Hunkered down on its tri-spoke alloy wheels, the Saab 9000 Turbo has the profile of a European hot rod. And its 2.3-liter turbocharged engine, new in 1991, makes it run the way it looks.

Saab gave the 9000 Turbo a tighter suspension to cope with the added power and improved handling. Lower body panels have changed slightly to improve its aerodynamics, as well as its looks.The 9000 has shed its conservative image and now has a racy air about it. Take it to the highway, and it doesn't disappoint.

Recently I loaded the family into it and drove on the highway for four hours to and from grandmother's house. The car devoured the familiar road. The distance seemed to melt away, and even after the long, one-day driving stint I wasn't tired.

That was because the new engine was so smooth and strong, the chairlike seats were so comfortable for the whole family, and wind noise was almost non-existent. Saab pays close attention to the details of driving comfort, making its cars nice for long hauls.

A fold-down back seat and hatchback make this an immensely practical automobile. It's more like a high-performance station wagon than a sedan, yet it has a sedan's quiet and luxury. Even though the wheelbase of 105.2 inches is shorter than a Ford Taurus or Honda Accord, the 9000 nevertheless is listed as a large car by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Much like Audi's 200 wagon, the Saab 9000 embodies the concept of European sportiness and versatility in a family sedan.

Let's look at the new engine, which replaced a 2-liter unit. The new one has 16 valves and four cylinders, displace 2.3 liters and puts out 200 horsepower. To get that much output, Saab uses a turbocharger, intercooler and Automated Performance Control, a computerized device that adjusts the engine to get optimum power from a variety of gasoline octanes. This engine has twinbalance shafts for smoothness and Direct Ignition, a Saab system that eliminates conventional ignition cables and a mechanical distributor.

Turbo lag is shorter than before, and the formidable power comes on with much less commotion than it did in the past. There's less wheelspin under full throttle in first or second gear, and that makes the 9000 Turbo a more civilized performer.

Beside the upright seats, the rest of the interior is businesslike and functional. The dashboard is a model of good layout, with easy-to-read gauges and switches featuring pictograms that describe their use. The one negative about the dashboard is its tiny radio controls.

Another interesting item about the 9000 is a filter system to keep outside dust and pollen from getting into the car through the ventilation system.

In addition to the Turbo, Saab offers an entry-level 9000 with normally aspirated 2.3-liter engine and a price below $23,000. The top of the 9000 line is the notchback CD sedan.

For 1991 Saab has extended its warranty to six years and 80,000 miles.

The base price of the 9000 Turbo I drove is $32,995, and that included anti-lock brakes, a driver's side airbag, heated power mirrors, heated front seats, automatic climate control, cruise control, power windows, power locks, a theft alarm, fog lights, a power sunroof and central locking. The sticker price was $33,412.