I welcomed the Saabaru with open arms today like a new father hoping that his child would be a strapping boy, ready to train to be the next-best running back. When the car arrived, I was crushed to find out that the strapping lad was an automatic lassie (all due respect for the battle of the sexes, it just made of an easier analogy of how I felt). One good thing: the car wasn't gray like every one I've seen at auto shows or in pictures.
Besides those two sources, I’ve never seen a 9-2x on the roads and neither have other people. I stopped at a local car dealership (like I don’t get enough of cars already) and after the dealers swarmed me to see if I needed help, the swarmed the Saab. One asked me if the hood scoop was functional. Yup, there’s an intercooler under there. Thank goodness this was an Aero.
The attention the car gets is not surprising, seeing that Saab normally sells about 500 a month and it really is a good-looking little wagon. When I parked it, I performed the ole “look back and check what I’m driving” glance. The Saab front end and 17” alloy wheels (and Deep Blue Mica paint) really give the car something I don’t see in the Subaru. Which brings us to the big question…
Is the Saab worth the extra cost of admission? Sticker shock was immediate with a grand total of $31,445, but I’d drop the $1,250 off the sticker to get rid of the automatic transmission and advise everyone else to also. Turbo-lag and the automatic are tough bedfellows, but it is my challenge this week to get the Saab to launch like I want it to. Other options on this car are a $600 Cold Weather Package (heated front seats, heater outer mirrors and wiper de-icer) and the $1,950 Sport Package (17” alloy wheels and performance tires and a power sunroof).
Saab has me drawn to the looks in my introduction, but tomorrow we’ll get into the interior and see if there’s enough on the inside to make it worth driving past the Subaru dealer.
Here's just a little note on the whole 5-speed vs. automatic issue going on here: Saab has contacted me and is trying to locate a 5-speed in my area to switch. My review will continue with items that are not performance oriented for the time being, but I will say the car is a hoot to drive even with the auto. Now to return you to the regularly-scheduled day 2 of the review where we will tackle the interior.
There really is not much difference between the Saab and the Subaru as far as the inside is
concerned. The number of standard features on the Aero is about equal to the WRX with automatic climate control and air
filter, power windows, locks and mirrors, 6-CD stereo with 6-speakers (I miss XM!), cruise and metallic finish
Some surprising things missing from the Saab include steering wheel controls, power seats and leather. These things aren’t necessary to become comfortable in a vehicle, just thing we’ve gotten used to in cars that approach this price range.
The two-tone fabric seats and door panels give a nice visual touch to the interior, but are already looking hard to keep clean. The floor mats are thick textile, which though a small thing, was something I noticed immediately. Saab says that extra sound-deadening material was added to quiet things down a little. It’s not loud inside, I particularly like to hear the turbo spool-up. The stereo does an adequate job tuning out any other noises, though I did experience more static than normal with the glass-mounted antenna. My dad’s 1979 Trans Am had one of those in the front windshield and I’m not sure the technology has progressed enough. If it had satellite radio, I wouldn’t care about radio reception. All the dials have a good, solid feel to them.
The MOMO steering wheel is meaty, I only wish there was a telescopic feature to help better position to my driving stance. There is a tilt that helps. The driver and passenger seats also include airbags for side impact crashes and active head restraints to help lessen whiplash. The front seats can be height adjusted in only two positions, low and a little lower, and can be moved fore and aft. That’s it. The seats hug you to help with G-forces. I’ll take an extended drive tomorrow and report on the long-term comfort on day 3. The Cold Weather Package adds the welcomed butt-warmers, outside mirror heaters and a defroster for the front windshield wipers.
Rear seats folded easily (60/40) and the wagon helps with the overall Saab look and adds utility to a smaller car. There is a package shade that can be removed and stored under the floor by the spare tire. There are also four cargo hooks that help keep things from sliding around back there.
I really wish there was more differentiation with the Subaru inside, but in all, it isn’t a bad looking or working interior. It can be a little sparse in the luxury area for a $30,000 car, but functional. I don’t feel like I’m in a cheap interior, but I don’t feel pampered either; middle of the road.
