(First Posted October 27, 2013) After having divested myself of the fun-but-flawed GTI 16v and gotten the in-laws to agree, in principle, to purchasing the Jaguar, I once again got to go car shopping. I knew I wanted a wagon, and was fairly certain I wanted another stick-shift–and AWD would be a bonus…
But nowhere near the bonus GM was offering in those dark days! To be fair, I’d been a fan of the Subaru WRX for some time and was only slightly bothered by its somewhat peculira “bug-eyed” looks; however, I also was a big fan of the Mazda6 wagon, which I found very pretty.
I drove a couple of examples of each, later realizing that GM was advertising the Saab 9-2X Aero with an additional $6,000 off the previously announced discounts during their 72-hour “Toe-Tag” sale, wherein everyone got to pretend they were Rick Wagoner’s daughter on her sixteenth birthday. If one liked the WRX, the Saab now offered the same thing for less, and in a much better-looking package!
From where did this unholy spawn emerge? Well, as we know, Saab lost its independence when it was acquired by GM. At first, GM was sort of willing to let Saab do its thing, but that quickly came to an end. The 9-3 became Opel Vectra-based (but still with such significantly different engineering by Saab that it is basically a very different car–which, from what I understand, angered GM.)
GM then decided to make Saab try to be everything to everyone: first by using a Chevy Trailblazer platform to make the 9-7X, and then turning the Subaru Impreza wagon (GM owned 20% of Subaru at the time) into the 9-2X and 9-2X Aero (in contemporary Saab-speak, ‘Aero’ identified top-of-the-line Saabs).
While the standard 9-2X used the naturally aspirated Subaru 2.5-liter flat four, the 9-2X Aero used the WRX’s 2.0-liter turbo mill, the main differentiation between the two versions (as with the Subaru) being the hood scoop. The “X” in the name denoted AWD, a first for Saab. The differences between the Saab and the Subaru are, however, much more than what appears at first glance.
For example, all sheet metal and plastic forward of the A-pillar is different, the tailgate and rear bumper are different, and so are all the lights. The rocker panels are more aggressive, and the roof does not have any rails. Inside, the differences continue: the seats are different, the door cards have been redesigned, and there’s thicker, nicer carpeting aboard, along with extra sound-deadening and other under-the-skin items that make it quieter and more comfortable to live with.
The steering rack came from the WRX STi, and the suspension had been re-tuned–meaning that almost any mechanical accessory designed for a WRX or STi would work on this version as well.
When I went to drive it, I took my father-in-law along as he was visiting for the weekend. I think I scared him a bit, for it was quite a powerful car for the time. Having 227 hp at 6,000 rpm and 217 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm in a 3,250-lb. package made for a sprightly little screamer of a car. Coupled with the grip of all-wheel-drive, cloverleaf on-ramps were a fun way to spend time.
Truth be told, it was a little bit laggy–especially in the heat of a California summer, with 91-octane being the highest-octane fuel available–but so long as you kept the turbo spooled up, the good times would roll. Soon, Subaru would increase the size of the turbo engine specifically to address that issue, and the 2006 version of the 9-2X Aero supposedly got this upgrade as well, but very few were produced for 2006 before GM ended production after selling their stake in Subaru.
The one I ended up buying was Desert Silver in color. It is sort of a champagne shade, one that at first glance looks like the other Saab models also available in that color; however, when you put it next to a 9-3, you’ll see that it’s a slightly different shade. I am not sure if that was by design–Saab advertisements of the day featured that color across the range, so I’d have thought it all matched. Anyway, I liked the color. It was a bit different.
Inside, either cloth or leather was available. What’s more, someone had decided it was a great idea to have black bolsters and very light colored seating surfaces…uh, not in cloth, please; I can’t even imagine trying to keep that clean. So, I got the leather. Mine also had 16” alloy wheels (not the optional 17”s), heated seats and Xenon headlights (which were included in the Premium package along with leather). Other than that, they pretty much came standard with everything you’d expect.
The flat four made a great little noise and was a fun car to drive. This was during the days of my 42-mile each way commute across the Bay, so my routine was to wake up early and drive down the hill around 4:30 AM to the bagel shop. There, the owner would open the door for me to buy two piping hot bagels straight out of the oven and a large coffee. Then I’d be on my way, ideally getting to work around 5:30 AM. The goal was to leave by 3 PM and beat the traffic on the way home, which rarely happened.
A better way to get home was to take the surface streets from I-880 up into the hills of Oakland, to Skyline Avenue, then drop into the canyon to take the back way to Moraga and Lafayette; there is a fabulously twisty (and empty) stretch of road that twists and turns, with lots of elevation change that makes it a blast to drive with a small, quick car. In the Saab, it was wonderful, a great way to de-stress from work, and on the drive home I probably took that route at least three times a week.
I started to pick up a few accessories: a cat-back exhaust added some more of that great warbling noise of the flat-four, and an STi intercooler did a bit better at managing heat than the stock unit. I also managed to score a set of the 17” factory alloys with tires to complete the package.
My two-year-old daughter fit into the back seat OK, and a few times we took the car to Tahoe instead of the Land Cruiser. It did great in the snow, as expected, and was fun to drive up in the mountains. Piper (my daughter) never vomited in it, so that was certainly a bonus! But overall it was not a very roomy car, however with a bit of planning when packing, adequate for our stuff.
My gas mileage hovered around 20 mpg. Most of my driving was done on the freeways, but since I also spent a lot of time idling in bridge traffic or hooning through the hills, the mpg would likely be better in a more normal scenario. The car was completely reliable, with no faults at delivery and none in the first 15,000 miles that I had the car–actually, they were the only miles I put on the car since buying it, because about eight months later I’d had enough.
The car was fun, and also a good driver, but not the perfect commuting car. Sadly, it was not photographed much either; the best photo I could find featured only a quarter of it in the background. Hence, these pictures are of representative samples taken from the ‘net.
What it was, though, was a fantastic resale car. Since GM had stopped offering asinine rebates on them, they commanded a premium over a WRX in the used market, due not only to their differences, but also the perception that the average 9-2X owner is a little less likely to beat on the car than the owner of a WRX. I ended up selling the car for several thousand more than I paid for it, even including tax and registration.
It remains one of my best vehicular purchases from a monetary perspective, but even if it hadn’t been, I enjoyed my time with it. When a commute is as bad as mine was, you either need a sensory-deprivation chamber, or something fun, despite knowing that its fun characteristics could eventually grow tiring. Cars are my passion, so frequent change is OK for me, as you’ve no doubt realized by now.
The young man I sold it to needed a ride to pick it up. In an interesting turn of events, I picked him up at his house (about forty miles away) in my new car in order to bring him to my house and hand the Saab over to him. The interesting thing was that at first he could not understand my choice to replace the Saab, but over the course of the ride he began to appreciate and understand it…but that is a story for another day.