2005 Saab 9-2X

By June 10, 2004
2005 Saab 9-2X

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.

Model Lineup

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.

Interior Features

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.

Driving Impressions

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.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:Saab 9-2X Linear ($22,990); Saab 9-2X Aero ($26,950)
Engines:2.5-liter, 16-valve, single overhead cam flat four; 2.0-liter, 16-valve, double overhead cam, turbocharged intercooled flat four
Transmissions:5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):two-stage front seat airbags; front seat-mounted side impact airbags; front seat active head restraints; child safety seat anchors; four-wheel antilock brakes with EBD; all-wheel drive
Safety equipment (optional):N/A
Basic warranty:4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in:Ota City, Gunma, Japan
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):Saab 9-2X Aero ($26,950)
Standard equipment:automatic climate control with cabin air filter; cruise control; tilt steering wheel; manual height adjustable driver's seat; power windows, outside mirrors and central locking with remote; six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with six-disc changer; fabric sport seats; leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather–trimmed shift lever and parking brake handle; aluminum sport pedals; 60/40 split folding rear seat; retractable cargo cover; tinted side window glass; delayed accessory off
Options as tested (MSPR):Premium Package ($1695) includes leather-faced seats, xenon headlights; Sport Package ($1950) includes power glass moonroof, 17-inch wheels with high performance tires
Destination charge:$695
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$31290
Layout:all-wheel drive
Engine:2.0-liter, 16-valve, double overhead cam, turbocharged intercooled flat four
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):227 @ 6000
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):217 @ 4000
Transmission:5-speed manual
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:20/26 mpg
Wheelbase:99.4 in.
Length/width/height:175.6/66.7/57.7 in.
Track, f/r:57.7/57.3 in.
Turning circle:35.4 ft.
Seating Capacity:5
Head/hip/leg room, f:39.7/53.3/42.9 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:37.3/51.9/33.7 in.
Cargo volume:61.6 cu. ft.
Payload:1000 Lbs.
Towing capacity:N/A
Suspension, f:independent, MacPherson-type struts, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Suspension, r:independent, dual-link-type struts, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Ground clearance:6.1 in.
Curb weigth:3179 lbs.
Brakes, f/r:disc/disc with ABS and EBD
Fuel capacity:15.9 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of June 10, 2004.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 800-SAAB USA (800-722-2872) - www.saab.com

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