Today was another beautiful one weather-wise (even though allergies are getting the best of me) so I gave the Saab the once over with a little wash. One of the best things the Saab has going for it (other than the AWD and 227 horsepower boxer engine) is that it doesn't look like a WRX from the front. Not to disparage any Scoobie owners; the Impreza has its place, but the 9-2x is more "grown up".
The sleeker Saab-ified nose gives the wagon a different look than the Subaru, even though they share the same roof, doors and rear quarter panels. As weird as it may sound, I love the pillar-less doors, keeps the weight down and looks better in my opinion. The color is another favorite of mine. Deep blue hides the black roof and door moldings and sets off the slight chrome accents of the grille very well.
The 17” wheels are a must for this car, as they add so much to the look with the low-profile Potenzas. They help with road-holding too, but like all low-profile tires, you lose some of the comfort on the bumpier roads, but this is a driver’s car where that is to be expected.
The taillights are also new for the Saab, but not all that different from the WRX. A character line on the hatch runs into the lights, giving the shape a little depth. The rear-end also showcases the worst “id badge” on the car, a little “AWD” sticker that looks like an afterthought on what is an otherwise well done hind-quarters. A little gripe to be sure, but something a razor blade would take care of if this was my baby.
On a trip this weekend, the Saab proved to be a comfortable cruiser at slightly above speed limit on the NJ Turnpike and took the on and off ramps at ease, even though the wife and sister-in-law let out some moans and groans about our speed at the apex of the turns. What’s the old adage; “Sit down, shut up and hang on”? The Saab urges you to takes the corners a little faster than you normally would and rewards you with sure footing from the all-wheel drive and low center of gravity (thanks to that boxer-design again). The Saab and I are having a grand old time.
A great thing about having a car for a week is you have the ability to find the little things that you learn to love and others that grow annoying over time. Everything I love about the little Saab seems to focus on the powertrain, suspension/roadholding, steering and looks. My (and those of passengers) minor grievances come from the inside.
The 9-2x has what I consider the worst sunroof set up I’ve seen. There are two buttons, one for the tilt function and one for sliding open/close. Most setups I’ve seen are either one button to do both, or the dial like in Dave’s Audi A4 wagon he’s testing this week. Also, there is no one-touch operation. To open, you have to hold the button until it’s done. And to close, you have to press the button twice while holding it. The sunroof stops halfway (??) forcing you to press the button again and hold it to make it close all the way. My wife curses the buttons every time we’re in the car.
The center console is just the perfect size for a stack of CD’s. It does appear that there once was (or is for the Subarus) a folding cup holder for the rear seat passengers which has been covered over with a cheap plastic dummy cover. One good kick from an unruly child and it will probably push in. I received this complaint from the sister-in-law who spent some time riding in the back seat and wondered where the cup holders were.
I really like the way the two main air vents look and work. They feel good in the hand and easy to direct the air. This picture you can see the other dummy-switch covers. I know one blank is for the HID headlight option. A lot of automakers use the switch covers, and they all look bad. I’m not just singling out Saab/Subaru here. What options didn’t you get?
I hate to make this the “negative” day, but these little annoyances really don’t pop up until a few days in the car. The Saab 9-2x has been nothing but fun to drive even with the automatic. The turbo-lag would be easier dealt with via a five-speed (or the STI’s 6) but I found the car liveable in stop and go traffic even though I have heard complaints about the Subaru automatic. And about the manual-controversy, I was contacted by Saab about the car but there were no manuals available in the test fleet in the North East. It seems the cars are built for journalists that can’t drive sticks. Maybe you shouldn’t be an automotive journalist if that’s a challenge. Strange.
Tomorrow will be judgment day for the Saab and my last full day with the wagon.
The nimble little wagon is saying goodbye and it leaves behind a happy driver even with the quirky interior. So is the Saab 9-2x worth paying a slight premium over the Subaru WRX? When I built a similarly equipped WRX Sport Wagon, there was a $4,000 dollar difference to the 9-2x's $31,000 sticker, but some eager dealers may make that money negligable.
