The Truth About Cars » Saab http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 19 Oct 2014 11:58:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Saab http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/saab/ NEVS Lays Off 200 In Reorganization Plan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/nevs-lays-200-reorganization-plan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/nevs-lays-200-reorganization-plan/#comments Mon, 29 Sep 2014 10:00:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=921169 With the Saab name reclaimed by the mothership, a host of financial problems, and no product beyond a 10-year-old platform, what else is left for National Electric Vehicle Sweden to do? If you said, “Tap out,” then you just might see that hand pounding the mat rather quickly. Reuters reports the automaker has laid off […]

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With the Saab name reclaimed by the mothership, a host of financial problems, and no product beyond a 10-year-old platform, what else is left for National Electric Vehicle Sweden to do? If you said, “Tap out,” then you just might see that hand pounding the mat rather quickly.

Reuters reports the automaker has laid off 200 workers due to a lack of work as of late, work that likely won’t be coming anytime soon. NEVS says the move was part of its reorganization plan that will be presented at a creditors’ meeting October 8.

Originally, the workers were retained since production ceased in May 2014 in the hope that financing would soon come its way to restart work immediately. The remaining staff will keep the factory in good condition should NEVS secure the needed financing to resume assembly.

At present, the automaker owes kr400 million ($56 million USD) to its creditors, and is allegedly in talks with two unknown firms — speculation says Mahindra is one of them — to gain a financial jumpstart for an electric variant of the 9-3, currently in the prototype phase.

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NEVS Gains Creditor Protection, Loses Saab Name http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/nevs-gains-creditor-protection-loses-saab-name/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/nevs-gains-creditor-protection-loses-saab-name/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 13:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904905 First, National Electric Vehicle Sweden was going to be taken to district court and forced to file bankruptcy. Then, it was spared. Then, it saw its application for creditor protection denied due to being “vague.” Now? The application has moved forward, but at the price of the Saab name. Autoblog reports NEVS — who owes […]

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First, National Electric Vehicle Sweden was going to be taken to district court and forced to file bankruptcy. Then, it was spared. Then, it saw its application for creditor protection denied due to being “vague.”

Now? The application has moved forward, but at the price of the Saab name.

Autoblog reports NEVS — who owes over 90 creditors kr400 million ($57.56 million USD) — gained protection from the district court in Vänersborg August 29 while the Chinese-owned company continues negotiates with two unknown companies to obtain more funding.

However, the move by the court allowed SAAB AB — whose Viggens birthed many a 99 Turbo and 900S way back when — to pull the naming rights from NEVS. The latter only bought the beleaguered automaker’s physical assets, and had to seek permission from SAAB to use the brand name. Thus, it may now be finally safe to say, “Rest in peace.”

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NEVS “Not Insolvent,” Will Pay When Possible http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/nevs-insolvent-will-pay-possible/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/nevs-insolvent-will-pay-possible/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 10:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=895298 Remember when Saab’s new parent company was close to being taken to court and forced to declare bankruptcy by one of its suppliers? New information may have helped changed course. Autoblog reports National Electric Vehicle Sweden issued a brief statement proclaiming that while “the company does not have enough liquid cash as today to pay […]

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Remember when Saab’s new parent company was close to being taken to court and forced to declare bankruptcy by one of its suppliers? New information may have helped changed course.

Autoblog reports National Electric Vehicle Sweden issued a brief statement proclaiming that while “the company does not have enough liquid cash as today to pay all outstanding debt,” it is “not insolvent” thanks to having assets larger than its obligations.

The statement also states the supplier — Lado Labs — withdrew its petition to force bankruptcy upon NEVS next month due to not having been paid for testing procedures in February. That said, it doesn’t know when it will be able to pay all of its suppliers.

The funding issues came about when one of NEVS’ shareholders failed to deliver its investment to the company, bringing a halt to manufacturing of the 9-3. NEVS is holding ongoing conversations with two unnamed manufacturers with the aim to restart the line once funding is secured.

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Saab’s Newest Owners Face Bankruptcy Petition In Sweden http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/saabs-newest-owners-face-bankruptcy-petition-sweden/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/saabs-newest-owners-face-bankruptcy-petition-sweden/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:00:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=889754 Saab’s newest parent company may soon be declared bankrupt by a Swedish court, once again bringing the make toward the grave. The Detroit News reports supplier Labo Test has petitioned the court to declare National Electric Vehicles of Sweden bankrupt after failing to receive kr150,000 ($22,000 USD) since February 2014. The supplier provides testing tools […]

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Saab’s newest parent company may soon be declared bankrupt by a Swedish court, once again bringing the make toward the grave.

The Detroit News reports supplier Labo Test has petitioned the court to declare National Electric Vehicles of Sweden bankrupt after failing to receive kr150,000 ($22,000 USD) since February 2014. The supplier provides testing tools to automakers for quality testing of auto parts.

