Back in 1983, my father, entranced by its idiosyncracy, nearly bought a Saab 900 Turbo. He even would have bought one, but with Detroit showing new signs of life I was on a “buy American” kick (the decade ultimately cured me). So he ended up buying the second-place finisher in Car & Driver’s infamous Baja comparison test instead. Down the road very different qualities drew him to Lexus. Apparently, Saab wants him back. How else to explain the new 9-5?
Volvo did it. Acura still does it. Audi has been doing it for a long time. And now Saab is giving it a shot: start with a front-wheel-drive platform, add a powerful engine and an all-wheel-drive system (hopefully with a few tricks up its sleeve), and then try to pass the nose-heavy result off as a viable alternative to a balanced rear-wheel-drive BMW. To wit: the limited edition 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X, in sedan or wagon SportCombi form. Success? Not so much.
Review: Saab 9-3 Turbo X Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
First impressions last. Or in this case, first. Anyway, the slightly-new-for-‘06 (but mostly unchanged since ‘99) Saab 9-5 SportCombi misses the mark at first glance. GM's Swedish division crafted a wagon that looks like a slightly larger Saab 9-3, only uglier. The SportCombi's low greenhouse, swoopy rear windows and huge up-curving C-pillars combine all the worst elements of a ‘00 Saturn SW wagon and a Cadillac SRX. The design says "We wanted to make a wagon, but we only had enough cash for a car-camper shell." Volvo continues to master Skandinavisk chic. Saab goes for cheap chic– and fails.
Saab 9-5 SportCombi Review Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars
Saab may have been "Born from Jets," but there's little about the brand's current offerings that you'd call state-of-the-art. The 9-3 has changed little since its ‘03 introduction. The 9-7X dates back to the ‘02 Chevy TrailBlazer. And the 9-5 has been stuck in holding pattern since ‘98. I recently tested a 9-5 to see if the quirky car lives up to its high tech brand proposition. My range-topping tester's trim designation: "Aero." That pounding sound you hear is GM's marketers driving home the high-altitude hype.
The Saab 9-7x scored eighth place in TTAC’s Ten Worst Automobiles Today awards. Its crime? As Jonny Lieberman wrote so eloquently, “It is a Chevy TrailBlazer with the ignition key between the seats.” With these words echoing in my mind, I set off to test the 9-7x to determine if, indeed, the Born from Jets Saab SUV is nothing more than a Chevy TrailBlazer with the ignition key between the seats.
Trollhattensaab.net recently upbraided TTAC for failing to mention their champion amongst a list of station wagon alternatives to SUV’s. According to the Aussie Saab blog, the SportCombi “more than matches its competition on price, performance, specification, utility and safety.” Be that as it may, I wanted to know if Saab’s wagon deserved a place next to Volvo and Mercedes in my list of classic European station wagons. So I grabbed some seat time in an '06 Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi (a.k.a. 9-3 Aero 5-Door).
Growing up in Southern California, I never understood the whole Swedish car thing. SoCal drivers need an all-weather automobile like tacos need herring. Although a Volvo wagon was the left-wing equivalent of a Ford F250 and a Saab was a cap and gown on wheels, speed-crazed Angelinos found Nordic transportation about as exciting as farm machinery. Then Ford bought Volvo and GM scarfed Saab. Suddenly, performance, handling and luxury were piled onto the Smorgasbord. To freshen-up its range, GM instructed Saab to reengineer an Opel Vectra and call it a 9-3. In this guise, the new Saab 9 – 3 Aero joins German rides in the land of palm trees and lip-injections. Perhaps the General was on to something…
Saab's decision to ditch their traditional hatchback for a three-box sedan raises immediate and uncomfortable questions about the intersection of corporate ownership and brand identity. The Aero attempts to distract the faithful with a rear that looks like a hatch (but isn't) and sporting cues. The Jay Leno chin spoiler certainly grabs your attention, and the dual pipes poking out from the blackened derriere make all the right noises. But the 9-3 is too narrow for such deep cladding and there's an excellent chance parking lot rampage will hammer the low-slung ground effects. The Aero's profile is its best viewing angle, projecting European rakishness. Even if Saab newcomers don't catch a Trollhattan vibe, at least they'll know they're not in Kansas anymore.
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…