(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.
I’d known about the origins of 9-2X and 9-7X, of course, but I had never quite put this together before: GM tried to make Saab into this decade’s Geo.
I would say, “It all makes sense now,” but that would be silly.
Anyway! Geo redux or not, I have to say the idea of a somewhat more civilized WRX with less noise and perhaps nicer interior materials is an appealing idea. I’m not enthusiastic about the hood scoop, though, because it adds a conspicuous boy racer touch to what is otherwise not a cop-baiting car.
Saab actually died within days after GM bought it. There was an article on the purchase where some high muckety-muck (head guy of GM Europe? As usual I can’t remember the article verbatim.), upon looking a 900 over was quoted, “We can build a car 90% as good from the Opel parts bin.”
At which point there was no turning back, and definitely no hope for the marque.
Everybody knew that a Saab was an Opel Vectra underneath. The later Trailblazer and Subaru clones were just bad jokes. A Saab had to be “different” and unconventional, its only unique selling point and the reason you wanted one. Their relatively small 4 cylinder turbo engines made them famous and unique, as well as their design and the safety features.
In this class rebadging is a deadly sin, at least in Europe. If you pay for a Saab you want a Saab, not a Chevy~Subaru~Opel with a Saab logo. End of story.
I don’t disagree, but if you think about it, Subaru is probably the Saab of the orient…lots of turbos, unconventional engineering (boxer engines, AWD as a differentiator), quirky styling, a history of rallying, and a strong bent on safety. Different to be sure but similarities as well.
Well Walter, one plus one does not always equal two…
Oh by the way, I see you’re still in shape. 😉
“Everybody knew that a Saab was an Opel Vectra underneath”
Having seen the parts manual for both a Vectra, a 9-3SS and a 9-5 the above is utter male bovine excrement. The 9-3SS has a shorter wheel base than the equivalent Vectra. Had they actually taken advantage of GM’s massive parts bin they may have had a tiny chance at surviving.
The 1st gen 9-5 kept the SAAB engines right until the end.
Platform sharing is different than badge engineering.
Does not matter. It was seen by the buying public as such and that was enough.
I’m feeling a little stupid right now. I never noticed the Saab/Subaru resemblance before, but now that it’s been pointed out to me, it’s obvious. I’m glad to hear that your understanding of GM badge engineering led to a good deal on a fun car for the bad commute.
The recent series of childhood pictures here on CC makes me wonder what a childhood snapshot of Roger Smith or Rick Wagoner might look like. A candid snapshot of the youngster removing the badge from Daddy’s car and putting it on Mommy’s car?
Probably the most reliable Saab ever. I noticed that they got rid of the dumb key in the center console setup they used to have. It is a nice setup for breaking the key or getting it stuck.
It looks like it mostly a Subaru so that means parts are easy to find to keep it running.
I bet these are a sought after car because WRX are expensive to insure compared to other cars, because it is a Saab it was probably cheap to insure and you had all the WRX goodness in it.
The key in the center console was one of those safety features, so the key wouldn’t cut right into your knee at a bad collision.
I still don’t see the point of putting the key down there even for safety. They could have….. gasp!….put it on the steering column like on most cars then and now and it would facing the passenger side and out of the way though i honestly think death or injury by key is a bit overblown to be honest with you. The only way I can see this happening is that A. you are 7 foot tall and you have to rest your right knee against the dash or B. the accident is so bad that entire dash board is launched at the driver and if that happens then you got other issues to worry about then the key cutting your legs.
If you’ve ever driven, or ridden in a classic SAAB with the ignition between the seats, you’d know why.
It was for security and safety. The ignition was part of the console, and sat just behind the shift lever, literally between the seat belt buckles.
On a manual gearbox equipped SAAB, you had to put the gear lever in reverse before you could turn the key all the way to the lock position, and then extract the key.
One of the reason was simple, reverse had a gear ratio as such that it could hold the car on a hill, thus act as an additional parking brake if need be, should the parking brake cable break, causing the car to rely on the transmission to hold it on a hill, reverse was found to be much better at this than 1st.
Second reason was with most manual transmissions, you didn’t have a way to lock the gear lever, like you can with most automatics, unless the key is down near the gear shift.
So combined, it helped keep the car from being stolen, unless it had very high mileage and the key lock mechanism was worn out.
My best friend found this out on his well used 1980 SAAB 900 Turbo. The ignition lock was so worn that you can simply pull the key out without turning it to the lock position, thus leave the car in any gear, or neutral, which is what his mother did one night while he was traveling with Up With People in 1989, and the car was stolen from their suburban driveway.
It was found partially submerged in a local river, frame bent, and the radio torn out of it. It was recovered, and fixed, but 2 years later, it began to nickle and dime him though, at over 200K miles however.
The key on the console is one of those things that made a Saab a Saab. Even GM got the idea enough that the 9-7x had the key down there. The 9-2x was the only model that didn’t.
It was a safety feature. It was also quirky – which is what made it Saab.
Actually Syke, the Saab 9000 had it’s key in the steering column.
Yep, you’re correct.
I loved the key between the seats TBH.
