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Our Cars: The Saabaru

Robby DeGraff December 10, 2013 All Things Hoon 63 Comments

“This is a Saab, with a Subaru engine in it?” a confused Valvoline lube tech asked me when I pulled into the bay for an oil change. Usually I tend to avoid these places for that exact reason but single digit temperatures changed my mind about doing a DIY job. I then went on to explain, like I find myself doing almost on a daily basis what a Saab 9-2x is. I don’t mind though, because over the past year or so I’ve owned this swagger wagon, Ive been nothing but impressed by it.

When my cherished eighteen year-old Saturn finally decided to defeat me in a battle of constant hourly upkeep, I went car shopping. I scoured across dealer lots for months and spent countless hours online researching a catalogue of potential players. I had my eyes on a 2003 Mazda6 with a five-speed manual that proved the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” when every single check engine light came on while exiting the highway during my test drive. Parked it and never looked back. Walking past row after row of cars, a black 2005 Saab 9-2x caught my eyes. I refreshed my memory on what this unique vehicle was and hopped behind the wheel. Two hours later I drove it home with a smile on my face. 

So, what is a Saabaru? Well back in the early-mid 2000s, Saab (owned fully by GM) teamed up with Subaru (a mere 20% stake owned by GM) to create an affordable, all-wheel drive luxury wagon for those with active lifestyles. Sharing essentially everything mechanically and structurally with the Subaru Impreza wagon, the Swedes spiced up the 9-2x’s exterior with unique front-and-rear styling, a ton of sound deadening on the inside,  retuned suspension and handling and an assortment of luxury fancies like heated two-tone leather seats. Powertrain options were a 165-horsepower (later bumped to 173hp) 2.5-liter boxer four in the Linear models, or a turbocharged 2.0-liter boxer four that made 227 horsepower (later bumped to 230hp, from a larger turbocharged 2.5-liter) in the Aero models. You could have it with either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual. A little shy of just 11,000 9-2xs were made from 2005-2006.

I’ve owned the car for eleven months now, driven it in all sorts of conditions and racked up a little over 10,000 miles. It’s a fantastic daily driver. My particular car is the Linear model with an automatic. Yes, I wish I could have gotten it with three pedals. So let’s start off with a list of the pros and the cons of owning a Saab 9-2x

The Yayyyys:

-Saab appearance and luxury + Subaru reliability.

-Subaru’s phenomenal all-wheel drive system.

-Wagon practicality that has come in use way more than expected.

-Fun to drive and .

-It’s different. 

-An epic cold-weather package (heated seats, heated front and rear windshield wiper defrosters) helps with .

-Near-perfect stereo.

-Oil changes and differential fluid changes are a breeze.

-Lots of compliments and questions from other car enthusiasts.

The Ehhhhs:

-Subaru paint isn’t the best quality, lots and lots of little chips from road debris.

-The base Linear’s 2.5-liter is pokey and slow, especially in the cold.

-The 42EAT automatic transmission isn’t the most responsive or smooth.

-A full pair of skis intrudes into the front seat area when transported inside.

-Changing out the spark plugs is an obnoxiously challenging task. 

-It’s not a “real” genuine Saab, rather a Japanese ninja donning a Swedish meatball costume.

For my everyday lifestyle, this car is perfect. I can throw my snowshoes in it, mountain bike, camping equipment and enough necessary goodies for tailgating at a Milwaukee Brewer’s game. I’ve even folded down the rear seats and cuddled up in a sleeping bag in the hatch area, it was surprisingly roomy. So if you want a fun to drive station wagon that’s luxurious, efficient and has a killer all-wheel-drive system; swoop up a Saab 9-2x if you can!

  • Temps plunged into the teens here this week, my Subie responded with it's typical cold weather gas smell. The solution is to tighten all of the gas line fittings, a task that is only slightly less inconvenient than changing out spark plugs (that reminds me, I never did get back to that pesky 4th plug).

    I hope you don't have this issue, Robby. It's apparently quite common.

  • "It’s not a 'real' genuine Saab…."

    No, no, no! You're the owner, so your line is "It's the last of the real Saabs, unlike those abominations they're making now."

    Leave it instead for the owners of older models to exclude the 9-2X in the same manner. We won't disappoint.

    • Garland137

      Things get weird when your family owns both Classic and New Generation 900s, but consider the Classic the last real Saab. It becomes a game of "GM hadn't messed it up too bad yet. . . and it has a V6!"

