Let the lamenting begin….

I’ve just spotted my first write-up of the Saab 9-2x in ages.  It comes from Auto and Trucks Review and it notes the demise of the Saaburu in it’s very first paragraph:

This is basically a WRX with a nicer warranty. It’s gonna’ be discontinued in ’07, and the production has stopped. Snap one up now if you can find one (Jun 06). These are rare, fast, and very fun to drive. WIth the Subie drivetrain, upgrades are a breeze, and parts supply will never dwindle.

4.5 stars out of 5.

If only Saab had been so honest when the model began, we mightn’t have ever descended into the debacle that the 9-2x became as time went on. 

For anyone that interested in a 9-2x, now is the time to get one.  They’ll be discontinued at the end of this model year and from what I hear there’s some decent incentives still available from US Saab dealers to help them out the door.

I’ve given the 9-2x a fair beating on this site in more recent times, but let me say this: there was little wrong with this car except for the execution.

ATR correctly notes the following:

Pros

Acceleration, reliability based on subaru counterpart, ride, styling, handling, fuel economy (been avg. 27 – 30 mpg), awd, longer warranty, dealership experience, and saab enhancements to the interior and exterior as well as mechanical.

Cons

No options for MP3 Player or NAVIGATION. Also, no option for six shifts and paddle shifting.

You’ll get no arguments from me there. 

Fundamentally, the 9-2x is a sound car.  I’ve not driven one myself as they’re not available here in Australia, but the WRX on which it’s based is the stuff of legend here and as far as I can tell, it’s well reputed everywhere else too.

So what went wrong with the 9-2x?

Here’s the Saab press release from 2003.  Do you see what I see?

 

 

Saab announces a cooperation with Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (Fuji) to produce a new performance-oriented all-wheel drive model — the Saab 9-2 — in Spring 2004. The new vehicle will provide Saab with a capable, dynamic entry below the new 9-3 Sport Sedan.

NEW YORK — Continuing with its biggest ever product offensive, Saab Automobile AB expands its product line further with the introduction of the new Saab 9-2. The 9-2 will be Saab’s entry offer and will help attract new, younger customers to the brand. It is targeted at customers looking for a distinctive, fun-to-drive car with the versatility to support an active lifestyle. As customers would expect from Saab, the 9-2 will feature excellent driving dynamics with its sophisticated all-wheel drive system and turbo performance as well as great versatility with its hatchback body style.

Leveraging the global resources of the GM Group, Saab Automobile AB is collaborating with Fuji of Japan to create the new Saab 9-2 model in cooperation with Subaru, Fuji’s automotive division.

"We see an emerging segment in the United States for a premium, small car below the Saab 9-3 Sport Sedan," says Peter Augustsson, President and CEO of Saab Automobile AB.

"The Saab 9-2 is a result of collaboration between two like-minded brands. We both have a special aircraft heritage and a successful history in rallying, and our cars are known as dynamic, safe and fun-to-drive. It makes a lot of sense for us to combine our strengths in creating the next Saab and bring it to the market quickly," says Augustsson.

Saab will offer two versions of the new 9-2, both five-door, all-wheel drive cars. The base Saab 9-2 will be equipped with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, while the Aero version will feature a high performance, 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Initially, the vehicle will only be offered in the United States and Canadian markets.

"Both brands have this special flair," said Bob Lutz, GM’s Vice Chairman for Product Development. "It is such a natural fit for them to combine their talents and expertise to bring the first all-wheel-drive performance car into the Saab family — a car with great dynamic qualities and exhilarating performance."

The new Saab 9-2 will be produced in Fuji’s facilities in Japan, beginning in the spring of 2004.

 

Did you pick it?

Saab shot themselves in the foot with this release and the 9-2x was pretty much doomed from the get-go as a Saab model.  Why?

Because the press release never mentions the direct WRX base.  It talks about the 5-door body style, the AWD and the engine.  All of them spell out Subaru and the market quite likely knew that this was going to be a WRX-based car, but they didn’t know the full extent of it until Saab launched the model.

Once that particular cat was out of it’s bag, along with Saab’s more expensive pricing, the car became the butt of many an industry joke and put Saab back another 5 years in terms of market perception.

The lessons for the future?