Saabaru for the win! Never driven one myself, but seen plenty. Always figured they’d be a good choice if one wanted to tick all the boxes for sporty, quick, and inexpensive.
Plus, in another eight to ten years (once they’re cheap enough to be on my radar) hopefully the boy racer crowd will have overlooked them, leaving some non-thrashed examples for the rest of us.
Ahh the Saabaru, one of the poster children of what a branding train wreck the General had become. I’m just glad they sold of their stake in Subaru to Toyota before they became another badly badged zombie.
There are plenty of these still running as daily drivers up here in the North Tahoe, Truckee and Reno areas. Given that 99% of the parts interchange with the Impreza I suspect they will have long lives.
At one point in the used market 4-5 years ago these represented a screaming bargain selling for $4-5k less that a comparable Impreza or WRX. The dealer in Truckee did a good trade in scooping them up at auction off lease and reselling them here.
In my part of the world with Subarus being so popular the WRXs command absurd premiums on the used market. You can usually find similar Turbo’d Legacy for less $.
Lots of those WRXs are simply stickers on an Imprezza when my 1500cc Sentra can get away from one I doubt its real.
I learn something new all the time on this site,never knew about the Saab/Subaru crossbreeding.I see plenty horribly mutilated Subarus with body kits,drain pipe exhausts and big alloy wheels with rubber band tyres turned into a boy racer’s wet dream but have never seen a Saab butchered like that.
I was very tempted by one of these too at the same time. The pricing during GM’s desperation days was almost too good to be true (or actually it was), and I already had a soft spot for the WRX after driving one. I sometimes regret not getting one; I suspect it would have made a good car for the conditions here, especially all the gravel back-road bombing.
I had one of these. Really nice but the Saab/Saturn dealer had a real sketchy sevice department and I crossed my fingers even if I took it in just for an oil change. Then SAAB went bust and I was supposed to take it to the Chevy dealer for warranty work. They laughed when I showed up there. I could have taken it to the Subaru but then I would have to pay for the loose heat shield and other stuff that came up. I got a good price selling it privately but I learned to never buy from a maker that might dissapear on me.
Great catch Jim! I was horribly tempted to buy one during the toe-tag sale…they were selling these $29k msrp in the neighborhood of $22-23k. I even test drove one and loved it; I just couldn’t make the jump of vastly reduced cargo space I needed from my Trooper.
I have to disagree that rebadged Saabs were bad news – the best of the Trailblazer family is by far the 9-7X; you could argue the same for the 9-2X as the best Subaru. It allowed Saab to expand their offerings in a last-ditch effort to be relevant….and we know how that turned out.
I too see Subaru as the Saab of the Japanese brands…
I just knew we’d have a SAAB post soon Ive seen 4 of these lately CC effect at full volume I didnt expect a wagon though Ive been seeing ragtops and one sedan personally I’d rather have a Subaru simply for the ease of getting parts Subarus are everywhere here if you bend a Saab you will have real problems fixing it.
Good old Saabaru. Isn’t this the perfect example of how something Deadly Sin-ish can also be a great car? I don’t think it would be fair to call this a DS exactly (Saab already had 1.5 feet in the grave by this point), but it has the right traits: a badge engineering job that made no sense to the outside world, did nothing to attract new customers to the brand and mainly served to alienate Saab loyalists. And yet, a WRX wagon is a great car no matter who’s badge is on the grille.
I wasn’t really tuned in to goings-on in the automotive world at this point, but I do remember thinking “WTF” and also “I want one!!” when these were announced. I love most things Saab and Subaru, so combining the two = “the more the merrier” in my mind, despite knowing it would fail horribly and be met with scorn/apathy. The only bad thing about owning a WRX is the stereotypical Fast & Furious bro image that goes along with it, so a low-key version of that same vehicle with a Saab badge is definitely preferable in some ways. I know many (like Jim) would say this is also a better looking car, and the Saab styling elements certainly do look right at home on this car, but I’d call it a draw – though I might be in the minority. I was one of the few who thought the bug-eye/Japanese space monster Impreza was cool looking.
Above all other reasons for the Saabaru’s failure, I think it was just one of those cars that tons of people would love to own used, but NO ONE wanted to buy new. Same goes for the Mazda6 wagon mentioned in the article (I loved that one too). The people who enjoy cars like this are the kind of people who never buy new cars, and I know because I’m one of them.
EDIT: Just wanted to add – I looked up how many 9-2X were built on Wikipedia and the grand total for two model years was only 10,346. I’m surprised it was that low a number… I still see these pretty regularly, although I do live in a place where Saabs, Subarus and wagons are all very popular.
I understand that this place is GM Hate Central, but the amount of revisionist history here is even more staggering than usual. Saab almost never turned a profit in its entire history, and had already lost $180 million the year GM took over. Saab in the ’80s was selling at less than Audi-level volume while not having the benefit of the VW parts bin to draw from. Saab had no differentiator, and you can neither build a brand nor attract buyers on the basis of ‘we’re different from everybody else’, as the Saab balance sheets attested to.