Sveriges Radio adds that CEO Håkan Bodin has no “hard feelings against NEVS,” and would be joyful to receive money owed from the company’s Chinese owners. NEVS communication officer Mikael Östlund, meanwhile, states that though his employer “cannot fully pay any of its suppliers,” NEVS itself is not insolvent.

The bankruptcy hearing, to be held in district court in Vänersborgs, is scheduled for September 8.

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General Motors Recalls 8.4 Million Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/general-motors-recalls-8-4-million-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/general-motors-recalls-8-4-million-vehicles/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 22:05:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=856065 General Motors has issued a total of six recalls affecting some 8.4 million vehicles in North America, the majority of which have ignition-related issues. Autoblog reports the following group totals 7,610,862 — 6,805,679 in the United States — and are being recalled for unintended key rotation: 1997-2005 Chevrolet Malibu 1998-2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue 1999-2004 Oldsmobile Alero […]

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GM RenCen Storm Clouds

General Motors has issued a total of six recalls affecting some 8.4 million vehicles in North America, the majority of which have ignition-related issues.

Autoblog reports the following group totals 7,610,862 — 6,805,679 in the United States — and are being recalled for unintended key rotation:

  • 1997-2005 Chevrolet Malibu
  • 1998-2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue
  • 1999-2004 Oldsmobile Alero
  • 1999-2005 Pontiac Grand Am
  • 2000-2005 Chevrolet Impala
  • 2000-2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
  • 2004-2008 Pontiac Grand Prix

The second group totals 616,179 — 554,328 in the U.S. — and are being recalled for unintended key rotation due to bumping of key fob:

  • 2004-2006 Cadillac SRX
  • 2013-2014 Cadillac CTS

The third group totals 20,134 — 2,990 in the U.S. — and are being recalled for potential damage to the engine block heater power cord’s insulation under extreme cold conditions:

  • 2011-2014 Chevrolet Cruze
  • 2012-2014 Chevrolet Sonic
  • 2013-2014 Chevrolet Trax
  • 2013-2014 Buick Encore
  • 2013-2014 Buick Verano

The fourth group totals 117 — 104 in the U.S. — and are being recalled over the Superjoint fastner not being torqued to spec prior to leaving the assembly line:

  • 2014 Chevrolet Camaro
  • 2014 Chevrolet Impala
  • 2014 Buick Regal
  • 2014 Cadillac XTS

The fifth group totals 12,002 — 9,731 in the U.S. — and are being recalled due to the underhood fuseable link potentially melting through electrical overloading, leading to smoke and fire damage to other electric wiring components:

  • 2007-2011 Chevrolet Silverado HD (with auxiliary battery)
  • 2007-2011 GMC Sierra HD (with auxiliary battery)

The sixth and final group totals 188,705 — 181,984 in the U.S. — and are being recalled over the potential for an electrical short to the driver’s door module disabling the power lock and window switches, as well as overheating the module itself:

  • 2005-2007 Buick Rainier
  • 2005-2007 Chevrolet TrailBlazer
  • 2005-2007 GMC Envoy
  • 2005-2007 Isuzu Ascender
  • 2005-2007 Saab 9-7X
  • 2006 Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT
  • 2006 GMC Envoy XL

In the press release issued by the automaker, CEO Mary Barra said her company undertook what she believed “is the most comprehensive safety review in the history of [GM] because nothing is more important than the safety of [GM's] customers.” She added later on that if any other issues come to the automaker’s attention, GM would “act appropriately and without hesitation” to recall and repair those vehicles. The automaker has recalled a total of 28 million vehicles since January of this year.

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Review: 2010 Saab 9-5 Aero http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/review-2010-saab-9-5-aero/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/review-2010-saab-9-5-aero/#comments Fri, 08 Oct 2010 18:05:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=367945 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 […]

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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?

The new 9-5 looks about as much like a Saab as a car based on GM’s second-gen Epsilon platform possibly could. The rounded nose, curved windshield, and sweeping C-pillar provide clear visual links to that 1983 900 Turbo. No one will mistake it for the related Buick LaCrosse. And yet, not so Saabish: a high beltline, and the evident size of the car. Compared to the antiquated sedan it replaced, the new 9-5 is over half a foot longer (197.2”) and three inches wider (73.5”). It’s a big car, and appears even larger and more massive than it is. Handsome, perhaps, but neither striking enough nor distinctive enough to draw in new buyers the way the 900 did back in the mid-80s.

To Saab’s credit, they’ve clearly worked hard to retain the marque’s defining characteristics within the new 9-5’s interior. Sweeping fighter jet-inspired IP, egg crate air vents, start button between the seats (now keyless)—all present and accounted for. Aside from the aforementioned high belt, brand loyalists should feel at home. But how many are seeking a car this large, and are willing to spend so much for it? How many Saabistas are there at this point, period? Nearly everyone else shopping for a $50,000+ sedan is likely to be turned off by the predominance of black plastic. The leather seats look the part, and the design of the door-mounted upholstered armrests is interesting, but these cannot compensate for the stark ambiance and an IP that would look cheap in a car half the 9-5’s price.

Saabs have been blessed with excellent seats since at least 1983, and the new car’s are no exception. The front buckets are firm, yet comfortable, and provide much better lateral support than the typical GM parts. The back seat is nearly as comfortable and very roomy—as it should be given the car’s exterior dimensions. This is the size the S80, with nearly four fewer inches of rear legroom, should have been. But should the new 9-5 have been the size of the S80?

At launch, the 9-5’s only available powertrain is a 300-horspower turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 driving all four wheels through a six-speed automatic. Even burdened by 4,400 pounds (plus passengers), this engine accelerates the car with no apparent strain. In fact, no apparent anything. Even at the 5,500 rpm power peak the boosted six remains nearly silent. After the drive I popped the hood, expecting to find the engine fully encapsulated. Nothing looked out of the ordinary, but something most certainly is. Partly because of the engine’s almost eerie silence, the car never feels quick.

Given the new 9-5’s size, mass, and genetics, agile handling is out of the question. The active rear differential is no more evident than in other GM applications. On the pavement throttle-induced oversteer will be sought in vain. But understeer is almost equally elusive. For a nose-heavy car, the 9-5 possesses commendable balance and poise, with a tautness you won’t find even in the latest, German-engineered Buicks. The well-weighted steering is firm, especially in “sport mode,” which for once makes an obvious difference. The 9-5 can be hustled along a curvy road, if need be, and will feel better than the current Mercedes E-Class in the process. For better or worse, it just won’t feel like it’s hustling.

As with the engine, the wind and the road have been nearly silenced. Even the clomping of the tires over road imperfections seems faint and distant. The ride is smooth regardless of which mode is selected—if “sport” had an effect on the auto-adjusting shocks, I didn’t notice it.

I still can’t get my head around a Saab that’s so smooth, so quiet, and so large. There were clearly top priorities. But should they have been? Saab’s Swedish cost structure forces it to charge luxury car prices, so it must provide suitable levels of luxury and refinement. It’s also usually easier to get a higher price for a larger car. But unless a Saab retains the idiosyncracies for which the marque is known, why would anyone buy it? With the styling, and especially the interior styling, they opted to make the new 9-5 distinctively a Saab. But, drive the car, and this styling seems a veneer over what’s essentially a very well behaved Swedish Lexus. Though not soft like a Lexus, the new 9-5 manages to be surprisingly silent and smooth, and so insufficiently engaging. The evident charisma of that 1983 900 Turbo has been sacrificed. It’s not just Saab, of course. A Mercedes E-Class is completely soulless, and even BMW has been heading in this direction.

But was this “Swedish Lexus” a viable solution for Saab? Perhaps now would have been the right time to once again buck industry trends and truly do their own thing? We’ll probably never know. With the company striking out on its own and hanging by a thread, even most people who might have bought a new 9-5 now won’t.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data

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Review: Saab 9-3 Turbo X http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/11/review-saab-9-3-turbo-x/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2008/11/review-saab-9-3-turbo-x/#comments Mon, 10 Nov 2008 17:41:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=143921 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.

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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.

Imagine a Saab 9-3 with a coat of black metallic paint, prominent stylized dual exhaust tips and 18” alloys that recall the tri-spoke rims that distinguished the brand’s iconic 900 SPG. That’s the Turbo X. The 9-3 has never been distinctive enough to be interesting or beautiful enough to be, well, beautiful. At best, these tweaks render it mildly sinister.

The Turbo X cabin is much the same as the regular 9-3 Aero, with solid black instead of two-tone leather and faux carbon fiber trim. The interior looks and feels like that of a $30k car, at best; the Turbo X’s price is 50 percent north of that mark. Interior low points: the hard plastic door pulls crunch when you grab them and various plastic-on-plastic itches when traversing pocked pavement. Interior high point: the soft leather upholstery.

The Turbo X’s front seats may not be Sweden’s best, but they provide a decent amount of lateral support. In back, you’ll find barely enough room for adults. Cargo volume is about average; the tailgate latch was fussy on the car tested.

The mechanicals: a 280-horsepower turbocharged 2.8-liter DOHC V6 driving four wheels through a six-speed manual (paddle-shifted six-speed auto optional) and the latest Haldex all-wheel-drive system (which doesn’t wait for the front wheels to slip before engaging the rears). The Turbo X adds an electronic limited-slip rear that distributes torque left-to-right to counteract understeer in turns.

Boost lag isn’t bad. From 3,000 to 5,000 rpm, the turbo six’s smooth, effortless grunt would do a V8 proud. Rev the engine before releasing the clutch, and the car launches strongly and— thanks to the all-wheel-drive system— without wheelspin. While the Turbo X is not blindingly quick, you’re soon up to cruising speed. Even at full throttle, the DOHC mechanicals barely manage to be heard over the prominently throaty exhaust. While cruising, the soundtrack is all exhaust, whether you want it or not. After a few hours on the road, not.

The Turbo X’s shifter is awful. The throws are long, the action dreadfully imprecise. There’s easily enough room between first and second for another ratio. Unless you rev the engine nearly to the redline, the powerplant drops out of its powerband. And even if you do rev to red, the powertrain bogs as you engage second. Meanwhile, fourth, fifth, and sixth are so close together that one of them is redundant. And yet the stick is still preferable to the Aisin autobox.

The suspension absorbs bumps reasonably well. Yet the occasional jolt suggests hardcore suspension tuning… until you pitch the Turbo X hard into a turn. Then the Swedish flagship heels over and the outside front tire scrubs towards the outside curb. Despite the trick all-wheel-drive system, the Turbo X’s general inclination is toward understeer. Numb, slow steering operated via an oversized (but nicely padded) steering wheel doesn’t help.

So, any  potential for some sideways hoonage? The initial prognosis was not good. Despite repeated attempts to induce oversteer, the Turbo X continued to plow. But then I found it: dip deep into the throttle during low-speed sharp turns, preferably on gravel, and the tail will step out, sometimes more than you’d like it to. At which point the stability control doesn’t seem to do much. No matter, the car remains easy to control, and a touch of opposite lock straightens up the X’s line.

While occasional throttle-induced oversteer makes for more fun than none at all, the trick all-wheel-drive system and suspension need to be retuned to shift from understeer to oversteer in a more linear fashion. In a good rear-wheel-drive car, you can progressively dial-in a precise amount of oversteer. In the Saab, you get dull understeer unless you do the sort of things you’re just not going to do in normal driving. Perhaps there’s just no substitute for an inherently balanced, rear-drive chassis.

Saab desperately needs a great car, one that provides the sort of unique driving experience that gave the brand a brief golden age in the mid-1980s. Sadly, the 9-3 Turbo X isn’t it. Saab’s engineers lacked either the nerve or the authority to push this car as far as it needed to go. As a result, the Turbo X will please neither those seeking luxury nor those seeking an engaging driving experience.

[Saab provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance and a tank of gas]

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Saab 9-5 SportCombi Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/06/saab-9-5-sportcombi-review/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/06/saab-9-5-sportcombi-review/#comments Fri, 22 Jun 2007 10:44:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=3992 1200665.jpgFirst 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.

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1200665.jpgFirst 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.

Sigh. The General bought Saab in the early '90's to create "premium vehicles;" the 9-5 moniker is a throw-down to BMW's 5-Series. Step inside the SportCombi and you'll understand why the Germans and Japanese only have each other to worry about. From tacky vinyl sun visors, to an economy class "jet inspired" reading lamp, to plastics that are more B210 than BMW, all the SportCombi's beans have been carefully counted.

1200727.jpgThat said, the 9-5 SportCombi's freshened dash is suitably swish. The car's cockpit finally ditches the million button layout for a tasteful array of modern gauges (including the signature turbo gauge) and decent HVAC controls. Saab ergonomicists spent design time on what drivers touch most: the steering wheel. Regular and perforated cow combine to form a tasteful tiller– albeit swizzle stick thin with freakishly shaped grips reminiscent of Ross Perot's head.

Saab's blessed the base SportCombi with an attractive, fine sounding, easy-to-use audio system. Customers crazy enough willing to lay down $2,945 for the satnav are not so lucky. The system may look at home in a Chevy Trailblazer, but the vast sheet of plastic surrounding the small screen and the ugly rectangular holes are, well, horrible. It's not as ghastly as the wimpy foldout front cup holder, but close.

1200678.jpgBelow the dash, the bargain-basement mentality returns. The gigantic buttons to the driver's left don't match those on the center console for size, shape or feedback. There's only one set of window switches and one door lock button, positioned in the middle of the car. The rubber coin holder and the ignition key housing in the center console are catchpenny haptic horrors, while the SportCombi's door panels are a riot of low-budget plastics and mismatched coloring.

While your money buys you a whole load of load-lugging, the unrefined feel and design of the SportCombi's major switchgear and minor do-dads are simply not appropriate for a car stickering between $36k and $45k (or a lot less with the inevitable discounts). Oh, and last year, JD Power's mob rated Saab's reliability second to last. So not only does the SportCombi feel cheap, it breaks like it too.

1200689.jpgFire up the engine and the SportCombi reveals its heart and soul. Unfortunately, it's the heart and soul of a squirrel with pneumonia. The sounds under the hood are neither luxurious nor sporty, and the vibrations from the 2.3-liter inline four are obnoxious enough to make Saturn shoppers think twice.

The SportCombi's blown mill stumps up a seemingly adequate 260hp. Provided you don't mind listening to an automotive impression of a cement mixer churning a bag of bolts or wrestling with torque steer for 7.4 seconds, she'll sprint from zero to 60mph handily.     

1200690.jpgConsidering the turbo's spool-'n'-go power delivery, the automatic transmission is by far the better choice; it's a responsive unit that makes the most of the SportCombi's ample torque. But the slushbox lacks the spongy manual's Road Warrior-style overboost feature– 20 seconds of 272 ft.-lbs. of twist, mate– and both five-speed transmissions are a cog shy of the SportCombi's erstwhile competition.

Our tester sported Saab's Aero Package, which includes wonderfully supportive seats with [optional] ventilation, a "lowered sport chassis," and metallic effect trim. Buyers also receive an invitation to Saab Aero Academy where drivers learn how to tame the torque steer monster and modulate the SportCombi's mushy-feeling stoppers.

1200724.jpgIf you forget sprints and emergency stops (incomplete with reluctant ABS) and point the Saab wagon down a straight, smooth road, no sweat. Throw the SportCombi into a corner and its stiff suspension and thick anti-roll bars work hard to quell the car's natural tendency to plow nose-first towards the scenery. It's doable, but it's a long, long way from nimble. I only hope the Academy offers a crash course in steady throttle application and hanging-on.

It's almost impossible to imagine anyone opting for a Saab 9-5 SportCombi over any alternative. The BMW 535ix Sports Wagon may cost $20k more, but a used one slaughters the Saab in just about any metric you can name. As does the Volvo V70, for roughly the same money as the Swede. Let's face it: unless Saab gets some heavy development dollars STAT, its first impression will be its last.  

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Saab 9-5 Aero Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/04/review-saab-9-5-aero/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/04/review-saab-9-5-aero/#comments Fri, 20 Apr 2007 10:18:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=3557 1200716.jpgSaab 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.

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1200716.jpgSaab 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.

Luxury sedan buyers tend to place beauty at the top of their list of priorities. Fortunately, the 9-5's lines have worn well over the past nine years. But they have, well, worn. In 2006, Saab applied a masked-rider makeover to the front fascia. The result: a familiar face wearing Ray-Bans. In today's world of flame-surfaced shapes, it's not enough. The Saab's crisp, formal three-box shape lacks presence, and displays less than modern panel gaps.

1200727.jpgUnfortunately, the 9-5's exterior is the apex of its aesthetics. Stepping into the cabin admits you to the Museum of Premium Interior Materials, circa 1997. The 9-5's instrument panel is utterly artless, a drab plastic escarpment with scatter-shot secondary controls. Buttons and knobs feel hollow to the touch, and a single cupholder collapses loosely out of the dash. Born from a U.S. Airways galley, perhaps.

With petrified polymers filling your peripheral vision, it's difficult to feel much love at the 9-5's helm. Is that a Suzuki Forenza's mirror-adjuster pod? It is! Assessed discretely, some of the cabin's bits delight. Chief among these are the 9-5's seats. The chairs are wide, soft and all-day supportive: a welcome departure from the Teutonic class norm. Ditto the large windows and low beltline, which afford an airy view out. Passenger space is first-class.

1200696.jpgI'll avoid the usual hoopla over the 9-5's console-mounted ignition, and focus instead on what happens when you twist it: turbulence. On paper, the Aero's 260-horse, 2.3-liter turbo four seems like a timely alternative (20/30 mpg med stick) to the thirsty sixes and V8's common to this class. In person, the mini-mill idles with an economy car's dry, raspy drone, sending the wrong sort of tingles up your spine in the process. In a car that purports to rival 528is and E350s, what we have here is a failure to communicate.   

Despite its hopelessly proletarian character, the 9-5's engine has its charms; specifically, its ability to inhale straightaways in strong, gratifying lunges. Unfortunately, with the standard five-speed manual transmission, such efforts are accompanied by strong, less-than-gratifying lunges towards the hedgerows. Torque steer, the tendency for the front wheels to squirm in a rubber-smoking hunt for traction, is obvious by its presence.

Thus, while I normally implore shoppers to consider the stick shift rather than defaulting to the automatic, I'm flip-flopping this time. The autobox quells the 9-5's tendency to torque steer and spares you the numb, ambiguous shift action typical of Saab sticks.

