When you scan the specifications on the Saab Turbo X SportCombi (despite the 9-3 badge on the back, Saab insists you call it just the Turbo X), you can’t help but get excited. It’s an all-wheel-drive, turbocharged station wagon with a manual transmission. You get 280 hp and nearly 300 lb-ft of torque. Plus, the Turbo X features Saab’s new electronically controlled, limited-slip rear differential. On the outside, the eighteen-inch wheels are funky cool and the black paint adds to the good-looking profile. Inside, the front seats are typical Saab comfortable and the turbo boost gauge is a neat retro touch. This is all good stuff indeed.
The problem is, the basic 9-3 is getting old and you really feel that behind the wheel of the Turbo X. Our test car was cursed with squeaks and rattles, and as is often the case with Saabs, the six-speed manual shifter was imprecise. The aging 9-3 chassis is not helped by the stiffer springs and dampers fitted to the Turbo X. The low-speed ride never really settles down and the steering always has a rubbery feel to it. The sportier exhaust sounds good when driving through a parking garage with the windows open but usually it is just too boomy inside the cabin. Sure, the traction of Saab’s all-wheel-drive system is impressive but the overall driving experience of the Turbo X does not live up to the impressive specifications list, especially for close to $45,000.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor
Poor Saab, starved of product development resources, has to make do with a car with roots that stretch back nearly fifteen years. Yes, the Swedes have massaged this platform to within an inch of its life, but at its core, the Turbo X SportCombi feels like a car from the mid-’90s. The all-wheel-drive system is great, because it at least eradicates the torque steer that has plagued Saabs for years. But other than that, the Turbo X’s dynamics are disappointing. The shifter, the steering, and the suspension damping all feel rubbery. Ride quality is only okay, and the powertrain does not make enticing sounds. On the plus side, the interior is well executed, if dated, and the wagon body is a welcome return to the hatchback versatility of Saabs of yore.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I agree with Marc: on paper, this is a great car … a Swedish rally car in the vein of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and the Subaru Impreza WRX. But from behind the wheel, the Turbo X is too soggy to provide the satisfaction that’s required of an all-wheel-drive, stick-shift, slick-looking wagon with a high-strung turbo – especially for more than $40K.
The manual gearbox is imprecise and rubbery and the Turbo X is geared strangely, too: Second gear feels as tall as third in most cars, so you’ve got to stay in first longer than usual.
In black, the Turbo X looks tough yet nicely tailored, although I’m personally not a big fan of the gray, three-spoke wheels.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I hate to be yet one more voice in the chorus of Turbo X negativity, but I can’t remember the last time I was this disappointed in a car. I didn’t grow up around two-stroke Saabs, or even early-’80s Saabs, but I very much wanted the Turbo X to be something that it isn’t. Maybe it had something to do with a ride I got – my first! – in an ’89 900 four-door a few weeks ago, or maybe I simply believed a little too much of the marketing hype. But while I thought we were finally getting a car that at least resembled the Saabs of old, I was instead presented with a soft, rubbery, warmed-over 9-3 with an indifferent (in the dry, at least) all-wheel-drive system and what must be the world’s most frustrating shifter.
At least, as Rusty pointed out, it looks cool. The black paint and trim and the retro-Italian wheels – they look straight out of the 1973 Milan auto salon – all breathe new life into an aging and overly familiar shape. And there isn’t a hint of torque steer to be found. At this point, however, I just find myself hoping that Saab rediscovers itself very, very soon.
Sam Smith, Associate Editor