Home » Keep Austin Shifting Gears: 2002 Subaru Baja vs 2007 Saab 9-3

Keep Austin Shifting Gears: 2002 Subaru Baja vs 2007 Saab 9-3

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Good morning, Autopians, and happy Friday! Today’s Shitbox Showdown takes us deep in the heart of Texas, and just a little bit outside our normal price range, to look at a pair of seldom-seen stickshifts.

But first, let’s see what you made of our Iowa pickups:

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I’m not surprised. That 300 six/manual combo is a winning formula every time I put one up. I’m a little torn on this choice myself; I’m a Chevy guy when it comes to trucks, but my own Chevy truck is a full-size with a four-speed stick, so I see the appeal there. I guess if I had to replace my truck, and these were my options, I’d probably go Ford as well.

All right. Today’s cars are, well, weird. Which is fitting, because they’re both for sale in the Austin, Texas area. Both are manuals, both are in reasonably good shape, and neither one is anything like a common sight on the road. Let’s take a look.

2002 Subaru Baja – $6,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter overhead cam flat 4, five-speed manual, AWD

Location: San Marcos, TX

Odometer reading: 159,000 miles

Runs/drives? Indeed

Subaru’s second attempt at a ute/pickup wasn’t exactly a hit. Based on the Outback wagon, the Baja was a cool idea that everybody kinda liked, but nobody bought. Subaru only sold about 30,000 of them. And I think most of them were yellow. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever seen one in another color.

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Subaru’s earlier pickup, the BRAT, famously had four seats, two of them in the bed, facing backwards. Why? Because if it had four seats, it was a passenger car instead of a light truck, and therefore avoided the infamous “chicken tax.” The Baja avoided the chicken tax by having four doors, and by being built in Indiana. It also has a pickup bed about half the size of the BRAT’s, limiting its usefulness as a truck, which might have accounted for its weak sales.

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This first-year Baja is in decent shape, with just a few cosmetic blemishes. It is missing the skin on its fuel filler door, and there is a wrinkle on the left front fender. It looks like part of the grille might be missing too. It’s nice and clean inside, though, and the seller says it runs well.

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Like nearly all Subarus, the Baja is powered by a flat-four engine, this one displacing 2.5 liters, and driving all four wheels through a five speed manual gearbox. Despite the tough-guy stance, this is no off-road vehicle; like the Outback, it’s basically just a jacked-up car. I’ve often wondered why Subaru abandoned the idea of low-range 4WD, which they made available briefly in the ’80s. Would a little more off-road prowess have saved the Baja? We’ll never know.

2007 Saab 9-3 2.0T – $5,400

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Engine/drivetrain: Turbocharged 2.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Austin, TX

Odometer reading: 111,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does

It’s no secret that we here at the Autopian are fans of Saab (I know, it’s SAAB, but it looks wrong). The Swedish airplane-maker-turned-automaker created some bizarre gems over the decades that appeal to our offbeat car sensibilities in a way few other marques do. Recently, our publisher, Matt Hardigree, seems to have caught a rather severe case of Saab Fever, and has been carpet-bombing the Autopian Slack channel with Craigslist and Facebook listings. So naturally, when I spotted this lovely snow-white 9-3 Turbo for sale, I had to feature it, just to enable his obsession a bit.

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The second-generation 9-3, a continuation of the 99/900 lineage, is pretty in an understated way, and by all accounts an excellent car to drive. GM’s stewardship of Saab toned down some of the weirdness, though a few trademark touches remain, notably the ignition switch in the center console between the seats. Saab has always done excellent interiors, and this low-mileage 9-3 sure does look like a nice place to be.

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The seller makes a big deal of the car being a manual, which I suppose marks them as One Of Us, though I would dispute the claim that this car is hard to drive or requires an especially skilled hand. The manual Saabs I’ve driven in the past were all very well-mannered and congenial dance partners on the road, and I expect this one is no different. Perhaps the hyperbole is just meant to discourage lookie-loos.

