- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Saab is currently the fastest-growing premium European car brand in American markets. This Scandinavian carmaker’s most recent entry, the 9-2X, competes in what Saab calls the “premium sports compact segment.”

Consumers in this segment are “young and enthusiastic” and want distinctive styling, precise handling, and plentiful cargo-carrying — in a small package. And, a little juice under the hood doesn’t hurt either.

The 9-2X, coincidentally, arrives this summer with an aggressive facade and a sleek profile, full-time AWD, and five-door hatchback versatility. A high-output turbo-fed powerplant is also offered. Sounds pretty good if you’re still young and enthusiastic.

Stare head-on into the 9-2X, and you know you’re squaring off with a potent and lively machine. But, it’s also instantly recognizable as a Saab. The familiar three-hole grille (large center trapezoid flanked by smaller ones) and the horizontally emphasized headlights that wrap into the fenders indicate Saab lineage. Underneath the bumper (or bumper area, because the form transitions smoothly from top-to-bottom), a large air dam suggests sport potential. The fog lights are also nicely integrated into the front fascia; they appear to emerge from dark cavities, again signaling a potential within the vehicle. Turbocharged models sprout a functional air scoop on the hood, which, from the front, crowns the rest of the distinct facade.

Although five-doors are often associated with wagons, Saab’s design engineers were careful here not to stigmatize the sporty 9-2X. The C-pillar points forward dramatically, as if the passenger cabin and rear cargo area have been slid against one another and locked together. The D-pillar is mostly transparent, hidden by the wraparound glass that covers the tail end. A subtle spoiler mounts to the top of the lift gate.

Inside, a mixture of grays, whites, blacks, and metallic cladding yields a subdued, somewhat businesslike feeling. The 9-2X is a machine with goals and purposes.

Saab’s purpose for the 9-2X, in one sense, is to transport passengers. The rate and manner in which this is to occur, however, is highly variable. Two engines are offered — both horizontally opposed boxer engines, one naturally aspirated and the other turbocharged. The cylinders on these engines spin in parallel with the ground, rather than upright as in V or in-line configurations. An advantage, therefore, is that power flows in a relatively straight, flat line as it moves to the transmission and differential.

Saab 9-2X Linear models arrive with a 2.five-liter four-cylinder engine that creates 165 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 166 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. Aero models lessen displacement but increase power, thanks to the turbo that force-feeds the engine with air. The DOHC 2-liter boxer four-cylinder, with a turbocharger and intercooler, spools up 227 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 217 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. Both engines are backed by a standard five-speed manual transmission, although a four-speed automatic gearbox is also available.

Just as the horizontally opposed boxer engines are a first for Saab, so is the advanced full-time AWD system. Aero models use a viscous limited-slip differential in the back, to enhance traction and handling even further. Fully independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, and four-channel/four-sensor ABS provide insurance that each corner of the vehicle responds appropriately to road conditions.

Sport compacts are small, and 9-2X is no exception. With a wheelbase just less than 100 inches and a curb weight a little over 3,000 pounds, the new Saab is poised to deliver precise handling and exceptional fuel economy. Both models should yield high-20s on the highway, according to Saab. Cargo-carrying capacity is maximized by a 60/40-split fold-down rear seat; 61.6 cubic feet open up with the seat down.

Besides arriving with the 165-horsepower mill, the 9-2X also includes 16-inches alloy wheels with 205/55 series tires, a CD player, climate control, cruise control, keyless entry, a tilt wheel, power windows/locks/doors, power adjustable mirrors, and a rear-window wiper/washer system, all as standard equipment.

Aero versions get all of the above, plus larger front brakes, the functional hood scoop and fog lamps, lighter alloy wheels, automatic climate control, a six-disc CD changer, metallic interior trim, “sport textile” upholstery, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shifter knob, and handbrake. Other options include full leather upholstery, a power sunroof, xenon headlights, and heated seats.

Saab’s new model is a comfortable, compact five-door that comes with both turbocharged performance for the back roads, and fuel efficiency for the highways. For those enthusiastic customers who are still young, this blend of sport and economy might be the proper recipe.

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