Saab does offer no-charge vehicle maintenance for two years or 24,000 miles, which covers routine service at an
authorized Saab dealer. Saab also includes a longer limited warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles versus 3 years/36,000 for
the Subaru. For some, this could be a decision maker in itself.
We haven’t talked about fuel economy at all on this test. I was a little surprised at the numbers. The manual Aero is EPA rated 20 city/ 26 highway and the automatic is 1 mpg less in each category. All things considered, not bad for a 227 horsepower 3,200-pound car, just expected higher. I was unable to give an estimated reading as of now since there isn’t a fuel economy computer onboard.
We have to pay homage to all the safety features that are standard on the 9-2x. Along with the excellent Subaru AWD system, ABS and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) are also standard. EBD is designed to distribute brake force between the front and rear wheels depending on how the car is loaded to help reduce stopping distances if you are carrying some heavy cargo in the back of the wagon. Inside, the front passengers are protected with active head restraints, front airbags and front seat mounted head/thorax side airbags.
So you need to ask yourself this question: Are you looking for a different-looking, uncommon, AWD, turbo wagon that makes even the trip to the corner store to pick up a gallon of milk a fun ride all for under $30,000? If you answered yes and haven’t warmed up to the Subaru looks, the Saab 9-2x is really worth the consideration. I’d make sure to get the leather interior to “ritz”-up the inside (it is included in the Premium Package with the HID headlights) and save money by sticking with the stick (though the auto proved capable for those that do not like to row their own). And if the kinds of deals readers have been reported at local Saab dealers, the cash difference for a better WRX may not be as big as you think.
New Car Test Drive
Saab expands lineup with rally derivative.
Saab wants to branch out, to expand its appeal beyond its tried and true, almost cult-like following. It wants a more affordable, sportier car, one that can compete in the promising premium sport compact market, with the likes of the Acura RSX and the Volvo S40, maybe even with a new, smaller Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Problem is, Saab doesn't have a lot of extra cash lying around. But it does have a distant relative, one located halfway around the world, that builds a car that's the right size, with a de-bugged powertrain that includes something Saab doesn't have but that's becoming increasingly desirable to Saab's desired buyer: all-wheel drive. That relative is Subaru, partly owned by General Motors, which owns Saab. The car is the Subaru WRX, a de-tuned, street-legal version of a World Rally Championship winner. As is, the WRX is too rough and unrefined for Saab, but with careful modifications to suspension and interior fitments and incorporation of Saab-specific design elements, it might give the company a contender pending something better to come.
From this has come the 2005 Saab 9-2X. It looks like a Saab. It establishes a new, lower cost of entry for people who want to own a Saab. It adds a lighter, more powerful, more compact, sportier package to Saab's line up. What more could buyers want?
Well, how about a car that feels like a Saab, with the polish and refinement buyers to whom owning a Saab is a statement of status expect. One that delivers a fully integrated, satisfying driving experience regardless of setting and conditions, of road, climate and context. Just as important, one in which Saab owners will feel immediately at home, perfectly comfortable and at ease with how the car fits them, with all the right tactile and visual feedbacks.
Against these measures, the 9-2X comes up short, not by a lot in all areas, but by enough in enough areas that people who want a Saab and all that a Saab has come to mean should think long and hard before signing on the dotted line.
Saab builds the 9-2X in two trim levels, the base Linear and the sporty Aero. The Linear has a 165-horsepower, 2.5-liter, flat four-cylinder engine, the Aero a 227-hp, 2.0-liter, turbocharged intercooled flat four. The standard transmission on both is a five-speed manual; optional is a four-speed automatic.
The Linear ($22,990) arrives fitted with fabric upholstery and air conditioning, plus power windows and an AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers. Easing the driving are cruise control, manually height-adjustable driver's seat, power outside mirrors, and tilt steering wheel. The rear seat splits 60/40 and folds. A retractable cover shields cargo from prying eyes. Tinted side windows lessen the burden on the air conditioning.
