C/D Road Test - 2005 Saab 9-2X Aero

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Jul 6, 2004.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Sushi rolled in a Swedish pancake.

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    BY RON KIINO
    PHOTOGRAPHY BY AARON KILEY
    July 2004

    The 9-2X represents many firsts for Saab. It is the first Saab to feature all-wheel drive. The first to compete in the premium-compact segment. And the first to be built on the Swedish island known as Japan.

    Ex-squeeze me? Was that JAPAN?

    Hai! The home of teriyaki, karate, and Nintendo is now home to a Scandinavian import. This blue-eyed, black-haired beauty is built by Fuji Heavy Industries, a.k.a. Subaru, in the Gunma Yajima plant and then exported to the U.S. and Canada for consumption by Saab’s North American faithful. The only things Swedish on the car are the badges, and we’re not so sure those aren’t made in Japan, too. Perhaps you’re curious as to why Saab took this circuitous route? Let us explain.

    Saab felt it direly needed to get a foot in the door to the premium-compact market, which the brand predicts will triple in size by 2006. Not only has Acura been thriving in the segment for years with the Integra and RSX, but the Euros are currently organizing a full assault as well. Volvo is already out with an all-new S40 sedan and the V50 wagon. Audi is only a year or so away from bringing over the five-door A3. And heck, it’s rumored that within a couple of years BMW will ship to the U.S. a form of its new five-door 1-series—possibly a two-door coupe, à la 2002—that could carry a 2-series title. The guns are being positioned.

    Well, Saab wasn’t thrilled at the thought of being left out in the cold once again, missing out on all the fun had by the other kids playing Battleship. Accordingly, Saab turned to the one entity that could quickly rally the troops—the General. As in General Motors.

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    As you may know, GM has a 100-percent equity share in Saab and a 20-percent share in Subaru. So when Saab needed a small, quick leadoff hitter for its lineup, it was the General that nabbed the WRX wagon from Subaru’s squad and optioned it for Saab’s team. For Saab, the wagon made the most sense given the brand’s hatchback history. Plus, it’s a very functional design that can squeeze in five adults along with 28 cubic feet of gear. Had Saab attempted to build its own car from scratch, it would have taken up to five years to get it to market. Time equals money, not to mention competitive advantage, so Saab gladly accepted the General’s offer. Not a bad offer, mind you, given that the WRX made back-to-back appearances on our 10Best Cars list in 2002 and 2003.

    That this Saab is really a Subaru begs the question, How different are they? To sum it up: a lot and a little. “A lot” with respect to the extensive aesthetic changes Saab made to the WRX, yet “a little” when it comes to the disparity in overall driving experience, which we’ll get to later. First, the laundry list of alterations.

    The 9-2X is not a simple rebadge, evidenced by the myriad modifications inside and out. From the A-pillars forward, the 9-2X is completely unique, wearing new front fenders with distinctive cornering lamps, sleeker headlamps (with available xenon bulbs), a flusher hood scoop, and Saab’s signature three-hole grille. Only the doors, the roof, and the rear quarter-panels are shared with the Subaru. In profile, the Saab shows off more-aggressive rocker panels, an integrated rear roof spoiler, and a clean roofline unmarred by rails, which are standard on the WRX wagon. For the hind end, Saab nipped and tucked the Subie’s butt, fitting the 9-2X with fresh taillamps, a bumper with a black diffuser, and a new tailgate that houses the license plate.

    Inside, Saab has given the Subie a full IKEA makeover. The carpeting is now a richer, fuller weave. The door trim is improved, now more pleasing to the eye and hand. Gone are the Subie’s cheap dash-mounted cup holder and manual HVAC controls, replaced in our Aero model by two drink holders in the center console and a metallic-look center stack with knurled knobs for the radio and automatic climate controls. Our Aero also came with a standard in-dash six-CD changer and options not even available on the WRX wagon: a $1950 power sunroof and $1695 black-and-parchment leather-wrapped seats with front active head restraints (part of the Premium package, which also has the xenon headlights).

    Saab wanted—and needed—to enhance the WRX’s subpar NVH levels. Thus, it installed not only the upgraded carpet but also sealing for the rear quarter-trim and liftgate; a revised rear engine mount; acoustical treatment on the roof and rear floor; and new or improved insulation for the toe board, fenders, and shift boot. We told you it wasn’t a rebadge.

