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CadiSaabs Are Coming by Jerry Flint (5/10/2004)
Send the word…a bad idea whose time is coming.
Is the 9-2X a real Saab, or isn’t it?
Hand-wringers and purists might simply look down for the ignition between the seats and dismiss this new five-door, all-wheel-drive wagon as badge engineering at its laziest. But if you look deeper and farther into the past, the 9-2X – essentially a reworked version of the Subaru Impreza/WRX – is eerily more Saab than the Swedish brand’s own new 9-3 sedan.
Though it was a marriage of convenience that brought Saab and Subaru together under the vast General Motors tent, the two companies already shared some common traits: an endearing iconoclasm and a commensurate teensy market share in the U.S. and Canada (where the 9-2X will be sold only – Old Europe, you get none!), plus a penchant for five-door bodies and turbocharging. So if you read elsewhere about the lack of Saab-ness, feel free to dismiss it. Brand character doesn’t end at the Swedish border, you know.
What really matters in cases like these, is how good the vehicle beneath is, and how well the transformation has been effected. And in the case of the 9-2X, there’s happy news to report.
Two of a kind
The 9-2X arrives at dealers in just a couple of weeks as two models: the Linear and the Aero. The Linear shares most of its being with the Subaru Impreza five-door wagon, including its all-wheel drive system with viscous limited-slip rear differential and its 2.5-liter, normally aspirated engine. This is the Saab to buy if your prime consideration is price. You get the badge and accompanying blond-wood dealer experience, but for $22,990 you don’t get a lot of excitement. Like the normally aspirated Impreza that shares this engine, the 9-2X Linear spins out 165 hp all the way up at 5600 rpm and 166 lb-ft of torque down at an earthier 4000 rpm. With either the five-speed manual or the four-speed automatic, you won’t be going anywhere with alarming alacrity.
Why dull the senses with indifferent performance? Your wallet should open up for the $26,950 9-2X Aero. Like the turbo-enriched WRX, the Aero’s 227 hp and 217 lb-ft of torque aren’t merely engaging, they’re addictive. Spin the engine north of 3000 rpm (you’ll need to – the torque’s seemingly on hold for a few thousands rpm) and the single turbo whistles a merry tune as you scrabble from corner to corner. Booming exhaust is a problem in the Linear; in the Aero it’s the only suitable soundtrack for the howling hustle you’ll dance. The five-speed shifter is a little notchy and slow to accept shifts, but it lets you pinpoint your line through esses. The automatic’s appropriate only in a brochure. Saab says in the ideal configuration – five-speed Aero, that is – the 9-2X will scoot to 60 mph in just a touch more than 6.0 seconds, while turning in highway fuel economy of at least 26 mpg.
2005 Saab 9-2XEnlarge Photo
Nearly identical in mechanicals, the 9-2X gets the Impreza/WRX’s well-tuned chassis. The suspension’s independent all around, with struts all around, located by A-arms in the front and three links in the rear. In the 9-2X, some front suspension pieces are made from aluminum for less weight, the bushings are new, and anti-roll bars are standard front and back. New Bridgestone tires were specified by the Swedes, too, -- 205/55 R16s, with 215/45R-17s available on the Aero.
Without a direct comparison available, we’d venture that the 9-2X’s setup is as unflappable as the WRX. Either one would be the pace car for our favorite mountain runs, with the slight edge going to the Saab – impact harshness is noticeably better damped, and the steering gear’s been revised for a little more sensitivity and more responsive on-center feel.
Not so extreme makeover
If you were hoping surgery would fix the WRX’s goggle-eyed face, you’re in luck – and Saab’s thrown in the equivalent of a Brazilian butt lift, too. The 9-2X’s sleek nose has had a seamless nip and tuck to fit in with the rest of the family, and the new, low front end appears naturally derived from the rest of the silhouette. The WRX wagon began life looking somewhat Saab-ish, anyhow – the lower curve of the C-pillar into the wagon back looks an awful lot like a reversed version of the C-pillar in the old Saab 900. Saab’s taillamps, the small lip spoiler and classy spoked wheels get some rear-end backup with a black trim panel that makes the back appear a little more J-Lo, a little less Bi-Lo.
Save those dramatic oohs and aahs for the interior of the 9-2X, where Saab’s sleek new trim and extra pounds of sound insulation truly distinguishes it from the Wal-Mart-like WRX cabin. With the same amount of passenger and cargo space, Saab’s interior seems roomier and utterly cool. The center stack’s been reshaped and the steering wheel’s a smart three-spoker; the two-toned seats and metallic trim on are savvy nods to both tuner freaks and people who scour eBay for Eames chairs. Simplified and unified with the new trim, the 9-2X is also a lot quieter than the WRX, which in turn gives it a much more substantial feel, though the frameless doors and narrow seat cushions are reminders that transnational cooperation comes easier at the U.N. sometimes than it does in car design. Maybe the most disappointing feature on paper is the 9-2X’s lack of curtain airbags, stability control, and other safety gadgets swiftly becoming standard in its niche.
2005 Saab 9-2XEnlarge Photo
What exactly is that niche? Saab pitches against the Subaru WRX, Mitsu Evo, VW R32. In shorthand, it’s aimed at those guys who maybe are too old and too rich for fast and furious, but too young and not committed enough to make the leap into a 9-5 Aero Wagon.
It’s those folks – or about 7000 of them, according to Saab's projections – who should hightail it to the showroom. Those who can’t make the scratch for the Aero will end up with the Linear wagon. It comes with 16-inch alloy wheels with 205/55 R16 all-season tires, AM/FM/CD stereo system, climate control system, cruise control, tilt-adjustable steering column, power door locks with remote keyless entry, power windows, power-adjustable exterior mirrors and a rear window wiper/washer.
Better to save it up for the savory delights of the Aero. For about four grand more, it brings on the 227-hp turbo four, alloy wheels, an automatic climate control system, a six-disc in-dash CD changer, and a leather wrapped sport steering wheel.
And if you’re still not convinced it’s a real Saab? Maybe we should explain where Lexus ES330s and Lincoln Navigators come from.
2005 Saab 9-2X
Base price: $22,990 (Linear); $26,950 (Aero)
Engine: 2.5-liter flat four, 165 hp/166 lb-ft; turbocharged 2.0-liter in-line four, 227 hp/217 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Length x width x height (in): 175.6 x 66.7 x NA
Wheelbase: 99.4 in
Curb weight: 3100 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 26-28 mpg (est. combined, Linear and Aero)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: A/C, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, AM/FM/CD, rear wiper/defogger, metallic paint, keyless entry
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles