Home » Let’s Rank The Three Not-Saab Saabs From Worst To Least Worst

Let’s Rank The Three Not-Saab Saabs From Worst To Least Worst

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Saab has always been an interesting carmaker, and, in some ways, a tragic one as well. The Swedish carmaker was such a gleefully idiosyncratic and distinctive team, with all sorts of unusual but oddly rational approaches to engineering and design, from two-strokes to V4s to longitudinal front-drivers with engines facing backwards to aerodynamic designs and smart safety innovations and, of course, the weird ignition key in the transmission tunnel. The tragic part is Saab’s end, which wasn’t so much a carmaker stopping production as it was a carmaker getting diluted out of existence, with the last Saabs of the GM-owned era being barely Saab-costumed glimmers of what Saab once was. There are three of these Sorta-Saabs I want to talk about today, arguably the most egregiously un-Saab cars to wear the Saab name, and I think we should decide which one is the worst Not-Saab. Because it’s important.

Two of these cars are from the GM ownership era, but one actually pre-dates that dark period pretty significantly, and is instead from one of Saab’s golden ages, the 1980s. Let’s look at this one first, because it’s very weird:

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Saab-Lancia 600

Saablancia Ad

This is one of those badge-engineering marvels that makes you question why the damn thing exists at all. This car doesn’t seem very Saab-like, and that’s because it’s very not-a-Saab. It’s a Lancia Delta. So why are there Saab badges on a Lancia Delta?

It’s there mostly because Saab was never a huge automaker, and they needed a replacement for the legendary but quite dated Saab 96. Sure, it had Ford V4 power (since 1967) now instead of a two-stroke, but this was a car whose basic design hadn’t really changed since it came out in 1960. So a replacement was needed for the lower part of Saab’s lineup, but they really didn’t have the resources to develop a whole new car. That’s why they looked south to Italy and Lancia.

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The car chosen to fill the 96’s hole was a good car, even if it wasn’t a particularly Saab-like car. It was a clean, crisp hatchback design from Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign, with a transverse inline-four from the Fiat Ritmo, but with some carburation and intake/exhaust system improvements to boost power to a respectable 84 hp. Interestingly, Saab actually did have some input into the car’s design, especially in the very Nordic-relevant heating/ventilation systems and rustproofing. Also, it’s said that Saab also worked on getting the car split-folding seats and a tailgate that opened all the way to the bumper.

Saablancia600 Press

Visually, the only way you knew you were looking at a Saab-Lancia 600 and not just a Lancia Delta is because it said SAAB on the badges. That and some very minor trim differences on the rear bumper, and that was pretty much it. These were only sold in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, and they identified it as the non-Scandinavian pretender it was, and as a result, these never sold well. Plus, they rusted, because even with Saab’s input, they’re still Italian.

Even with headlight wipers for the Swedish market, these just weren’t suited for Scandinavia, and hardly anyone bought them. Only about 2,000 were built between 1980 and 1982, so chances are you’ve not seen one of these and never will. Sorry.

 

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Saab 902X (The Saabaru)

Saabaru

This one is a product of the GM era, but it’s not a GM at all. It’s a Subaru. Sure, GM owned 20% of Subaru, which is why this existed at all, and there is a sort of strange logic to why this sort of made sense. In a lot of ways, Subaru appeals to the same sort of smart, individualist, maybe somewhat academic kind of people that have traditionally gone in for Saabs and Volvos. People who had outgrown air-cooled VWs, but still wanted something different. With Saab gone and Volvo more upmarket today, modern Subaru tends to fill this niche, and even back in the early 2000s that was the case.

So, dressing a Subaru up as a Saab made a certain amount of demographic sense, even if it really did look and feel like a costume. The redesign was limited to the front end, which got a Saab-like grille and face, badges, and taillights. It really did seem like a WRX wagon in a costume, because that’s what it was. This car was all Subaru, with all the trademark Subaru traits: horizontally-opposed engine, all-wheel drive, all that.