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    Mechanically, our test 9-2X Aero is nearly identical to a WRX. It features the same 227-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four, five-speed manual, and all-wheel-drive system as the Subie, but it attacks the road with quicker steering and a retuned suspension. Saab stiffened the steering-gear mounting for better feedback and response, and on the Aero, pitched the WRX’s standard rack in favor of the rally-bred STi’s, which lowers the ratio from 16.5:1 to 15.0:1. The Subaru’s strut suspension was reworked with firmer springs, softer dampers, 10mm-shorter rear bump stops, and stiffer front control-arm bushings. In addition, 1.8mm of toe-in was dialed into the front wheels for better on-center feel and straight-line stability.

    That’s the laundry list, but how does it all come out in the wash? Compared with the Subaru, the Saab is first and foremost a more refined machine. At idle, the rumbling from the engine that is so evident in the WRX has been hushed in the 9-2X, as if quelled with a down pillow. Our test car registered just 44 dBA on the sound meter, compared with 51 for the last WRX sedan we tested (“Two Against One,” October 2001). Since we never tested a WRX wagon, a direct comparison is a little tricky because a wagon has a cargo area that acts like a noise-enchancing echo chamber. As expected, then, the Saab wagon’s sound levels surpass the WRX sedan’s at both wide-open throttle (78 dBA versus 75) and 70-mph cruising (73 versus 71). In spite of that, the Saab somehow seems quieter, maybe in part because it has eliminated much of the Subaru’s tin-box effect, especially the cacophony of road pebbles ricocheting off the wheel wells and undercarriage. The leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel relays minimal vibration, as does the gearshift—both weak spots in the WRX. Moreover, the interior, although still more economical than luxurious, is smart and inviting, with supple leather, higher-grade plastics, and metallic accents.

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    Over Ann Arbor’s diverse landscape, the 9-2X exhibited a ride as firm as the Subie’s yet more compliant, better at absorbing the harsher impacts. Saab’s diligence paid off here, resulting in a ride more befitting of a “premium” car. The steering is superb, offering crisp turn-in, a firm on-center feel, and quick response that isn’t too quick. The overall feel is light yet amply communicative, rarely requiring adjustments to the wheel after taking a set.

    The precise steering only enhances the Aero’s impressive grip and scoot. Fitted with split-spoke 17-inch alloys wearing W-rated 215/45R-17 Bridgestone Potenza RE011s (included with the sunroof on Aero versions), our test 9-2X pulled 0.86 g on the skidpad, superior to the WRX’s 0.82 and on par with another premium, now discontinued all-wheel-drive wagon, the Audi S6 Avant Quattro (November 2001). Furthermore, the Saab not only shorted the S6 from 70 mph—171 feet versus 176—but also outgunned it in acceleration, posting a 0-to-60 time of 6.1 seconds (versus 6.3) and a quarter-mile sprint of 14.7 at 92 mph (versus 14.9 at 97). Wow. Plus, the 9-2X Aero beats the old 9-3 Viggen (February 2002) to 60 and the quarter. As with the Subie, our only real gripe is the Aero’s turbo lag, which stifles momentum below 3000 rpm. The WRX sedan is still quicker—we tested one that did 5.4 and 14.1, respectively—but it’s also carrying 164 fewer pounds than the 3256-pound 9-2X. Nonetheless, the Aero should prove to be plenty competitive in its class.

    The real beauty of the 9-2X Aero is that it retains the WRX’s core fun-to-drive factors—turbo power and the sure-footedness of all-wheel drive combined with eagerness to perform four-wheel drifts—without really diluting the Subie’s raw driving experience. It has only softened the edges while at the same time raising the quality bar. For that, Saab is asking $27,645, or $2975 more than a WRX wagon. If you want less for less, Saab is also offering a $23,685 Linear version with 165 horsepower.

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    Our tester, equipped with the Premium package, sunroof, and $600 heated seats, rang the register up to $31,890. Add another $1250 for an automatic. Premium cars equal premium pricing. But considering the Saab is the best all-around WRX to date, not to mention it includes no-charge maintenance for two years or 24,000 miles and a longer four-year/ 50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, it may garner another first for Saab in the new millennium—winning one of our comparos.