      • My first one was a '69 Sonett, so naturally I concluded that the V4 cars were the last real examples. Then I drifted towards nothing but two-stroke sedans as I came to understand that even the FoMoCo engines were a sign of moral turpitude. Now I own a V4 again, alongside the two-strokes, and so have recognized the error of my ways. Clearly the V4 cars are indeed the last real ones after all.

        With any luck, eventually I can work my way backwards to the rejection of front-mounted radiators, then of front-hinged doors, then of more than two cylinders (from the factory, that is…), then of separate trunk lids. I want a 1949 Model 92, from the period before the company went downhill.

  • How dare you imply Saab mechanicals are unreliable. Shame on you, sir.

    • Plecostomus

      As if Saab is any better than a Volvo.

  • Jay_Ramey

    Oh snap, you have one? Very cool, always wanted to try one of these. How much hp is that 2.5-liter putting out?

    Okay, fess up, how often do you see other Saabarus in Wisconsin?

    • buzzboy7

      My forester has that engine. It is not a powerful beast, but it is plenty torquey.

    • krazykarguy

      The 2.5NA motor is rated for 170 hp for 2005, and 173 in 2006 (engines gained the AVCS variable valve control in '06). Same engine as used in almost every other late-model non-turbo 4 cylinder Subaru.

  • david42

    Watch out for those windshield wiper defrosters on very cold days. They heat the windshield unevenly. Both me and my parents had to replace windshields due to the resulting cracks.

    • And don't attempt to run them when the blades are frozen to the windshield. It burns out the ring so they won't park automatically.

      • Yeah, and don't try to take the key out of the floor unless it's in reverse.

        • Does the Saabaru even have that Saab feature?

          • In the 9-7X (TrollBlazer) they put the key in a cup holder.

            • Sjalabais

              …and it won't start unless the bacon dispenser is completely shut, right?

          • krazykarguy

            Nope. It's on the steering column.

            • mallthus

              The bacon dispenser is on the steering column? That's an odd place for it.

              • krazykarguy

                Well, they had to put something where the key goes in every other GMT360.

                • Whynot

                  but where does my spilled coffee go?

      • emjayay

        Did you notice it has a winter package with heated wipers?

  • smalleyxb122

    When I was car shopping a couple of years back, the Saabaru was on the short list. Were it not so difficult to find an Aero with a manual trans, I'd probably have one.

    • krazykarguy

      There's only 2,104 '05s and 235 '06s that fit this criteria. To get one, you typically have to travel to it, purchase, and drive or ship it home, especially an '06.

  • dropgate

    A friend's wife has one. She absolutely, steadfastly refuses to believe that it's a Subaru with Saab badges on in. Nothing he says can convince her. I tried to explain to her that being a Subaru wasn't a bad thing but she just wasn't having any of that nonsense. 🙂

    • Hoondavan

      Have her check the ashtray, there's a Subaru logo on the bottom of it. You can also check the inside of the driver's door where it says "Fuji Heavy Industries."

      I owned one for ~3 years. I loved it for what it was: A better looking Impreza

    • krazykarguy

      Park it next to an equivalent Impreza/WRX and have her prove to you how much of a Saab it really is.

      • dropgate

        Here's the funny part – he did that exact thing. She still didn't believe him. I swear I'm not making this up.

        • mallthus

          It's like the people that'll fight with you because you try to tell them BMW doesn't stand for British Motor Works or the people that are convinced that Lexus is an independent company.

          Yes, they're either stupid or insane, but it can be fun to encounter them anyway.

  • CEMaine

    Why not tell them it's one of the reasons GM went bankrupt?

  • Rover1

    When after more power don't turbo.Put an EZ30R Subaru flat six mated to an STI6 speed like this one lined up for my Lancia Gamma
    ,img src=";

    • Rover1

      <img src=";

      • Kogashiwa

        And then turbo that!

  • Back when my SVT Focus got killed and I was looking for a replacement car, I found one of these for sale and considered it, but eventually decided against it since AWD is useless in SoCal and they get pretty poor mileage for the power they make.

    Ended up with a Mazdaspeed 3. Same crappy mileage, much more power!

  • wunno sev

    -Wagon practicality that has come in use way more than expected.

    right? right?

    within two weeks of buying a longroof, i was buying cheap furniture from goodwill, raiding garage sales for bikes, and moving to new cities. i never realized how much i needed a wagon until i owned one! with new station wagon ownership, the world is suddenly and unexpectedly your deceptively capacious oyster.

    • 3304HL

      so you would say that running costs are quite high then…

  • Maymar

    I dig the hell out of the Saabaru, but for some reason, they're rare. Subarus are reasonably popular in Toronto, Saabs are shockingly popular in Toronto, and there's even a reasonable number of 9-5 and 9-3 wagons for sale. But there's a mere handful of 9-2x's advertised. I suppose the other possibility is that the Saab buyers who sprung for one hang on to them (there's a few in my neighbourhood), which is disappointing.

    • Sjalabais

      I think they are rare because the public disapproved of the typical GM rebadging strategy. They had it coming. Even if the idea was not that bad to start with. The worst of them might also bear the Saab badge, but lets not talk about that elephant.

      • Maymar

        Actually, there's an even greater selection of 9-7x's than 9-2x's. I suppose the Trollblazer's longer production run, and the general popularity of the GMT 360 trucks might help, but still.

    • krazykarguy

      If you're in Canada, that explains it right there. There were only 1,054 9-2xs sold in Canada from 2005 to 2006. Every Aero you encounter will be a 2005, should be fully loaded, (except HID's because of DRL laws up North).

      Every other 9-2x produced was sold in the US, coincidentally the remaining number = 9,292.

      A handful have been exported, I know of several in Scandinavia, and one in Russia.

      • Sjalabais

        I see down below that you have full control of the subject. Where in Scandinavia are those 9-2's located? Used car imports, I assume?

        • krazykarguy

          I would guess so. I know that there are at least two Aeros in Sweden, and Finns will scoop cars like this up in a heartbeat.

          The one mentioned above in Russia has been 'wide-bodied' and painted white. Vodka money will make you do strange things to a car, and well, because Russia.
          <img src=";

          • Sjalabais

            The wide body…the exhaust…looks just like the boy's Imprezas around here. Wait…

            • Vairship

              Worse yet, it's in a Toyota garage.

  • * Chef

    Heart of a Samurai, body of a Swedish Meatball? I say BORK BORK BORK!


  • Sjalabais

    Very cool car! It's the kind of rare that you buy cheaply needle-in-a-haystack-way and neither want to nor can sell again with a straight face, right? When it comes to badge engineering, this must be one of the best combinations: Some Swedish style with a solid dose of Japanese reliability. I wish you many more happy miles!

  • wisc47

    This is pretty much the perfect Wisconsin car, but because Volvo>Saab in my eyes, I'm going to forego Subaru reliability for a V70R.

    • Plecostomus

      As a Former V70R owner, please, get the Subaru. You would not believe how hard it is just to keep it running and keep the AWD system working.

      I just sold my V70R because it was costing me more a month than a car payment, and since I can't buy a S40 T5 AWD anymore I bought a Fiesta ST. Do not regret it. Don't miss the V70Rs awful mileage and understeerhappy handling.

      • Sjalabais

        Interesting, where do you live? The V70R was a top-of-the-line car and as such I'd expect high running cost. But the distance between Volvo's old time legendary reliability record and the real deal is scary indeed. How is it shrinking from a larger wagon into a smallish Fiesta? No need for the extra space anymore?

        Doesn't Subaru reliability come with a necessary subscription to motor oil, among other things?

  • cnizzy

    One little correction here, he Saabaru was available with a 5 spd manual not a 6 spd. Oh, and the 2006 Aero had a 2.5l turbo engine as the Subaru WRX got the larger displacement for 2006. Although the 2.5 liter turbo was rated as making the same power as the 2005 2 liter, it made its power at lower rpm. With a few tweaks and a tune, the Aero models can be quite powerful and fast!

  • mr smee

    Tried really hard to buy one (and around here they are all turbos) but couldn't get past the crappy interior and body trim. Shouldn't have been cross-shopping it against Lexus though. Too bad, I needed the long-roof more than I need a bird's-eye maple covered console.

  • krazykarguy

    I own a 2005 9-2x Aero with almost 128k miles. It has been the most reliable car I've ever owned. Every single 'hard to get to' service item (i.e. spark plugs) gets easier every time you do it. I find the car surprisingly easy to work on. I also maintain a registry for this particular vehicle, I have about 900 cars on the registry (which tracks trim level/transmission/color/options).

