Regular readers will know our Saab 9-2X has been residing somewhere on the fringe of our long-term fleet. Engineering editor Jay Chen was given the go-ahead to wrench on the Saab wagon and see what sorts of slumbering performance he could awaken. Given the fact that it shares its drivetrain and basic mechanical underpinnings with Subaru's rally-inspired WRX, it can benefit from the wide array of aftermarket parts available for the popular tuner platform. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Well, we've had our fun in the aftermarket and since the 9-2X is scheduled to leave our stable in a couple months, we've decided to return it to street duty so we can finally put some real seat time in it. To shake out the cobwebs, I took it on a 600-mile road trip through central Southern California: north from our office into the desert, then west through the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains and into the hazy emptiness of California's vast Imperial Valley, then back south to the city-all in the space of around 24 hours. To say I drove the piss out of it would be a grave understatement.

I've driven WRXs, and despite their similarities I can say the Saab 9-2X is a different car. The most striking difference is its outward appearance. The styling fits perfectly into Saab's model range and looks quite stylish and reserved compared to Subaru's edgy, bug-eyed styling. The 9-2X doesn't seem to pack quite the off-the-line punch the Subaru does, possibly due to added weight. The clutch is long and weird, and turbo lag is a definite force to be reckoned with. The engine spools sluggishly up to 3000 rpm, and after 3500 it screams. Peak power is adequate at a claimed 227 bhp, it's just getting there that's a bit of a trick.

It's true Saab set up the 9-2X to be a bit more refined than the base platform, adding extra noise-cancelling material to the cockpit and tuning the suspension to increase touring comfort. While the result makes for a nice drive on the highway, it tends to feel a little loose in the corners. We remedied this with an electronically adjustable Tein coilover system and new SportContact 2 tires. While a new 9-2X comes shod with sporty all-season rubber, no all-season tire can compare with the high-end Continentals.

The new coilovers are incredible and impart a scary kind of confidence, particularly over the most fearsome switchbacks. Using Tein's EDFC controller, damping force is adjustable directly from the driver's seat. I hardly played with the settings, and while the ride was brick-hard, on the twisted mountain roads along my route the 9-2X absolutely carved. When I finally switched the controller on I found both ends of the suspension were set to zero out of 16, the absolute stiffest setting. Bumping the numbers up just halfway made a remarkable difference in compliance and ride comfort (though even at 16 the ride is much firmer than most stock setups).

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