1200715.jpgYou might expect the 9-5's driven front wheels to spoil its handling, too. In fact, its at-the-limit behavior is remarkably poised. The Aero benefits from a lower chassis (10mm), firmer springs and more aggressive shock absorbers. Hustled around a closed course, the Aero exhibits surprisingly gluey grip and a wispy, tossable nature that eludes most German iron.

Driven below the limit, however, the Aero feels significantly less graceful. Its power-assisted rack and pinion steering is precise enough but over-light, and there's a gritty, insubstantial quality to this aged platform's ride. Arthritis? More like Parkinson's. Textured surfaces feed a steady stream of high-frequency shivers through the 9-5's structure and steering column. Combined with the tingly engine vibes, this car's manners are better compared with Mazda than Mercedes.

Which brings me to a pointed question for prospective 9-5 buyers: why buy a new Aero when you can spend Mazda6 money on virtually the same car, used? For $25k, a low-mileage 2005 Sport Wagon certainly represents a more interesting (and roomier, more agile) family taxi than the CamCord.

1200709.jpgMoreover, as competition for the current 5-Series and Infiniti M, the Aero is worse than marginal; it's a curio, an irrelevance. No discerning luxury buyer would suffer the 9-5's downscale tactile sensations, and the Birkenstock-shod professors who used to resonate with Saab's brand values are now tooling around in Prii.

So what does the future hold for the 9-5? Um… nothing, really, unless you're squinting into the hazy distance that is model year 2009. That year's all-new 9-5, built on GM's Epsilon 2 platform, must be a true flagship product. It has to be evocative in design, unique in character and engaging on the road. Otherwise, Saab's promises will continue to ring more hollow than a Viggen's intake nacelle, and must eventually fall silent.

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Saab 9-7x Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/11/saab-9-7x/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/11/saab-9-7x/#comments Thu, 30 Nov 2006 11:39:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=2706 1200459.jpgThe 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.

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1200459.jpgThe 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.

At first glance, the Saab 9-7x looks just like a Chevy TrailBlazer. On second glance, it looks like a GMC Envoy. Stand to the side and squint and the 9-7x resembles a Buick Rainier. Behold the grille from the straight ahead and, finally, you gaze upon a vaguely Saabish vehicle. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the "TrollBlazer" (referring to the Trollhättan factory where the 9-7x isn’t built) looks like a TrailBlazer pimped-out with 18” alloy wheels. Oh, and blackened ground effects trim designed to foster the illusion of gen-u-ine SUV ground clearance.

1200447.jpgDespite deploying equally unconvincing ersatz wood and sharing many of its dials and buttons with its platform partners, the Saab SUV’s interior achieves an elegance denied its sisters under the skin. In quintessentially quirky Saab fashion, a small, fragile cupholder flips out from the dash at the push of a button. Also true to form, the ignition key is located between the seats. Nearly every other feature is standard, including leather chairs, a premium Bose blaster, moonroof, full-time all-wheel-drive and a trailer towing package. My only ergonomic complaint: the seatbelt emanates from the top of the GM-sourced seat back, placed irritatingly and irretrievably lower than my medium-height shoulder.

The 9-7x comes in two flavors: six-cylinder or a V8. The inline 4.2-liter six produces 290hp, while the 5.3-liter V8 stumps-up 300hp. Thanks to GM’s Active Fuel Management system, our always optimistic friends over at the EPA rate both engines at 15mpg city and 21mpg highway. For an extra two grand, the 5.3-liter mill also provides 53 ft.-lbs. more twist and a throaty engine note that's distinctly lacking from the I6. If you’re already throwing nearly $40k toward a fancy TrailBlazer, the larger powerplant seems a perfectly justifiable extravagance. 

1200451.jpgAlthough the 4,781lbs V8 9-7x moves with some authority, it’s not what you would call fast. If you plan on motoring from zero to sixty, you'll need to set aside a little under eight seconds of your valuable time. The quarter mile comes up (eventually) in 16 seconds. Speed freaks note: the Chevrolet Trailblazer SS has a 395hp version of Corvette’s 6.0-liter LS2 engine tucked under the hood that motivates the Nürburgring-fettled bowtie clad family truckster from zero to sixty in about six seconds, and hits the quarter in 14. Just sayin’…

The 9-7x’ engines are coupled to a knuckle-dragging four-speed transmission that's two cogs short of a quorum. Passing other road users requires an extra two seconds or so for the dim-witted mechanism to select the right gear. With so few cogs to choose from, you'd be forgiven for wondering why the 9-7x doesn't respond a little faster to throttle input. But then Saabistas might also wonder why the brand didn't stick to front wheel-drive turbo four-powered hatchbacks. Just sayin'…

Saab’s suspension tweaks are the brandgineers greatest contribution to the GMT360 platform. The loosy-goosy base TrailBlazer flops though bumps and corners like Michael Richards handles hecklers. (That is to say, dangerously.) In SS form, Chevy’s over-strung suspenders punish and maim. The 9-7x' underpinnings achieve the "just right" ride to satisfy the most discerning automotive Goldilocks. Double A-arm front suspension keeps the front wheels on track while a 1.42” stabilizer bar keeps the Saablaizer relatively flat through the corners. An electronically controlled air suspension manages the live-axle rear end like The Queen of Mean once managed the Helmsely Palace Hotel. All-season P225/55R18 tires complete the package and perform without a peep at eight tenths.

1200456.jpg With an updated tranny, this Saab’s other shortcomings might quickly diminish. But is it worth $41,240 for a TrailBlazer whose pinky finger remains politely erect while sipping tea? Most buyers will say– have said– nej. If nothing else, the price isn’t right. The Saab 9-7x is about $5k more than a similarly equipped Chevy TrailBlazer and roughly $2k more than a similarly-equipped Corvette-powered TrailBlazer SS. 

I suppose most TTAC readers who voted the 9-7x into the TWAT Hall of Shame never set butt in Saab’s SUV. Its inclusion was a vote against badge engineering and brand mismanagement. And no wonder, given the fatuous claims that the 9-7x is somehow related to Saab’s aeronautic legacy: “Have a Safe Flight,” “Skip the Garage. Get a hangar,” etc. In fact, the 9-7x says more about GM and Chevy than it does about Saab, a dead brand motoring. The 9-7x’ existence begs the question, why aren’t all Chevy TrailBlazers this refined?

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Saab 9-3 Aero SportCombi Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/09/saab-9-3-aero-sportcombi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/09/saab-9-3-aero-sportcombi/#comments Wed, 13 Sep 2006 13:18:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=2228 1201326.jpg 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).

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1201326.jpg Trollhattansaab.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).

The 9-3 SportCombi shares the same clean, sensible, sober and forgettable face as all other current Saabs. Thankfully, the Aero’s deeper chin spoiler spices things up… a bit. The wagon’s profile is more, uh, “eccentric.” Blacked-out B and C pillars and an upwards swooping lower window line create a strangely truncated rear window and an odd D-pillar kink. The SportCombi’s rear end shares Volvo’s penchant for twin tower brake lights, which bracket a Pacifica-esque rounded rump. The overall design is handsome enough, though less coherent than the wagon genre’s best examples.

1201334.jpg Once inside, the SportCombi’s cockpit is a smorgasbord of black plastic, black plastic and… black plastic. The polymers resemble the material The Dark Knight wore in the Batman movies. Staying with the theme, the steering wheel’s silver insets remind me of the Bat plane. My Saab salesman, however, was entranced by a clever D-shaped plastic piece on the center console, slotted to hold business cards or dry cleaning receipts. The part’s quality (or lack thereof) was strictly squirt gun level chic. In fact, I haven’t seen plastic that cheap since I darkened the door of a Chevy Citation some twenty-five years ago.

The SportCombi’s optional 10-speaker Premium Audio System continues the budget-minded bonanza. Beethoven’s Eroica wasn’t. Three hundred watts and I could still check out of Hotel California anytime I liked. How an audio system dares call itself “premium” with only two knobs (treble and bass) and no EQ or preset mix adjustments is a mystery best left to The General’s multi-national bean counting squad.

At least the Swedes got the driving position right. The glove leather chairs are amazingly comfortable and endlessly supportive. The tilting and telescoping steering wheel easily adjusts for the optimal driving position. The center console-mounted ignition remains lovably Saabish. As with nearly all cars of its size, rear knee room is limited; adults confined to the second row may wish to consult The Geneva Convention. The SportCombi’s back seats fold flat, opening the cargo space to a Home Depot-friendly 72.3 cu. ft.

1201328.jpg The SportCombi saves its greatest pleasures for enthusiastic drivers. Awaken its 250hp turbo-fed 2.8-liter V6 engine and the exhaust’s velvety burble speaks of the good times to come. If you like straight-line shove, the wagon won’t disappoint; the SportCombi sprints to sixty in a fraction over six seconds. Better yet, maximum torque (258 ft-lbs.) kicks in at just 2,000 rpm. Save for a brief bit of turbo lag from a standing start, power is instantly available at any gear, at any engine speed.

Paddle shifters mounted just above nine and three o’clock on the steering wheel control the SportCombi’s six-speed automatic. Unlike other sports sedans and wagons, Saab engineers did the Patek Phillipe thing: they chose one shifting algorithm and chose it wisely. The autobox is biased towards sports driving; it delivers crisp, accurate shifts.

The SportCombi Aero’s sport-tuned suspension lowers the car by 10mm and stiffens up the shocks and springs. The set-up delivers an ideal balance of body control and road feel. As you’d expect for a 60.6-inch-tall vehicle, there’s a fair amount of initial lateral roll. But once the SportCombi finds its balance, it maintains its composure during high-speed cornering– regardless of the road surface.