Second, let’s not be so quick to forget that Saab approached GM, not the other way around. It was known up front that Saab would draw from Opel/GM platforms as needed, and Saab managed to turn a profit in 1995 under GM ownership. Anyone who owned a Saab after 1989 should be appreciative of GM for giving them another 20 years of life, but if GM had rightfully let Saab die, the commenters here would just bitch about how evil GM was for not saving it.
I am a Saabista (own an ’04 Aero convertible); I am also realistic as to Saab’s death throes these past 20 years. That said, GM just never knew how to position or support Saab….I blame that on GM’s resources being spread too thin….
Great research here:
I agree with cloud. If GM had not bought out Saab they would have went under much earlier. At best they would have ended up like MG/Rover, just a badge on a Chinese car. Despite the claims of their CEO, I feel that Volvo will end up having a similar fate. At least GM still let them build some cars in their home country. They even let them build the Cadillac BLS, in an attempt to allow them to keep their factory open a few more years.
I recall getting a few mailers in the ’04-’05 timeframe advertising these things. Even then, I had a suspicion that they weren’t going to be produced for very long. Looking back, an upscale smallish wagon wasn’t (and isn’t) a bad idea in my mind, but it’s admittedly a small market niche on this side of the Atlantic.
As a diehard Saabinsta, I feel I must wade into this discussion. I have a 2001 9-3 SE, so a car that was built at the height of GM’s influence on Saab. I know that certain parts of my Saab are from the parts bin, but I take comfort in the knowledge that Saab engineers made so many changes to the car, esp. with the suspension, so that it doesn’t behave like any other car in the GM stable. Of course my adding a set of Bilstein HD’s 4 years into my ownership didn’t hurt. Do I think GM buying Saab was a bad thing? No, they saved Saab from a earlier death and gave them some potential. In the 2000’s however they nickel and dimed Saab to death. The fact that the OG 9-5 lived on so long is a example. The 9-2X Aero is a example of how this relationship COULD have been beautiful.
From a branding point of view, I think the Saabaru and the 9-7X (TrollBlazer?) were two of the biggest mistakes in automotive history, but as cars they’re not bad. I had just bought my Forester XT when the 9-2X came out, but it was very appealing … a more discreet and cleanly styled Impreza/WRX, and offered in some nice colors, at great prices for a while. The 9-7X is kind of bizarre, but again a nicely styled version of a competent SUV. In fact, weren’t some Saabs rebranded as Cadillacs in Europe in that era? And, in a great example of the CC effect, I saw a 9-7X on my way home tonight.
I think you mean this Cadillac from Sweden, the BLS model.
(Photo from website motorstown.com)
Contemporary Cadillac models, like the CTS and STS, were imported into Europe by the Kroymans Group from the Netherlands. Unfortunately the whole operation failed hopelessly, the Kroymans Group went bankrupt later on.
I wouldn’t mind a BLS wagon, come to think of it
Nice post. I bought one during the “toe-tag” sale. The non-turbo models were the “Linear” vs. the turbo’s “Aero”. It was not a bad car, but I bought it hastily and then only kept it about 8 months. Good: AWD, better styling than a Impreza/WRX, good handling. Bad: Terrible MPG, even for the non-turbo, very indecisive and outdated 4-sp automatic trans, paint chipped very easily and I sensed it would not age well, cagey dealer, cramped and narrow seats, stock tires, single-DIN budget-looking audio.
Mine was red with cloth interior, “winter package”, sunroof, and the auto. I think if I’d gotten the manual I could have lived with it, but the auto had a mind of its own and really hurt the car. I did get a very good trade in value on it though, and swapped for a 5-speed Mazda3 hatch, which is probably my favorite car I’ve owned.
OP was right about the lack of roof rails on the 9-2x. If you ever see a red one with roof rails, it might have been mine. I swapped with a WRX owner who wanted to delete his, while I wanted them to mount a bike rack system. We removed headliners and did the swap in about 30 minutes.
A dealership about an hour from where I live has had one of these in inventory for MONTHS. I have been tempted to go look at it and drive it, because I like the idea of a small wagon. But, this one is a turbocharged model with automatic transmission, not what I would consider to be a great combination.
Now that I know what kind of fuel mileage to expect I am even less interested in this particular wagon.
What is killing this car at this dealership is that an independent Subaru repair shop undercuts the price of this 92 regularly with several other Subaru models…admittedly, not all of them are turbocharged.
Do who to what</I.? For how many Oreo cookies?
When GM was fire-saling these I wanted one SO bad. But at the time I didn’t have two nickels to rub together and even at the bargain price it might as well have been a Bentley.
While GM certainly didn’t manage Saab as well as it could have, i will echo the sentiment that it was probably better than nothing- they probably would have gone under of their own accord a decade prior.
I always liked Saabs a lot, but they went under before I got around to one. I thought long and hard about a new 9-5 when you could get them for about half MSRP after GM pulled the plug. I knew you could continue to get the mechanical bits, but the lenses, trim and other unique pieces had me concerned. And what, if anything, they were going to do to honor the warranty. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk.
Found an old Motorweek test of this car.
It´s Lingonberry jam, not sauce!