Five grand. Depending on options, incentives and fire sales, that's the difference between the cost of a Saab 9-2X Aero and a Subaru WRX Sport Wagon. Underneath, there's not much in it: same platform, same bag of tricks. No wonder auto industry wags have taken to calling the Saab 9-2X Aero the 'Saabaru." Now that GM has sold its share of the Japanese automaker and relocated Saab's badge-engineering department to Opel's German digs, the time has come to ask a simple question: Why God, why?
The Aero's exterior offers the best justification for its existence. The WRX has always been a visually challenging automobile. Not to belabor the point: the '06 WRX Sport Wagon refresh is still ucking fugly. Thanks to its nose graft, the Saab 9-2x Aero is a far more handsome sled than its Japanese half-sister. As Saab proved with its brand-stretching Trailblazer into 9-7X trick, their house schnoz gives even the most awkward beast a handsome, vaguely European vibe. Although the Aero's C-pillar is as Swedish as unagi, at least Saab removed the Scooby's roof rails, making the Aero seem lower and sleeker, and added some black cladding around the exhaust, slimming the bulbous butt. If only they'd taken a blowtorch to those tortured side sills…
Once inside, drivers are confronted by GM's goofy attempt at turning Japanese economy into Scandinavian chic. The result: two-toned Ikea door inserts and a motorcycle-themed instrument binnacle. The Aero's shiny center waterfall may be a step up from the old WRX, but the rest of the dash is pure Fuji Heavy Industries: several yards of hard knock plastics enveloping orange and green dials and gauges. Judging from the storage situation, Nordic drivers travel light. Cell phones? Sunglasses? Loose change? Förgätaboutit. And trying to sell young affluent Americans a car without an iPod port is about as stupid as the Aero's stain-magnet white seats– but not quite.
Saab's minimalist makeover extends to the engine room. Displacement grows from 2.0 to 2.5 liters. Although peak power jumps by three– count 'em three– horses, there are eighteen more foot pounds of entirely useful torque on tap. The newfound grunt transforms the wagon's fifth cog into a genuine passing gear. Equally important, it helps minimize the turbo lag that bedevils the WRX; Aero drivers can make it from stop sign to stop sign without multiple sidetrips to the car's redline. The Aero's helm is also blessed with added heft, while the brakes get extra bite. Unfortunately, the Aero's ride quality is just as cruel and unusual as the WRX's, and wind noise over 80 remains on the wrong side of tolerable (though the Aero's optional subwoofer soon fixes that).
Unleash the 9-2X Aero in its natural element and any mechanical shortcomings disappear. Thanks to freak LA weather, I had the chance to play rally hoon in a pit filled with snow and mud. Four wheel drift with all tires spinning? I haven't stopped smiling. On the Angeles Crest Highway– a testing two-laner that exposes many a car's dynamic weakness– the 9-2X Aero's rally-tuned suspension straightened out the tightest of turns. Even the most tortuous twisties were tackled at speed with no fuss, no muss. Like the Subaru WRX, the Saab 9-2X loves being smacked around at eight or nine tenths. Aero drivers seeking that final level of commitment are advised to drop a grand or so on something a little more potent than Potenzas. Ruh-roh! Like that's a thousand clams for tires that would still be in your wallet if you'd bought the Scooby, Scoob.
Aye, there's the rub my canine companion. The 9-2X is an excellent set of wheels if you enjoy driving fast, turning fast, stopping fast and hauling stuff, fast. But for 5G's less, you can buy a Subaru WRX Sports Wagon and spend the five large at your friendly neighborhood Subaru tuning shop. You'd emerge with 450 hp at the wheels, a sick-ass set of Brembo brakes and some embarrassing decals. Plus, there's nothing particularly Saab about this Saab. Where's the quirk? Why aren't the keys next to your rump? Why bother?
General Motors would have done its customers a better service if they'd given the WRX platform to Pontiac or Chevrolet and undercut the Subaru's price– especially as neither of those divisions has produced a truly compelling sedan/sports wagon in the last forty years. Instead, the General copied Jaguar's ill-fated Mondeo to X-Type strategy and moved the WRX 'upscale.' Oh well. Better luck next time, mein Saab. Meanwhile, the Saab 9-2x Aero is yet more proof that badge engineering is a shortcut to nowhere.