These did get a bit more sound-deadening than the usual Subaru, and had the better steering rack from the Subaru WRX STI. So that was nice. Still not very Saab-y, but whatever. There were more suspension and other changes made to Saab this thing up as much as possible, and we cover them in detail here, but I think we can just say that for all the effort, it wasn’t really enough.

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It’s a good car, just not a Saab. But maybe that’s the appeal? The confusion?

 

Saab 9-7x

9 7x Press

This one is full-force GM: from 2005 to 2009, you could buy what was essentially an Oldsmobile Bravada, just dressed up like a Saab and with its ignition key in a funny place. In fact, this Saab was basically a replacement for the Bravada, since Oldsmobile a a whole brand was euthanized in 2004. In order to transform this not-your-father’s Oldsmobile into a Saab that your father also never owned, GM gave the Bravada a new face, moved that ignition key, and shamelessly glommed onto Saab’s history in aviation, as you can see in this commercial:

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Nothing about this Saab was born from jets, other than the idea of sleeping upright in a seat with your head leaning against a window.

If we consider this a Saab, it’s a Saab of many firsts: first SUV, first V8, first Saab to be recalled because window switches may catch on fire, all very exciting things. But the overall car? It’s just a re-skinned Bravada or TrailBlazer or Buick Ranier with a weird, fragile cupholder and badges with griffin heads on them.

9 7x Switch

I really like to think about the conversation that had to have happened to get a GM engineer to move the ignition switch to the transmission tunnel, because from an engineering perspective, it’s madness. You want me to do what? Move it where? Why? 

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Sure, originally on Saabs this made sense, it was a security and anti-theft thing, but the GM wasn’t engineered for that. It was purely done for marketing reasons, and was, really, one of the saddest and most cynical actions ever committed in the service of the sometimes-crime of badge engineering.

Okay, so those are our three not-Saab Saab candidates! Which one is the worst of the bunch?

Tell us and then discuss and argue and rant in the comments! Again, this is important!

 

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Drad
Drad
7 months ago

The 9-2x wasn’t the most offensive Saab ever, in fact it sort of made sense. the 9-7x was an abomination – not because it was a bad idea, but because the 9-7x was pile of crap. However the Saab-Lancia 600 got my vote because they didn’t even try.

Daryll Rardon
Daryll Rardon
7 months ago

Funny – just last week I spotted a minty 9-7x driving on I-75 not 20 miles from where it was born (GM Moraine Assembly Plant). Of course this was not much of a Saab, but it was far and away the best version of the GMT360 platform. The interior was significantly upgraded compared to the Olds and Buick version and it had real Saab seats. More importantly it gave Saab dealers something else to sell at a time when the rest of the line was getting stale and consumers were moving away from sedans. When these were new I was working for a GM supplier and spent quite a bit of time at the factory where these were built. Same assembly line but then they were diverted into a different QC area and received more TLC than a Trailblazer. One problem – the GM six cylinder was a decent engine but got terrible gas mileage – just about the same as the V8.

The Saabaru (9-2x) was more significantly updgraded from the Imprezza than the article indicated – maybe not much of a Saab but still a nice AWD car in a good price point for Saab dealers.
Many years ago I was a Saab salesperson and even then never heard about the 600, but clearly this car later cleared the way for the Saab-Lancia collaboration that became the amazing 9000.

Last edited 7 months ago by Daryll Rardon
Accordian
Accordian
7 months ago

I kinda like all 3 here, even if today is the first day I’ve heard of the 600; shame an Aero version never came out. Would the 9000 be considered a not-Saab?

Last edited 7 months ago by Accordian
Drad
Drad
7 months ago
Reply to  Accordian

Nah the 9000 was collaboration between Saab, Alfa Romeo and Lancia. They all got something quite good out of it. They all looked different and they all had different specs. It wasn’t just a sticker over the badge.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
7 months ago

Here’s the thing; the 9-7x wasn’t very Saab like, but it was the best GMT360 you could get, by far.

