In what may be a case of too little, too late, Saab has unveiled its first electric vehicle ahead of its official debut at the 2010 Paris auto show. The 9-3 wagon-based EV is called the 9-3 ePower, and will see a prototype fleet of 70 vehicles built for testing in Sweden early in 2011.

Powered by a 184-horsepower electric motor mated to a single-speed transmission, the ePower is claimed to scoot to 62 mph in just 8.5 seconds, which is downright peppy for a full-sized EV. Top speed is limited to 93 mph.

Range should be good, as the battery on board is a whopping 35.5 kWh, or more than double that found in the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Saab predicts a driving range of up to 125 miles, though with 184 horsepower on tap, it could also equate to a lot less. Currently the pack is allowed by the controller software to deplete all the way to 12 percent of total capacity, a much deeper discharge than allowed on most other EVs. The battery is packed into the space usually occupied by the exhaust system and fuel tank in a combustion-powered 9-3 SportCombi, with which the 9-3 ePower shares most of its structure.

In addition to the electric drive system, the ePower gets a high-tech cockpit with main-cluster displays for battery status, power consumption, and range. The parking brake is electric and electro-hydraulic power steering handles the turns. The air conditioning system is powered directly from the battery pack, while a separate 12-volt battery handles the accessories and lights, though it too is charged from the pack.

Trials for the 9-3 ePower will start next year in Sweden and run through 2012. While the ePower isn't planned for production, Saab CEO Jan-Ake Jonsson says it is the company's "first step towards developing a potential production vehicle that will deliver the sort of performance our customers expect."