AW Vehicle Review - 2005 Saab 9-2X Aero

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, May 19, 2004.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Staff Member

    Jul 6, 2001
    Likes Received:

    All in the Family: The Saab 9-2X gets help from a long-distance cousin


    (08:30 May 10, 2004)

    Somehow dads always have the answer, don't they?

    Like when General Motor's Swedish charge, Saab, decided to expand its lineup, to add a third model to its portfolio for the first time since the Sonett disappeared in 1974. It turned to daddy for help. Help for what exactly? Help in asking Fuji Heavy Industries, of which GM claims a 20 percent paternity, to share its beloved Subaru Impreza. It wanted to give the Subie a Scandinavian makeover and call the car a 9-2X.

    And daddy said no prob. For GM has a way of getting its children to play nice.

    Play nice they did, though the match may seem incongruous at first. Sure, both Saab and Subaru once built aircraft, and both have rallying in their blood. But of all GM's wards, if Saab is the nerd with the pocket protector, endlessly calculating the efficacy of crumple zones, then Subaru is the punk with the pierced nose learning how to do doughnuts in the school parking lot.

    But the fit is a good one. Keep in mind that both Subaru and Saab share a sort of not-of-the-mainstream attitude. They are the anti-Toyota and BMW, what you choose when you refuse to park the same set of wheels in your garage as every John Doe on the block. As disparate as these two seem, they share the same disinclination to join the in-crowd.

    But how, exactly, do you turn a Subie into a Saab? Very carefully. At least that's what my dad would say.

    First off, the 9-2X is based solely on the wagon model; there is no sedan 9-2X. Saab says the younger demographics this car will attract mean it is more likely the 9-2X will be the buyer's sole car, requiring it to do everything well, from hauling to shuttling to just plain going to and from. We've found the Subaru wagon an eminently utilitarian vehicle, without sacrificing on performance, and are sure the Saab will follow suit.

    Heaven and pancakes! Saab does a credible job making a Subaru design look like a native of its own family. The more refined center console and smoother exterior work to that end.

    The cars share a large amount of sheetmetal, including the rear three-quarter panels, doors and roof. Nonetheless, the sharing still leaves plenty of space for the 9-2X to establish its own identity.

    There is no doubt you can see the Subaru clearly in the Saab's profile, in the high-set rear spoiler and that unmistakable hood scoop. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to distinguish between the two, given just their blacked-out silhouettes. A closer look reveals that Saab has given the 9-2X a cleaner, more streamlined image, preferring a sinewy-ness in the details vs. the WRX's muscular display. The 9-2X's spoiler extends seamlessly over the rear glass, looking less like an aftermarket performance part than a natural extension of the roof. The bumpers are less defined, blending in more with the body. The same holds for the intake, which doesn't protrude as aggressively from the hood. And Saab eliminated the roof rack. It's a design philosophy that, in true Scandinavian style, favors the subtle over the obvious, and cohesiveness between all parts of the whole.

    The 9-2X doesn't make do with just distinguishing itself from the Subaru, however. It does a convincing job passing specifically for a Saab-even if it lacks in some details. Its nose doesn't slope as steeply toward the front bumper, or its windshield as gently toward the roof, as traditionally seen in Saabs, and it stands taller through its midsection. The 9-2X rear drops off more quickly, too, with less rear overhang. But take one look at its front end. That signature tripartite grille is all you need to identify the 9-2X. Few other marques-save BMW, Pontiac and, of course, Rolls-Royce-can so quickly be identified by their grilles alone. And with the 9-2X, Saab did a highly credible job of marrying its familial wide-set, horizontal front end and that trademark grille to, for all intents and purposes, a pre-existing car.

    There's also the happy coincidence in the C-pillar. Taken straight from the Impreza, the C-pillar echoes the steep, forward tilt typically found in other Saabs. It mirrors very closely, for example, the shape of the 9-5's, as does the wraparound rear glass.


    The story continues much the same inside, where the majority of the car remains pure Subaru but for a few changes that make a noticeable impact. The door panels, with lighter-color inserts to match the two-tone seats, are unique to the 9-2X, as is the entire center console. Where the Subie's center console is broken up, with an upper stack separated from the shifter unit, in the Saab it flows down from the dash,between the seats, as a single element.

    Some of the interior materials have a nicer finish to them, in keeping with the Saab's more upscale appeal. The most appealing improvement inside the 9-2X over the Subaru is the reduced level of noise that penetrates the cabin. Saab engineers stuffed a lot more sound-deadening material in the 9-2X, especially around the doors and windows, and the difference jumps out.

    Underhood the Saab differs little from the Impreza. In base, aka Linear, trim, the 9-2X makes do with the 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder found in plain-Jane Imprezas, with just 165 horses and 166 lb-ft of torque on tap. It gets none of the fun bits found on the WRX-no hood scoop, no turbo, no sport-tuned suspension and no limited-slip differential. Of course, you can always opt for some cosmetic parts (like a leather-trimmed steering wheel and fog lights) to gussy up the Linear. But to get the performance works, you'll have to move up to the 9-2X Aero, for which Saab reserved the full-on WRX treatment, including the smaller but fiercer 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled four, with the full 227 hp and 217 lb-ft of torque.

    While Saab does differentiate the 9-2X's ride and handling performance from that of the Subaru, with firmer spring rates and softer dampers in comparison, Saab reserves special attention for the Aero-just like the WRX. It gets even firmer chassis tuning, both in springs and shocks, and a unique steering rack for a quicker, more robust feel than in the Linear.

    Both models take maximum advantage that the 9-2X is Saab's first all-wheel-drive car. If our yearlong relationship with the WRX indicates anything, the 9-2X should build aptly upon Saab's well-earned reputation as a stalwart cold-weather performer, its awd capability being equally adroit at keeping the nose pointed straight through the white stuff as turning out extra grip when pushed hard on the dry.


    Both also get a five-speed manual with a four-speed auto optional, with available performance packages that add more goodies like leather seats, six-disc CD changers and xenon headlights. But if you want maximum fun, stick with the Aero, especially with its optional 17-inch wheels.

    Saab predicts 40 percent of 9-2X buyers will do that, while 60 percent will be satisfied with the Linear model. Either way, in choosing the 9-2X, buyers will have to consider it against some pretty stiff competition set to flood the growing premium sport compact segment. Similar offerings from BMW, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz will hit the market soon (not to mention existing cars like the Acura RSX); expect all to aim sights squarely on the same demographic. Saab has a bit of an advantage by being one of the early ones out of the blocks.

    Saab does not count the Subaru WRX among its competition, however. It believes its buyers differ from Subaru's, and that the two cars will appeal to different people. Part of the reason for such little crossover, we're sure, is price.

    The 9-2X, which should hit showrooms June 1, will start at $23,685 for Linear models and $27,645 for Aeros. That is a significant jump over the base Impreza wagon's $18,570 sticker, though the price stacks up better compared with the WRX's $24,670. Save almost three grand and get the WRX, or shell out the cash for the upscale Saab: That's the question.

    So what's next for Saab? Well, papa GM is set to throw another plaything in the Saab toy box, the 9-7X sport/utility vehicle based on the Chevrolet TrailBlazer. But you'll have to wait until next year to try that one.

    2005 SAAB 9-2X AERO

    ON SALE: June 1
    BASE PRICE: $27,645
    POWERTRAIN: 2.0-liter, 227-hp, 217-lb-ft turbocharged H4; awd, five-speed manual
    CURB WEIGHT: 3100 pounds (est.)
    0 TO 60 MPH: 6.1 seconds (est.)



Share This Page