    My car is tuned Cobb AP stage 1, so it benefits from a smoother torque curve than the emissions-hobbled stock tune. I have to say that there is nothing more satisfying than driving the car sideways in the snow in a parking lot. Want a smaller donut? Increase gas pedal input. Larger donut? Decrease throttle input. Dirt roads become your own personal rally special stage. Boost builds progressively, and you can fine tune your slip angle on loose surfaces with throttle inputs.

    Plain and simple, it's a fantastic car.


    The best Swedish-Japanese effort since Swedish Sushi!

    <img src="; width="600">

  • BobWellington

    I added you as a friend on Fuelly. Now you can see how bad the fuel economy on my Explorer is. 😛 Adding slightly larger A/T tires decreased my average fuel economy by about 2.5 MPG.

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    I've extensively driven a family '00 Outback with the same powertrain, and I currently have a '96 (NG)900S, so I have to wonder… who designed the seats? Subaru seats are all kinds of awful for my back, but all things Swedish remain comfortable for long journeys if properly adjusted. (It's all in the lumbar support.) My stepgrandmother owned a 9-2x (Linear, automatic, beige), but traded it away a few years ago, and I only rode in it once.

    I liked pretty much everything else about the Outback, and I wouldn't mind one with a manual if a set of Swedish-designed front thrones – heated, of course – could be easily bolted in.

  • mallthus

    I'd rank the Saab rebadges (Saabs not produced and/or designed in Trollhättan) as follows:

    1 – 9-4x – Probably the best vehicle built on the Theta Premium platform.
    <img src="; width="600/">

    2 – 9-7x aero – A Trailblazer SS with a better dash. V8? Yes. AWD? Yes. 0-60 in 5.8 seconds? Yes.
    <img src="; width="600/">

    3 – 9-2 aero – A WRX with a Saab nose and heated seats. It's the big brother of this article's subject.
    <img src="; width="600/">

    4 – Saab-Lancia 600 – The car that made the 9000 seem like a good idea. Italian rust proofing meets Swedish winter.
    <img src="; width="600/">

    • Sjalabais

      Did the 9-4x ever reach the sales rooms?

      • mallthus

        They did in the US. We a 1000, I thought. I've seen a couple on the road.

      • whynot

        9-4x looks sweet

    • whynot

      check out the 900 at the bottom. They towed the lancia to the photo shoot. Seriously-the 9000.

  • One of these showed up at Cars & Coffee this fall. I called it a "Saabaru" and instantly regretted it, thinking they'd be offended. Nope, they smiled and were thrilled someone knew what it was.

    • krazykarguy

      Motor Trend initially published the "Saabaru" terminology, as a tongue-in-cheek, somewhat derogatory reference to the car's lineage. Not surprisingly, since it's completely appropriate, everyone who has one calls them this now.

      Which rolls off the tongue better? Saab nine-two-X, or Saabaru?

  • Sam rosengren

    Hey, I just bought a saabaru and already appreciate its unreplaceableness with the insurance company. I feel like I can’t replace it, I’d have to settle with a crappy Ford Focus if I claimed six grand. It has many more than I expected with the all wheel drive and torque. Badged as a Saab scored it for a deal because the guy didn’t know what he had, I’m thankful. A little turbo lag but it’s the perfect car. Why didn’t GM think about this, probably money. I have a great car for under the listing and I’m happy, hope I never total it because it’s irreplaceable

  • Alan Binger

    I owned no fewer than five Subarus. Now I am a dedicated SAAB man with two 9-5s and I owned a 900 for a while. That was a REAL SAAB. I very much like the power and luxury of a SAAB. Plus, it’s a safety car – a Volvo for cool people.

    I deeply regret selling my old, 1984 Subaru GL wagon. I wish I still had it to drive in blizzards and to drive down the Jersey Pine Barrens sand roads (you NEED 4WD there unless you want to get stuck up top your hubs in sugar sand). But looking on the used market, these old 1980 to 1984 are unobtanium. Those who have them still, have restored them and will not let them go. The others have rusted beyond repair and have gone to the crusher.

    So now there is the 9-2X. No, it’s not the ultra-simple Subaru with a pushrod engine that you can fix with a pair of pliers, screwdriver and adjustable wrench but that engine was ridiculously underpowered. Reliable yes, powerful – don’t make me laugh. But put it in low range four wheel drive and the car will practically drive up trees. I’ll gladly trade that for SAAB luxury, full time all wheel drive and more power. Plus, I can actually find one.

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