Saab 9-2 X Linear

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Keywords: Saab 9-2 X Linear
Description: Saab's new entry-level 9-2x is a rebadged Subaru Impreza, hence its nickname ("Saabaru"). The Saab 9-2x gives Saab an entry-level model that brings it back to its roots -- almost. The 9-2x lacks that unique Saabishness, but it's still a great car in its own right. Tested, reviewed and analyzed by the professional road testers at About Cars.

Aaron Gold, About.com's Cars Expert, has been an automotive journalist for a decade and a half and has been writing for About.com since 2004. He contributes to several automotive publications and is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury.

The 9-2x looks like what it is: a significantly de-glitzed Subaru Impreza. Which is not such a bad thing. The new Impreza is a tremendous automobile: reliable, well built and containing a great deal of advanced engineering. As the 9-2x, it's very reasonably priced. But what it ain’t is a Saab, no matter what kind of fancy suit it’s been dressed up in. The 9-2x happened because parent General Motors owns 100% of Saab and 30% of Subaru, which gives it considerable leverage with Fuji Heavy Industries (Sube's majority owner).

As efficient transportation the 9-2x works great, but I doubt very much Saab’s traditional buyer will accept it as a Saab. In any event, the 9-2x is designed to appeal to 40-something buyers whereas the Impreza targets buyers in their early 30s.

Subaru got the interior of the Impreza right the first time and Saab wisely didn’t fool with it. Problem is there’s nothing about it that says "Saab" except perhaps the three spoke racing-style steering wheel, which has a Saab crest in its hub. Other than that it’s the same steering wheel that’s in the Subaru Impreza. Everything in the 9-2x cabin works exactly as it does in the Impreza, which is to say, precisely as it should. After opening a surprisingly light front door, you enter into a very efficient interior. Notice I didn’t say "warm and cozy" or even "comfortable" interior. The seats are well bolstered and easy to get in and out of, but I didn’t find them particularly comfortable. After a two-and-a-half hour stretch in the driver's seat, my butt ached so much I almost required help to get out of the car. The back seats are spacious with ample elbow and headroom. With the driver’s seat set to handle my 5'11" size 42 frame, there was lots of knee room in the rear seat. The large rear doors and big rear hatch offer easy access. Rear seatbacks can be lowered for extra carrying capacity.

The 9-2x comes with a 5-speed manual transmission, but I thought the 4-speed automatic matched perfectly with the 165hp, 2.5L Boxer engine in my test car. (The 9-2x Aero gets the 227 hp turbocharged engine from the Subaru Impreza WRX.) Is there a better 4-cylinder engine available anywhere than Subaru’s smooth-as-silk boxer engine with its horizontally opposed cylinders? I think not. At idle, you'd need a stethoscope to detect vibration. This engine moves the relatively light (3110 lb/1411 kg) 9-2x away from the curb with considerable authority. With timely use of the shift lever, passing in the middle speed ranges is relatively adrenaline-free. However, I noticed a tendency for the 4-speed auto to drop down two gears (quite unnecessary) if the accelerator is depressed too far. Subaru popularized permanent all-wheel-drive (AWD) in passenger vehicles in North America. Today, every vehicle it sells here has AWD. When a wheel starts to slip, power is instantly transferred to the wheels that have traction. Four disc brakes with anti-lock control, standard equipment on the 9-2x, bring you to a quick, efficient stop. To go in snow, however, you’ll still need four tires with decent tread. Without good tires, AWD and ABS won't cut it.

Although the 9-2x is about as Swedish as sashimi, the corporate-wide experiment that produced it has to be labelled a great success. Saab gets a (kind of) entry-level automobile with proven high quality to draw the customers into its North American showrooms. Once they walk in the door, the Saab dealers can offer them a full range of higher-margin automobiles. The Saab name comes with a substantial helping of cachet in Europe and in certain areas of the US and Canada. While Saab became the "yuppie car" of the 80s and 90s, it never really caught on as a viable alternative to BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Lexus, which dominate the sports luxury segment. The 9-2x seems to be an attempt to reach out to its original buyer group. Some readers may recall Saabs (and, for that matter, Subarus) had an almost cultish following in places like Colorado and Vermont in the 60s and 70s. These areas attracted large numbers of alternative-culture types protesting the war in Vietnam and alleged American cultural excesses. With the children of those same people taking to the streets to protest today's issues (climate change, globalization, and the mess in the mid-east), it seems the time is again right for another entry-level Sube. er, Saab.



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