The Aero ($26,950) replaces the manual air conditioning with automatic climate control complete with cabin air filter. The stereo is upgraded with the addition of two speakers, for a total of six, and a six-disc changer. The seats are covered in a higher-grade fabric, and leather wraps the steering wheel and trims the shift lever and handbrake.
Two stand-alone options and two option packages are available on the Linear. The stand-alones are a four-speed automatic ($1250) and power glass moonroof ($1200). The packages are the Premium ($2495), including leather-faced seats, door inserts, shift knob and handbrake boot, and foglamps and xenon headlights; and the Cold Weather ($600), comprising heated seats, outside mirrors and wiper de-icer. The Aero has one stand-alone option, the automatic transmission ($1250), and three packages: the Premium ($1695), with leather-faced seats and xenon headlights; the Sport ($1950), with power glass moonroof and 17-inch wheels and high performance tires; and the Cold Weather ($600), with heated seats, outside mirrors and wiper de-icer.
Standard safety equipment comprises the usual frontal airbags, three-point seatbelts for all five seating positions and seatbelt pre-tensioners and load limiters on the front seatbelts. The front seats also have active head restraints and head-and-chest side-impact airbags, and the rear seats have lower and upper child safety seat anchors. Foglamps are standard on the Aero.
If the Saab 9-2X looks vaguely familiar, it should. Save for the front end, the liftgate and the rear bumper, the body panels come directly from the 2004 Subaru WRX (as does virtually everything beneath the skin, but more on this later). Still, Saab's designers have managed to imbue their knock-off with distinctly Saab cues.
It's not quite a rhinoplasty, but the 9-2X's front end presents a sleeker look than its Asian progenitor. The hood begins its deeper slope from a lower leading edge, which sports a laid-back, Saab-trademark, three-segment grille, with dividers and headlight housings angled from the center outward, giving the car a sharper, more aerodynamic and less brutish fascia. Headlights wrap all the way around the fenders, ending in gently up-swept side marker lights. Beneath the bumper, a large opening directs air to the radiator, the Linear's smaller and less domineering than that on the Aero. A somewhat modest scoop in the Aero's hood feeds air to the turbocharger's intercooler.
From the side, the 9-2X's lineage is outlined in stark relief. There's nothing like it in the Saab stable. It's not quite a station wagon, but neither is it a five-door hatchback. The sloping nose almost leaves it looking a little tail heavy, with a disproportionate mass over and behind the rear wheels. Front and rear overhangs are contained, promising a sportier car than the body otherwise suggests.
The back end looks less of a compromise than the side view. The wrap-around rear quarter glass softens the boxy look common even to sport wagons, while the stacked-lens taillights bring just enough of a Saab look to comfort the concerned. The roof-mounted, eyebrow-like rear spoiler serves two functions, minimizing rear lift and housing the center brake light.
Sadly, there's as much, if not more WRX inside the 9-2X as there is outside. Not that the Subaru's is a particularly unfriendly interior, just that Saabs are known for people-oriented cabins, and the 9-2X comes up a bit short of that standard.
Saab did adapt the WRX's front seats to accept Saab-developed active head restraints. But seats lack the thigh support and bolstering consistent with the sporty driving the 9-2X promises, especially the Aero, and there's no lumbar adjustment. Driver legroom is adequate for a six footer, but front-seat passenger and rear-seat legroom isn't. With the front seats all the way back, it's easy to bang an elbow on the rear of the front door frame. Upholstery and other fabrics look and feel durable, that covering the seats like a soft canvas, and the leather surfaces are, well, leather. The center console cover is located too low and too far rearward to support an elbow.
