Saab 9-2X Aero
It might be the world's biggest car company, but General Motors has struggled to fit quirky, Swedish Saab into its line-up. The firm has found it equally tough to figure out what to do with partner Subaru, whose rally cars don't sit comfortably with the Buicks and Corvettes GM is used to peddling.
The solution? Put the two together to build a mixed marque 'Saab'aru - a model that draws on Subaru's capable engine and chassis technology, and Saab's revitalised design department.
The result is the Saab 9-2X Aero, a five-door wagon unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show earlier this year. Auto Express was first behind the wheel of the newcomer, which recently went on sale across the US and Canada. Aimed at rivals such as the Alfa Romeo 156 Sportwagon and new Volvo V50, the Saab is charged with providing value for money and refined practicality to drivers who want something a bit different in their compact executive estate.
And there's no doubting the 9-2X is anything but conventional. Although clearly based on a Subaru Impreza WRX estate, it features a new nose, an uprated interior and some minor alterations to the steering and ride.
Of course, the major attraction in the 9-2X remains the Subaru-bred 227bhp turbocharged powerplant. Spun beyond 3,000rpm, the growling flat-four blasts out enough thrust to propel the Saab from 0-60mph in a mere six seconds - that's faster than both the Alfa and Volvo. While an automatic transmission is available, the five-speed manual box is the better choice. It slides through the carefully stacked ratios so sweetly that it's difficult to imagine anyone choosing the self-shifter.
Meanwhile, the WRX's strut suspension is tweaked to make the springs more supple, and the steering rack is reinforced to cut 'vibration' and feedback through the wheel. Bridgestone tyres were chosen to further soften the ride, and help to improve refinement.
On winding roads, the harmony between the powertrain and chassis belies the Saab's Subaru origins. However, the subtle modifications help put the 9-2X into a rare group along with the VW Golf R32 and Mitsubishi Evo VIII. It's not as harsh or focused as the WRX donor car, but it's still pretty capable.
So, after sampling the bodywork and getting to grips with the driving experience, you could be forgiven for thinking Saab has had very little to do with the 9-2X. But nothing could be further from the truth. The most noticeable (and welcome) Saab contribution is inside, where a thorough makeover has seen the bargain-basement Subaru switchgear transformed into something altogether sleeker and more stylish. The centre console is also reshaped and clad in new metallic trim, while two-tone door panels and seat fabrics pull the cockpit together in a crisp fashion. By comparison, the body changes are a little more disappointing - and anyone who has ever seen a five-door Subaru will immediately recognise the origins of the Swedish newcomer. That said, the work has been carried out carefully - we think the all-new Saab grille has been fitted particularly well.
It should be remembered that this is only the start of a revolution. GM has bigger - much bigger - plans in store for Saab, including the large, American-made 9-7X SUV, which is currently being evaluated for the UK market.
And while it remains to be seen how British drivers will receive the 9-2X, the rapturous welcome it received in the US bodes well. Given Saab's past preferences for turbos and rallies, a rebadged WRX fits neatly into the line-up - and brings brilliant performance with it.