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    THE VERDICT

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    Highs: Handsome styling, versatile package, faster than an Audi S6 Avant.

    Lows: Turbo lag, as Swedish as sumo.

    The Verdict: A swanky WRX that’s better in every way.


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    COUNTERPOINT

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    TONY QUIROGA
    Recommending a WRX to a friend is like setting him or her up with a potential mate who’s a bit on the homely side but a lot of fun, too. Needless to say, this matchmaking rarely works out. When people are investing their money or hearts, a physical attraction is necessary. The Saab version of the WRX addresses this issue with a makeover worthy of its own network show. It doesn’t go so far as to create a Swedish supermodel, but the improvements might sway status-conscious customers. Under the skin, subtle modifications make the 9-2X feel like a WRX with the volume turned down. If you tried to love a WRX but failed, you might find a match with the 9-2X.

    LARRY WEBSTER
    I love the Subaru WRX, so of course I’m also enamored of Saab’s nearly identical version. But by adding a few luxury features and more sound deadening, Saab took the car in the wrong direction in weight, price, and performance. It’s slower and more expensive. In my opinion, Saab should have added the WRX STi’s 300-hp engine but kept the standard WRX’s softer suspension. Then we’d have something different enough to justify a loftier price. The only reason I could see popping for the Saab instead of the Subaru is that a Saab dealer typically throws in more perks, such as free loaner cars. I’d stick with the Subaru, however.

    TONY SWAN
    We’re on record as Subaru WRX love slaves, which makes questioning the bona fides of this badge job just a little awkward. Particularly since this car adds something to the Saab lineup—all-wheel drive—that’s overdue. Not to mention a high fun-to-drive quotient, augmented by small-wagon usefulness. Nevertheless, as a descendant of Vikings, it seems to me there’s a credibility question that’s gonna nag Saab faithful. Do a few suspension tweaks, a new grille, and leather morph this Japanese warrior into something the trolls of Trollhättan would bless? If it looks like a Subaru and drives like a Subaru, will it really make you say, “Yah, shoor”?

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    C/D TEST RESULTS

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    ACCELERATION, Seconds
    Zero to 30 mph: 1.9
    40 mph: 3.1
    50 mph: 4.6
    60 mph: 6.1
    70 mph: 8.5
    80 mph: 10.8
    90 mph: 14.0
    100 mph: 18.3
    110 mph: 22.8
    120 mph: 30.5
    Street start, 5–60 mph: 7.6
    Top-gear acceleration, 30–50 mph: 17.3
    50–70 mph: 11.6
    Standing 1/4-mile:14.7 sec @ 92 mph
    Top speed (drag limited): 140 mph

    BRAKING
    70–0 mph @ impending lockup: 171 ft

    HANDLING
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.86 g
    Understeer: minimal moderate excessive

    FUEL ECONOMY
    EPA city driving: 20 mpg
    EPA highway driving: 26 mpg
    C/D-observed: 21 mpg

    INTERIOR SOUND LEVEL
    Idle: 44 dBA
    Full-throttle acceleration: 78 dBA
    70-mph cruising: 73 dBA

    2005 SAAB 9-2X AERO
    Vehicle type: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door wagon

    Price as tested: $31,890

    Price and option breakdown: base Saab 9-2X Aero (includes $695 freight), $27,645; Premium package (includes leather seats and xenon headlights), $1695; sunroof and 17-inch wheels, $1950; Cold Weather package (includes heated seats and mirrors), $600

    Major standard accessories: power windows and locks, remote locking, A/C, cruise control, tilting steering wheel, rear defroster and wiper

    Sound system: Saab AM-FM radio/CD changer, 4 speakers

    ENGINE
    Type: turbocharged and intercooled flat-4, aluminum block and heads
    Bore x stroke: 3.62 x 2.95 in, 92.0 x 75.0mm
    Displacement: 122 cu in, 1994cc
    Compression ratio: 8.0:1
    Fuel-delivery system: port injection
    Turbocharger: Mitsubishi
    Maximum boost pressure: 13.5 psi
    Valve gear: belt-driven double overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder
    Power (SAE net): 227 bhp @ 6000 rpm
    Torque (SAE net): 217 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
    Redline: 7000 rpm