Save for some cosmetics, the dash is unchanged from the WRX, with the instruments deep-set beneath a hood shading them from the sun's glare. Center-most of the three is a large, round speedometer, running up to 120 miles per hour in the Linear, to 140 mph in the Aero. To the left is a combination fuel and water temperature gauge. To the right is the tachometer, redlined at 6200 revolutions per minute in the Linear, at 7000 rpm in the Aero. The three dials are rimmed in polished metal in the Aero, in monochromatic black in the Linear. If the instrument cluster weren't enough of a giveaway to the 9-2X's WRX roots, directly atop the steering column is an auxiliary parking light switch that's a Subaru fixture.
The center stack houses the stereo control head, situated above the climate control knobs and beneath the two center air vents; truly disappointing are the last, which are everyday, horizontal vanes backed by vertical directionals, instead of the delightful and infinitely adjustable, aircraft-like, multi-layer registers unique to Saabs. Climate control knobs are large and round with good feel. The C-stack flows smoothly into the center console, over a covered ashtray with the 9-2X's sole power outlet, a cigar lighter. The digital clock squints out of the center of the dash above the C-stack.
Outward visibility is good, better than expected, actually, thanks to the sloping hood in front and the wrap-around rear quarter windows. Rear door windows roll about two-thirds of the way down. Front seat occupants each have a cup holder, and front doors have molded map pockets, but there are no storage bins on the back of the front seats, nor any map pockets on rear doors. The liftgate opens to clear six feet and has an inside pull-down. A space-saver spare is stored beneath the rear cargo floor under a sound-deadening foam pad. Lift-over is comfortably low, and there are tie-downs for awkward cargo.
Overall fit and finish is good, if not excellent. No buzzes, squeaks or rattles marred the test cars, comprising a Linear with automatic transmission and an Aero with manual gearbox.
The 9-2X is fun to drive, not a blast, nor as much fun as the Saab 9-3, but fun, nonetheless.
The steering wheel is the right thickness and size. Response to inputs is good, if a bit over-assisted at speed in the Aero. The automatic transmission's upshifts are subtle, but it could hold lower gears longer on grades, both going uphill and downhill. The five-speed manual would allow better use of the Linear's power, although, oddly, the EPA-estimated miles per gallon for city driving is actually 1 mpg less with the manual.
The Aero's turbocharger doesn't kick in until around 3000 rpm, and then with a surge, albeit an easily manageable one, thanks to the all-wheel drive, a first for Saab and unchanged from the WRX. The manual transmission's gear ratios are spaced well for the most part, but there's enough of a jump between fourth and fifth that the lower gear is better for most circumstances, reserving fifth for steady-state, interstate cruising. Shifts are clean and certain. Clutch take-up is smooth.
Both models feel firmly planted at speeds into low triple-digit figures, but the Aero is the more confident at high speeds and when pushed on winding roads. This is a credit to its tauter suspension tuning and more aggressive tires. Also, the Aero's abundant drivetrain sounds (gear whine, engine intake and the like) are a mixed blessing; some drivers will find it entertaining, while others may consider it an irritant.
Brakes perform well, with solid feel and no noticeable fade after many miles of rapid motoring through southern California foothills.
More road noise than expected in a Saab penetrated the cabin on both models, and the Aero's tires set up a thrumming sound on some surfaces. The moonroof created some wind noise, although minimal buffeting when open. And the air conditioning strains in very hot climates. Even in temperate zones, it regularly shifts to re-circulation mode to keep the cabin cooled to comfortable temperatures.
All-wheel drive in a Saab is new. A turbocharged engine isn't. The two combined make a tempting package.
But Saab says the 9-2X will be short lived, that it's really just a placeholder in the highly competitive premium sport compact market so the company won't be left behind while it works on a true Saab entry, developed and designed front to rear, top to bottom and inside and out in house. The 9-2X is not that. It's neither a Saab nor a Subaru, but an uncomfortable, almost forced compromise, more of a softened, re-badged WRX than a tidier, sporty Saab.
Saab 9-2X Linear ($22,990); Saab 9-2X Aero ($26,950).
Ota City, Gunma, Japan.
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($1695) includes leather-faced seats, xenon headlights; Sport Package ($1950) includes power glass moonroof, 17-inch wheels with high performance tires.
Saab 9-2X Aero ($26,950).
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