Arguably the same story with the 9-2x; not a bad car, but arguably better than the Subaru it was based on, and certainly a more mature choice.

I don’t know enough about the Lancia.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
7 months ago

I like Subaru and Lancia as much as Saab, so it has to be the big one.

Sure was fun to see a Lancia with mud flaps! 🙂

Last edited 7 months ago by Jakob K's Garage
MrILO
MrILO
7 months ago

Actually, I quite like the Saab Delta, me being Italian.
However, I believe that it didn’t sell not because it wasn’t really a Saab, or not because it rusted. Far from that: it was because it looked more like a boxy Volvo than like a round edged Saab – and that must have been a poke in the eye of anyone belonging to the Saab faction in the fierce, all Swedish, Saab vs Volvo rivalry.

Matt Gasper
Matt Gasper
7 months ago

It’s always a little frustrating seeing this kind of discussion given that the Saab community is always growing smaller, so being exclusionary doesn’t really serve anyone. I moderate the Saab discord and am active in the MD and PA communities and I have heard a few young guys upset and hurt that old Saab fans don’t consider their Saab to be a “real” Saab.

Yeah, the 9-2x is a re-badge with a different front clip, but I just met someone yesterday who had one, liked it, and bought a NG9-3. But to some people, the NG9-3 isn’t a real Saab. To some people, the OG9-3 isn’t a real Saab. To some people, the 9000 isn’t a real Saab. To some people, no 9-5 is a real Saab. So on and so forth.

But the V4 came from Ford, and even the H engines came from Triumph. There was never a possibility of such a niche company developing unique platforms for modern cars — that was just as true in the 600’s day as it was in the 9000’s and in 2011.

The ubiquitous Ecotec has Saab’s DNA all over it, as does basically any modern FWD car with an I4.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
7 months ago
Reply to  Matt Gasper

The Volvo community is the same way, at one point, the 100 wasn’t a “real” Volvo, then it was, but the 200 wasn’t. Then the 200 was in the club, but the 700/900 were ostracized, then they were in, but all the FWD models were shunned.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
7 months ago
Reply to  Matt Gasper

Even the original 2 stroke Saabs were based on a DKW design. Using major parts from other companies was a Saab thing right from the start.

Ineffable
Ineffable
7 months ago

Saab 9-7x is the easy answer, but it’s the wrong answer.

I love Saab and I’m aware of the commonly parroted criticisms of the Saab-GM relationship. But the relationship did have potential, and Saab was – at least – able to provide an average suv with a very nice interior. So that is a net gain.

The lancia ? Please.

Ottomadiq
Ottomadiq
7 months ago
Reply to  Ineffable

This is the correct take. All others, please fix your answers.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
7 months ago

This is so easy. Sure the Saaburu was a Subie, and the other Lancia 600 was Italian, but at least they were quirky, relatively small manufacturer sourced cars, and they were Saab sized. The GM thing is from GM and an SUV, not Saab like, not at all likeable, and the death knell for Saab.

JDE
JDE
7 months ago

The Saabaru with a manual.trans was really the most Saabish, strange engine layout, performance orientated Small Snaabby car but the AWD and STI lore of the time really made it a very interesting and somewhat sought after ride. The sleeper of course was the Saabravada with the all aluminum LS PowerPlant. Smoothed out the outside panels from the Traolblazer, and Afm/Dfm free LS horses. Honestly of the time.it was a dismissed but, they are honestly pretty great and the motor alone these days is worth quite a bit alone.

Scott
Scott
7 months ago

I didn’t even know that Lancia thing existed and since it’s the least interesting of the three (to me) it’s the one I downvoted.

