Here’s a question: When is a Saab not a Saab? When it’s a Subaru! Or more correctly, the 2005 Saab 9-2X, an all-wheel drive effort moved from one end of General Motors corporate family to another. Why a Subaru-Saab? Well, to expand Saab’s lineup quickly and at minimal cost. But can an all-wheel drive Subaru ever become enough of a Saab to satisfy their loyal and finicky fans? Only a closer look, and a lot of driving, will tell.
Wwhen you do take a closer look at the front of the 2005 Saab 9-2X, you see a compact 5-door that does look surprisingly like a genuine Saab. The nose is Scandinavian smooth, thanks to a beefy Saab facia, and flowing hood with an available low-profile air scoop. But swing alongside, and the profile is instantly recognizable as that of the Subaru Impreza Sport Wagon on which the 9-2X is heavily based. Around back, however, the smooth hatchback tail has also been given the Saab treatment, with a more muscular lower fascia, hatch and tail-lights. It’s badge engineering, but we’ve seen a lot worst.
The 9-2X rolls on standard 16-inch alloy wheels, or optional 17-inchers for the Aero model, which are turned by a familiar pair of Subaru powerplants, both horizontally-opposed 4-cylinders. The Linear model gets a normally aspirated 2.5-liter single-overhead-cam unit with 165 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. While the Aero model boasts the Impreza WRX’s turbocharged 2.0-liter dual-cammer that pumps out 227 horsepower and 227 pound-feet of torque.
Transmissions are a standard 5-speed manual, or optional 4-speed automatic. All 9-2X models are equipped with proven Subaru full-time all-wheel-drive systems, making them the first Saabs to have power at all four wheels. Aero models get additional traction gear, courtesy of a viscous limited-slip rear differential.
We first hit the road in an automatic transmission Aero near San Diego, California. Like its Asian-brand sibling, the 9-2X is a solid machine, with a tight, responsive chassis. Saab engineers have retuned the MacPherson-strut suspension to deliver a firmer, sportier feel. It’s not quite as plush as Saab fans are used to, but it does soak up even large bumps with little difficulty. The stiffer setup also reduces body roll in corners.
The Aero’s 2.5-liter flat-four engine revs freely punching the 9-2X out of corners with real spirit, but suffers from more turbo lag than Saab’s own turbocharged inline fours. NVH control is good, however, with only modest levels of road and engine noise entering the cabin.
The cabin may have come from Subaru, but it has been outfitted in modern Saab-style. That means it is packed with plenty of standard features, from power windows, to cruise control, to CD audio. Plus dash accents include smart-looking aluminum-color trim, with clean, straightforward controls, and sporty metal-rimmed analog gauges. While the front seats boast standard side airbags, and Saab’s whiplash-reducing active head restraints.
The rear seat offers good head and leg room for passengers up to 5-foot-8, and features a standard 60/40 split folding seat, which effectively opens up the already generous 27.9 cubic-feet of cargo space to a maximum of 61.6 cubic-feet.
Saab hopes to bring in a new crop of active young buyers with the 9-2X, and to that end pricing starts at only $22,990 for the base Linear model. That’s over 4-grand less than a comparable 9-3. Choose the turbo-powered Aero, and $26,950 is the price of admission.
The 2005 Saab 9-2X is a well built, entertaining all-wheel-drive car infused with a fair amount of Saab style, but with little of the quirky character that endears this brand to its loyal customer base. But it may persuade many young buyers who can’t afford a sporty European ride to give Saab a serious look. And, who knows, after they try the ‘‘Saabaru,’’ they might move up to the real thing, and be genuine Saab fans for life.
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-Liter
Torque: 227 Lb Feet