1201309.jpg Equally admirable, torque steer is virtually nonexistent– without compromising steering feel. Less commendably, the always optimistic EPA says the SportCombi travels 17 miles for every gallon of gas in the city, and 28 on the highway. The only other major blot on the SportCombi’s dynamic playbook: throttle response. Take your foot off the accelerator under full turbo boost and, for a brief moment, the accelerator pedal seems welded to the floor.  I don’t know if this problem was unique to my test vehicle. If not, it’s a completely unacceptable design flaw. If it is, it’s a completely unacceptable manufacturing aberration.

As tested, the 9-3 Aero SportCombi with Touring Package stickers for $36,715. That’s a lot of pre-discount dough for a smallish “entry-level luxury” wagon. For that money, Saab should clean up the interior deficiencies and find a way to switch off the afterburners. On the other hand, the SportCombi’s power and handling are superb for a family hauler. Taken as a whole, there’s no question that the Combi deserves a place in the pistonhead's pantheon of Euro-style station wagons. We stand corrected.   

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Saab 9 – 3 Aero Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/saab-9-3-aero/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/saab-9-3-aero/#comments Mon, 27 Feb 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=311  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.

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 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.

 The cabin's color scheme is Darth Vader gets creamed. The faux-chrome inserts adorning the Aero's helm and the rabbit hutch-style digital display poking-out from under the windscreen prove that some of Saab's quirkiness has escaped the corporate axe. Needless to say, the Aero's ignition is between the seats, just like Sven's old tractor. However, why are the window rockers near the window? That's sensible, not Saab. The rest of the Aero's ergonomics are fundamentally sound if excessive; over 50 buttons litter the dash. More worryingly, down market GM parts binnage abounds. A handbrake in a $40k car shouldn't feel like little Jimmy's plastic light saber.

Boot the gas and the Aero's 250hp 2.8 liter turbo six looks both ways before crossing the street. A quick glance at the boost gauge indicates turbo lag is no longer the Saab driver's nemesis; a twin-scroll turbocharger fed by two exhaust ducts (one from each cylinder bank) ensures progressive boost. The sluggishness is a simple matter of rotten gearing. Once the rpm count crests 3000, the Deutsche Swede starts to get a serious move on. The sprint from zero to sixty takes a respectable 6.4 seconds, and there's plenty of passing power in the top end of the top gears. Better yet, despite channeling 258 ft-lbs. of torque through 17" front wheels, the Aero's nose stays stable and planted, even at full-stomp.

 Like most Euro sleds, the Aero offers F1 wannabes pseudo-paddle shifts via wheel-mounted thumb-flickers. Unfortunately, ironically, Saab positioned the buttons at the 9 and 3 positions; putting classically trained Happy Handers (10 and two position) at a distinct disadvantage. Or not. The actuators are cheap, nasty little buggers. And, like most manual-autos, the shifts are of the light-a-fuse-and-wait variety. Spirited drivers will play around for all of 30 seconds before returning ratio control to the computer.

Once at speed, medium-grade twisties can be tackled at will. The Aero sits 10mm lower than the standard 9 – 3, with firmer springs and stiffer shocks. The Aero's chassis feels as planted as a potato, but rough roads are painful. The lack of suspension flexibility and chassis communication combines with parallel parking grade steering, creating an all 'round dynamic dowdiness. You can whip this front-driver fast and hard, but you'll never be thrilled, amazed or proud. And whenever things get even slightly dangerous– I mean fun– the Aero's all-knowing Nanny flickers her disapproval and rats you out to the Saab's ABS/Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) system. The stability control system is unobtrusively obtrusive; it cuts in often but doesn't make itself known at the helm. The lack of a smile on your face and dopamine surging through your brain is the best indication that the quiet, stern Frau has done her work.

 Saab's 9-3 Aero is a fine car: it fails in no serious way and makes short work of long journeys. But it's a machine devoid of meaningful dynamic personality. The Aero's target market– commuting enthusiasts– will know there are plenty of "real" German sports sedans at the same price point. They'll also realize that Saab has lost more than a touch of their odd-ball, Arctic Circle values. Although GM is now committed to Saab's Opelization, they'd do well to remember that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. In Saab's case, that's probably not such a bad idea.

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Saab 9-2X Aero Review http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/saab-9-2x-aero/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2006/02/saab-9-2x-aero/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2006 00:00:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1279 The Saab brand's back is up against the wall.  Still... 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… 

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The Saab brand's back is up against the wall.  Still... 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… 

No stain, no gain.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).  

What happens next?  Fun. 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? 

Off to Germany, for more bizarre brand busting badge engineering.  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.  

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