Regular readers will recall that I recently outed myself as having been the proud owner of a 2.3L Mustang. This was no EcoBoost, this was a 104 HP dog. My trip down memory lane today is of a different sort. It’s about the time I drove a Saabaru. That, of course, is the colloquial descriptor used to describe the 2005-2006 GM joint venture that mashed up a Saab with a Subaru. The result was pretty great. So great I bought one.
In 2005 the second generation Subaru WRX was on our shores, and it was, at least in my opinion, an improvement aesthetically over the original “bugeye” model. I know, I know, many people disagree with that, but this is my article so shut up. Right, so the WRX was good, but it wasn’t perfect. Many thought that it lacked some of the refinement that would have made it the perfect daily driver. Enter Saab—or rather enter its meddling parent, General Motors. Already known for “badge engineering” SUVs across multiple nameplates, this was one of the first cars the General swapped badges on, at least in the US. It’s debatable whether the Swedes ever wanted the diminutive Japanese wagon, I’ll bet my chef’s hat that they didn’t.
Bork bork, gersh gurndy morn-dee burn-dee, burn-dee, flip-flip-flip!
But get it Saab did, and ironically it was quicker and more fun to drive than just about everything in the 2005 Saab lineup. Just like the Impreza of the same era, you could it in base form (aka “Linear” because Saab) with a 2.5L EJ253 engine sporting 165 hp and 166 lb·ft of torque. Or, you can do what I did and pick up the version with the 2.0-liter engine shared with the WRX, offered in the “Aero” badged model. Just like the ‘Rex, you got 227 hp and 217 lb·ft of torque.
So mechanically, it was pretty much the same car as the base Impreza and the WRX. Well, mostly. Underneath, Saab wanted to make it a bit more “special” so they raided their various parts bins and borrowed the steering rack from the beloved STI. Featuring a 15.0:1 steering ratio and more rigidly mounted steering hardware I can say from experience, it worked. Add stiffer chassis bushings and you’re starting to see that it wasn’t exactly the same as the Subie.
The changes continued from a design perspective. At the time, Saab had a chap named Michael Mauer in their design studio. He got his start with the Mercedes V-Class. Doesn’t ring a bell, well we don’t get it here, it’s a big passenger van. He went on to work on stuff like the A-Class, SLK and SL. Well, Saab gave him the task of making this more Saab-like. At this point, he probably wished he was still designing vans, but what he came up with worked. It had the front end styling of a 9-5 and, again in my opinion, looked much better than the car in which it was based. Up front it sported new front fenders and hood. Out back…wait…outback haha the Saab got a different tailgate and bumper.
The changes were pretty intense inside as well, with the interior getting a much needed rework. My biggest complaint of the WRX, and the reason I never bought one to this day, was the interior. You may recall that Josh had similar issues in his quickly-bought-and-sold 2015 WRX. The Saab got extra acoustic insulation and sound deadening which went a long way to downplaying the economy car roots. The Saabaru also got unique seats with active head restraints, and more importantly, leather! This predated the WRX and STI “Limited” models which eventually started to offer buyers a more upscale interior from Subaru, so it was a pretty big deal to finally get the rally-spec chassis with a less crappy interior.
What it didn’t have was a Saab trademark key location. Back in 1969 Saab moved the key from the dash down near the shifter, in order to reduce knee injuries during impact. That’s a thing that actually happened, and it stuck, becoming one of Saab’s biggest
The 9-2X had its key up where Fuji Heavy Industries put it, next to the steering wheel. This made the Saabaru dead to most Saab aficionados. Well, the non-Saab roots probably helped solidify its fate among purists, but that didn’t help.
Sales and Incentives
The Saabaru wasn’t a sales standout, that is until GM levied their “employee pricing” program on every brand they owned in the US. The 9-2X Aero had a sticker that could easily crest $30,000 when new. That price came pretty loaded with options like the premium package (leather, HID headlights), cold weather package (which had the usual cold weather crap), and the sport package (which oddly added a sunroof and 17″ Enkei wheels). I was able to walk into a Saab dealer during this time period and pick up a black on black Aero with all of those packages for $21,000. Basically near $10,000 off of sticker price. So you can see why they eventually started to sell. You had rally car breeding, a more refined interior with options you actually wanted, and you were actually paying less than the comparable Subaru?
Only 10,346 9-2Xs were ever built, and you don’t see many on the road today. For 2005, the year I bought mine, a bit more than half were sold in Linear trim. Fuji and GM broke up, but it’s said that they remain friends and share custody of the Saabaru every other week.
The 9-2X, like it’s platform mate, was pretty light. Weighing in around 3210 pounds, that’s just a bit more than a comparable WRX wagon (3165 lbs). Impressive considering the upgrades to the interior like leather and additional sound deadening material. I took my Saabaru to the autocross course on a few occasions and left reasonably impressed. It’s 5-speed manual transmission was good, if not great, shifts a little less “click-click” than the Hondas I was used to at the time. It handled much like a WRX, not surprising I know. That is to say it had grip where many cars didn’t, but also had understeer where many didn’t. Overall, turn-in with the STI rack helped make up for some of that; you could adjust your braking and apex point to mitigate bad things for the most part.
It had straight line speed above it’s weight class (boxing reference, not a curb weight reference). On several occasions, I would have swore that it had much more power than claimed. There was a G35 coupe on the highway that could never quite gain on the little wagon and a stage (something-or-other) B5 S4 that the Saab stayed neck and neck with off the line. It was surreal experiences like this that always give me a warm nostalgic feeling when thinking about the Saabaru. If you ever come across a used Saab 9-2X Aero, give it a look. It may surprise you.
As I looked for some pictures of my car in the interwebs, I found some! It went on to provide some joy to someone else. Well that is, until this happened.
Oh, how did Mr. Mauer turn out you ask? Well, in 2004 he went to Porsche where he is in charge of design..well just about their entire lineup. Oddly enough his profile doesn’t mention the Saabaru.
Header image: imgur.com