Critics greeted the news that Saab would sell a version of the Subaru Impreza wagon as a sure sign of General Motors' cluelessness (the corporation owns all of Saab and 20 percent of Subaru). After all, why should anyone buy a Subaru from a Saab store? The answer is that the 9-2X is the best Impreza wagon ever built.
There are two 9-2X models: the Linear, with Subaru's normally aspirated, 165-horsepower, 2.5-liter boxer four; and the Aero, with Subaru's turbocharged, 227-horsepower, 2.0-liter WRX engine.
The 9-2X gets its visual personality from a three-port Saab grille and a reshaped hatch. European taste for color and materials works some magic in the interior. Acoustic insulation around the cockpit keeps the engine from sounding like a bunch of screws shaking inside a tin can.
But the 9-2X is more than just a bit of Swedish botox for the Impreza's overstyled skin. There's also a more light-footed ride from aluminum suspension arms and recalibrated dampers. Most important, Saab has taken the annoying sloppiness out of the Impreza's steering response with a quicker steering ratio, more rigidly mounted steering hardware, and stiffer chassis bushings.
As a result, the all-wheel-drive 9-2X crisply takes a predictable set during cornering, even with its relatively tame 205/55VR-16 Bridgestone Potenza RE92A tires, while the optional 215/45ZR-17 Bridgestones deliver steering response that's even a bit too aggressive.
Although the $27,645 9-2X Aero has a list price that's about $3000 more expensive than the WRX version, Saab offers such a long list of improvements, upgrades, and additional equipment (plus a better warranty and two years of free maintenance) that we figure the 9-2X actually represents a pretty good deal. GM-style badge engineering is usually a bad idea, but Saab has made it work.