  1. Don’t go down this type of model development path again
  2. If you have to go down this model development path again, then make sure you differentiate the vehicles suffiently.
  3. If you can’t differentiate the vehicle sufficiently, then at least be honest with the public

All Saab had to say was that the 9-2x is a model-sharing exercise with Subaru, and that the 9-2x would be an enhanced version of the WRX with Saab exterior styling, better steering and suspension setups and a longer warranty.

The public knows what to expect and can look forward to it without fear of their expections popping like a party balloon.

After all, isn’t that exactly how the 9-2x is being written up now? 

Favorite Features

Spirited performance with manual transmission. Solid handling. Saab service (loaner cars, 2 year free service, and a 4 year warranty). Features and styling not available on the Subaru Impreza. Easy to upgrade and modify.

Overall Review

Do not overlook this vehicle if you can find one…especially an automatic. This unique cross-breeding between GM and Subaru will be one for the history books considering Saab’s roots are of Sweedish origin and the vehicle is manufactured in Japan while being sold as American since GM’s acquisition of Saab a few years ago.

It’s not regarded as a bad car by any means, it’s just that the marketing is regarded as a bad joke played by the company on the people. 

If you’re after a 9-2x then go get the Aero model and enjoy yourself. 

You may also like

10 Comments

  1. I find it interesting that the press release refers to it as “9-2” not 9-2X. But maybe that’s because they hadn’t finalized the naming convention with the X denoting AWD.

    ‘Nother good analysis, Swade.

  2. The WRX is a legendary street racer here in the U.S. also. Saab did nothing to make a contection between the WRX and the 9-2.

    A subtle message that Saab has a WRX for grown-ups would have worked.

  3. I’ll go out on a limb on a site owned by an admitted anti-Subie and say that I do like them. In fact, amongst my fleet of old 99’s sits a new Subaru. I still don’t think much of the 9-2x though so bring on something truer to form. If I wanted a WRX I’d rather the Subaru than Saab version.

  4. I still think that the fundamental problem with the 9-2x was that they did not address the weak points of the Impreza. The interior was barely touched-up, and they kept the seats as-is. How can you sell a Saab that has such terrible seats?
    If you are anything over 5’5″, they leave your knees up in the air like some kind of broken-down exercise equipment. That may fly in a Subaru dealership, but very few customers will take that kind of abuse if they have just sat in a 9-3.
    The other obvious problem is that the turbo 9-2x was the same price as a 9-3, but felt like it should be $5,000 cheaper.

  5. I agree, Swade. Great call.

    As I’ve written before, I think that the ‘upscale’ or ‘performance’ station wagon has a limited market here in the US. Perhaps elsewhere it works, but here I believe that it’s a small niche. With that said, it makes the marketing and execution blunders all the more damaging — the aim needed to be that much more precise to hit home.

    I believe that if the 9-2X were available as a 4-door, this car would have done much better here.

  6. Hey E&G,

    Dunno about in your parts, but up here in Vancouver there is a fair amount of A3s, A4 Avants, MINIs and even V50s. I think Saab lost a golden opportunity to slot in that segment with a winner of a 4-dr performance hatchback in North America. With our gas at Cdn$1.20/liter, this segment is bound to grow as more folks rid their larger, thirstier SUVs/CUVs and rediscover the performance and practicality joys of a compact hatchback/wagon.

  7. Ken:

    Nope. Minis, yes. The others not so much. A6, XC90, VC70 dominate. I saw my first A3 the other day and was shocked.

    The ‘sporty wagon’ class of cars consists of the Pontiac Vibe, the Mazda whatever it is and the Subarus.

    The higher gasoline prices are driving people here into Honda Element, Scion xB, Toyota RAV4, Chrysler PT Cruiser and Dodge Caliber. These are all priced $5000 to $10000 less than the 9-2X.

  8. Still gonna hold out on this one swade. As the A&T review put it – ” rare, fast & fun to drive. 4.5 stars. ”

    Combine this with Subi build quality & worldwide service/parts capability; it s no brainer that should have been on the market until it was legitimately superseded.

    Don’t care if the marketing twisted it up, never let marketing get in the way of a great car.

    Great car, should have been sold worldwide.

    Whats on the horizon…….nuthin. Truth hurts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *