to a wagon that now tracks and handles with the fidelity of a sports car, even when driven with the optional five-speed manual transmission.

But that analogy can be overdrawn. Automotive journalists are wont to turn every vehicle they drive into a "sport" something when, in fact, it isn't. And despite its name and handling characteristics, the SportCombi isn't.

It is, instead, a very likable, very pleasant upscale family wagon that offers us good seats for viewing America from the road and getting a better appreciation of this country and its people.

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