    DRIVETRAIN
    Transmission: 5-speed manual
    Final-drive ratio: 3.90:1, limited slip
    4-wheel-drive system: full time with a viscous limited-slip center differential
    Gear Ratio, Mph/1000 rpm, Max test speed
    I, 3.45, 5.3, 37 mph (7000 rpm)
    II, 1.95, 9.3, 65 mph (7000 rpm)
    III, 1.37, 13.3, 93 mph (7000 rpm)
    IV, 0.97, 18.7, 131 mph (7000 rpm)
    V, 0.74, 24.6, 140 mph (7000 rpm)

    DIMENSIONS
    Wheelbase: 99.4 in
    Track, front/rear: 57.7/57.3 in
    Length/width/height: 175.6/66.7/57.7 in
    Ground clearance: 6.1 in
    Drag area, Cd (0.34) x frontal area (23.9 sq ft, est): 8.13 sq ft
    Curb weight: 3256 lb
    Weight distribution, F/R: 57.9/42.1%
    Curb weight per horsepower: 14.3 lb
    Fuel capacity: 15.9 gal

    CHASSIS/BODY
    Type: unit construction with a rubber-isolated powertrain cradle
    Body material: welded steel stampings

    INTERIOR
    SAE volume, front seat: 52 cu ft
    rear seat: 39 cu ft
    cargo, seats up/down: 28/62 cu ft
    Practical cargo room, length of pipe: 117.0 in
    largest sheet of plywood: 64.0 x 37.0 in
    no. of 10 x 10 x 16-in boxes,
    seats up/down: 11/26 cu ft
    Front-seat adjustments: fore-and-aft, seatback angle;
    driver only: height
    Restraint systems, front: manual 3-point belts, driver and passenger front and side airbags
    rear: manual 3-point belts

    SUSPENSION
    Front: ind, strut located by a control arm, coil springs, anti-roll bar
    Rear: ind, strut located by 1 trailing link and 2 lateral links, coil springs, anti-roll bar

    STEERING
    Type: rack-and-pinion with hydraulic power assist
    Steering ratio: 15.0:1
    Turns lock-to-lock: 2.8
    Turning circle curb-to-curb: 35.4 ft

    BRAKES
    Type: hydraulic with vacuum power assist and anti-lock control
    Front: 11.4 x 0.9-in vented disc
    Rear: 10.3 x 0.4-in disc

    WHEELS AND TIRES
    Wheel size/type: 7.0 x 17 in/cast aluminum
    Tires: Bridgestone Potenza RE011, 215/45R-17 87W
    Test inflation pressures, F/R: 33/32 psi
    Spare: high-pressure compact

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  2. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    chop the wagon bit off and maybe... MAYBE it could be cool.
     
  3. Mugatu

    Mugatu Ask me about market research. OT Supporter

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    Ugliest SAAB ever :down:
     
  4. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    and yet a million times better looking than the wrx :o
     
  5. Mugatu

    Mugatu Ask me about market research. OT Supporter

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    :mamoru: funny 'cause it's true
     
  6. Jericho

    Jericho Active Member

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    saabs are so boring and bland looking.
     
  7. EdgeCat

    EdgeCat Guest

    "The Verdict: A swanky WRX that’s better in every way."

    :werd:
     
  8. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    It's funny how Saabish the new Legacy looks too. :o
     
  9. jk

    jk Guest

    Get a subaru and save a lot of money!
     
  10. Antilles

    Antilles New Member

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    I still love my WRX. :o
     
  11. Urinal Mint

    Urinal Mint bourbon afficionado

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    The new Legacy GT is fucking sweeeeeeet
     
  12. Kyoso

    Kyoso New Member

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    I said that to someone a couple of weeks ago and they about had a fucking spaz attack. It looks much like a 9-5 to me. :dunno:
     
  13. Jericho

    Jericho Active Member

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    subaru > saab
     
  14. P-chan

    P-chan New Member

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    So wait. Would I take this thing to a Subaru dealer to get serviced? :o
     
  15. FryingPan

    FryingPan Certified Thread Killer

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    Saabaru. :mamoru:
     
  16. curiousgeorgeM3

    curiousgeorgeM3 naughty little monkey

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