Against convention, Project 9-2X got an electronics upgrade before any performance alterations. The reasoning was really quite simple: See what a few bolt-on electronic components could do to add comfort, convenience and maybe a little luxury to our sporty entry-level Saab. All of these added conveniences are standard on higher-level Saabs--except the navigation system--that I'm sure will appear on future generation 9-2X models.

What struck us first about the 9-2X was its lack of electronic gadgetry. No power seats, no automatic up and down windows, no integrated vehicle computer or audio controls on the steering wheel and a very basic six-speaker, six-disc audio system. Let's face it, this is a driver's car partially disguised as a luxury tourer. But that didn't mean we couldn't try our hand at spicing it up. While some systems would be difficult to upgrade without significant alterations, others could be easily replaced with aftermarket parts. We took the easier road.

The entire audio system was the first to go. The original O.E. system featured a six-disc, AM/FM head unit, and 5-1/4- and 4-in.-one-way door-mounted speakers in the front and rear, respectively. A set of 1-in. tweeters was also mounted in the front doors. The O.E. components were inferior to those normally found in Saab's audio systems in terms of both sound and build. Even at moderately loud volumes, the stock components distorted and had rattling voice coils--low quality even by Japanese standards.

We chose an Eclipse AVN2454 audio/visual navigation unit by Fujistu Ten to replace the stock unit. The appeal of the AVN2454 is its double-DIN 6.5-in.-wide touchscreen design and two-disc capacity, which allows the navigation to be operated while listening to music on a CD. For all intents and purposes this system is identical in operation to O.E. nav units. The software is actually the same as Lexus' navigation system with audio direction instructions and all. Unlike O.E. navigation hardware, the AVN2454 comes ready to play DVD movies out of the box.

The unit is fairly simple to operate if you have any experience with other nav systems. The user selects main menus from the column of buttons on each side of the screen. All subsequent functions, such as radio, equalizer, DSP, DVD, navigation and setting controls, are chosen from touchscreen sub-menus on the screen. The touchscreen interface is easier to use while driving since the unit's buttons are hard to identify by touch. The lack of a volume knob is a bit annoying, though.

The main problem, if you want to call it a problem, is the reflective screen. Even with the screen tilt and lighting options (there is a day- and night-mode switch), the 6.5% surface reflectivity makes it hard to see the screen when the sun hits it directly. Wearing polarized sunglasses doesn't help either.

One other problem is the lack of AM/FM reception. Saab opted to use an integrated windshield antenna on the 9-2X, which requires additional power to boost the RF signal. Unfortunately, the AVN2454 unit doesn't boost the signal sufficiently. Our options were to either install and run wiring for an external mast antenna or use a signal booster. Though the booster doesn't work as well as an antenna, it was the simpler and more aesthetically pleasing option.

To keep the audio system within reason and avoid extreme customization, we went to JBL for drop-in components. JBL's 508GTI 5-1/4-in. Component System replaced the front-door- mounted units. The system includes a pair of 5-1/4-in. woven Kevlar cone woofers and 1-in. tweeter, featuring JBL titanium technology. All this is controlled by a tunable active crossover included in the system. An additional custom-made spacer was used to fit the larger voice-coil magnets on the 508GTI within the doors. The rear door units were replaced with a set of JBL Power Series P452 4-in. two-way drivers. Both sets of speakers retained the O.E. speaker grille on the outside.

The internal speakers and the additional 8-in. subwoofer are powered by a JBL GTO75.4 520-watt, four-channel amplifier and a GTO301.1 300-watt subwoofer amplifier. Both have integrated selectable crossovers. Though not the most powerful available, these amplifiers are sufficient for our installed hardware. The amps fit perfectly under the front seats, our preferred mounting location since putting them in the cargo area would have defeated the benefits of having a station wagon.

Audio Designs of Anaheim Hills did the all the installations, in addition to building the custom MDF and fiberglass subwoofer enclosures. The subwoofer uses an 8-in. Kicker driver as JBL did not have an 8-in. unit available at the time of installation. The subwoofer was just the right size for the available space and offered the neutral sound we were after. This is one of the best 8-in. subwoofer systems Audio Designs has made. The station wagon's air volume really increases the low-frequency resonance effect throughout the cabin.

As a whole, the system is well balanced without sounding too punchy or bright. Though not as spatially integrated as a multi-speaker O.E. system found on high-end European vehicles, this six-speaker combination does well for a door-mounted system and surpasses the original setup by leaps and bounds.

After driving the 9-2X at night we discovered that the lack of an auto-dimming mirror was very annoying, especially since everyone in SoCal seems to drive high-bumpered SUVs or pickups. After a quick call to Mito Corp., the aftermarket distributor for the Gentex auto dimming mirror, we were good to go with its auto dimming mirror (model # 50-GENK20), featuring an integrated digital compass and external temperature display. This is identical to the mirror offered on certain Subaru vehicles. The mirror clips on to the O.E. mount and is wired into a 12v source, ground and the temperature sensor, which are included. The thermometer isn't necessary as there's one in the dash, but it's much more visible in the mirror.

To round off the electronics package, we installed a radar-based backup sensor system by Rostra Precision Controls Inc. The ROSS-Pro 250-1594 universal rear-obstacle-sensing system uses three bumper-mounted sensors and a LED display to indicate rear-obstacle proximity. The LED is also tied into a beeping sound source, which activates only when in reverse, The beeper is a bit loud but, thankfully, Rostra considered this and offers a low-tech sound volume control with the kit. Just place the included circular sticker over the sound emitter orifice and voilá, instant sanity in reverse.

Rostra sent us to Whistle Stop in Covina, Calif., to have the system installed by one of its dealers. While installation doesn't require drilling through the bumper or color-matched sensor plugs, the rear bumper still needs to be removed and the sensor brackets require customization for each application, something that should be left to experienced installers. The Whistle Stop team mounted the LED display above the rear hatch, directly in sight of the rear view mirror--another convenient plus.

That's it for the electronics as we didn't want to turn the 9-2X into an aftermarket gadget mobile. We did consider tire-pressure sensors and interior nighttime LED driving lights, but all these additions would turn into driver distractions. Besides, how much more money would anyone realistically spend on electronics for a $30,000 car? We are quite impressed with how these basic additions have improved the overall day-to-day driving feel of our Saab.

Next installment of Project 9-2X: We get down and dirty, start sorting out the suspension and add some bling to our touring wagon.

At a Glance
Installers:
Audio Design
(714) 779-1700

Whistle Stop
(626) 331-0608

Estimated Time: 21 hr @ $50/hr: $1,000

Upgrade Costs
JBL GTO301.1: $279.95
JBL GTO75.4: $374.95
JBL 508GTI: $500
JBL P452: $169.95
Kicker CVR8: $109.95
Eclipse AVN24: $,2199
Gentex 50-GENK20: $249.99
Ross Pro 250-1594: $250
Total: $5,133.79

SOURCE
JBL Rostra Precision Controls Inc
MITO Corp. JC Whitney
Eclipse
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