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The seller notes some peeling clearcoat, but aside from that this Saab appears to be in excellent shape. It suffers from Unnecessary Roof Rack Syndrome, but that’s an affliction that can easily be remedied. I’m not saying that I’ve found the perfect inexpensive used Saab for Matt, but he could do worse.

And that’s our week! Have a great weekend, everyone, and join us next week for more questionable automotive choices. In the meantime: Subaru or Saab? Discuss.


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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61 Responses

  1. I like them both, but would have to go with the Saab.
    My best friend is a Saab nut, and whenever I visit the east coast he gives me one to drive. Always manuals, sometimes a 9-5 Aero wagon, and last year a Viggen convertible. During that trip with the Viggen I deliberately took a back road route during the 1.5 hour drive from my parent’s to his place just to enjoy some relatively low-speed cruising with the top down through gorgeous farm country. Just a joy to experience.
    I like the Baja well enough even though it might be a tad overpriced, but Saabs are a piece of automotive history that deserve preservation and love (not that the Baja doesn’t).

  2. Saab for me due to the lower mileage and lower cost. Plus it’s only FWD… which means less weight and better fuel economy…. which is my preferred choice.

  3. Of course I went for the Baja.. 5MT makes it basically crypto currency. The Baja population in my area I think has all the colors available: Black, silver (my wife’s) Garnet red, both shades of blue (Atlantic and Mystic) and a non-stock green (with some STI goodies on it) and a yellow. As with all Subarus you’re buying the previous owner, not the car. We picked up her Sport (turbo) and it was infuriatingly mint. The Sport is a quick vehicle, she has the sport shift auto, the car (like all Subarus) is a fat pig, but it’s fast. Useful? Oh yeah, you can drop the rear seat and open the hatch then slide 4 boxes IKEA book shelves in there or 2x4s. 4X8 Sheet of plywood? Yup, the bed is 4 foot wide, even if the tail gate isn’t, the sheet slides up the rails, and drops down locking into the bed, I once brought home a 7 foot couch with it. I just changed her front axels, took less than 45 minutes, I’ve changed the fuel pump, and the LCA bushings. Free fix; a leaking gas line, free but took ages to finally find it. It’s been an absolute peach.

  4. A tough choice here. A big plus that both come from a land with no rust.

    First, that Saab is a six speed, not a five. I’m pretty sure 07 was the first year for that in all of them. That 2.0 responds well to mods, let’s shoot for 300 hp. I like white on these, that’s a plus.

    The Baja is fucking cool, I think we can all agree on that. Let’s lift it 2″ and make it even more cool. A dent on the fender? Doesn’t bother me, I’d eventually do something stupid it wasn’t really meant to do and bump a tree one day anyways.

    In the end, we’ve got a Saab in good shape for a good price and we are ready to boost that power and upgrade the suspension for a cool and quirky weekend toy. I’m going with the Swede.

    1. the Baja hides a lot of rot behind those plastic panels and generally peaking even Subaru enthusiasts tend to shy away from turn of the century (+4-5 Year) Subies in general.

  5. My first thought was, “do I know this Baja?”

    I have seen too many rallycross Subarus with engine-out, oh-no, ugh, pain and agony work. It’s the weirder option for sure, and goodness knows I know a) where to hoon it and b) who’d help you hoon it right there in San Marcos. If that car hasn’t been rallycrossing, it is your gott dang duty to right that wrong as a buyer.

    The Saab feels really normal. Painfully normal. Could you not find, like, a Tatra or something? My bar for weird is very high. You should also rallycross this car. It seems fine, but it’s not ticking the weird box for me. I’m glad Saab exists, but I was never really into them.

    This is a draw. I’m not picking. Write in: import a Trabi you cowards and rallycross it into Valhalla.

    1. I’m not convinced it’s more reliable, but agreed on all other counts. Of course I’m voting SAAB too!

      I had a an ’02 Outback, briefly. Hated everything about it, so the Baja is automatically on my shit list.

  6. As much as a really want to go Baja because I love them, 6.5k is a bit too much scratch for a slightly beat up Subie with that kind of mileage. I know they can command those kinds of prices, but I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger. Maybe if it was a turbo…

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