I actually always liked both the 9-2 and 9-7… I think they look nicer than the original cars on which they’re based, even if it’s just a facade. I came close to buying a 9-2 a couple times… I like old Subies though a small hatch isn’t really my thing these days (for daily use) so the more mature nose and extra sound insulation appealed. Never took that jump though… and now I’m temporarily enamored of 700-series Volvo coupes by Bertone, so my online shopping focus is spoken for. 😉

JDE
JDE
7 months ago
Reply to  Scott

I drove the auto version and was summarily dissapointed, but give it a manual and it is a completely different animal. It is interesting how much Turbos and VVT have made those motors torquey down low when for the longest time turbo lag at stops required a lot of RPM and dumped clutches to be competitive.

Racer Esq.
Racer Esq.
7 months ago

The first four-stroke Saab had a longitudinally mounted V4 engine, so the Saab 9-2x, with a longitudinally mounted 180-degree V4 engine, at a time when the other car-based Saabs had gone to transverse engines, was one of the most “Saab” Saabs ever, not one of the least. Pretty much the only Saabs more authentic than the 9-2x are the 92, 96, 99, and 900.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
7 months ago
Reply to  Racer Esq.

The general rule of SAAB authenticity is that whatever model one personally owns is the last “real” one and that anything newer is merely evidence of irreversible decline. I own a two-stroke 96, therefore I acknowledge only the 92, 93, 94, and the two-stroke versions of the 95, 96, and 97. Back when I owned V4s (one each of the 95, 96, and 97) the turn for the worse was instead embodied in the 99, naturally, as it will be again the next time I pick up a V4 car. V4 ownership makes the 98 at least provisionally acceptable, but admittedly they only built a single example of it:

https://en.saabclub.net/graphics/gallery/full/200_l5f9831.jpg

My true automotive purpose in life, therefore, is to get my hands on a 92 so I can complain bitterly about how the company ruined everything forevermore when they added a third cylinder to the engine in 1955. I’m prepared to settle for finding a Saab-Lancia 600 instead, however, so I can go to club meetings with a confused, forlorn look on my face.

Matt Gasper
Matt Gasper
7 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

My owning a 9-5NG must be the reason, then, that I think all Saabs are real Saabs!

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
7 months ago
Reply to  Matt Gasper

Close, but you are still expected to speak disparagingly of everything produced under subsequent NEVS ownership. I don’t make the rules, I just… Well, actually, I did just make that rule. Anyway, we’re stuck with it.

Jeremy Aber
Jeremy Aber
7 months ago

I just saw a 9-7x on the road the other day! What an ugly SUV, but it was still neat to spot one.

Steve L
Steve L
7 months ago

I was a bit puzzled that you didn’t even mention the Opel Vectra-based 9-3, though it was really a very good car and had a lot more Saab in it than these others. I owned a 2003 9-3 “Arc” for 11 years, after which I bought what I figured was the closest equivalent, a 2013 Audi allroad (still have it.)

The 9-3 was my third Saab, having owned a 1986 900S and 1997 900 Turbo before it. I loved the 9-3, and the center ignition really was a theft deterrent – at least a parking garage valet sheepishly admitted after 20 minutes that he couldn’t find it.

I miss Saab.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve L

Technically if we start with Opel-based Saabs, the 900 NG like your ’97 is where that started, since that was the first Saab that came under GM ownership – although the I4 engines in the 900/first 9-3 were still Saab and the ’03 was where it shared more still with the engines. But I’d say it was still very Saab as you said, though by the end of that model’s production run more and more GM had creeped in (like the “Black Tie” radio).

Last edited 7 months ago by GreatFallsGreen
JDE
JDE
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve L

All I have ever heard about Allroads has been nightmare stories. You are the first to seem to love them

Steve L
Steve L
6 months ago
Reply to  JDE

Mine is an A4 allroad and it has been wonderful for me. The older A6 allroads often had issues with the air suspension. I suspect the new A6 allroads are better.

Discontinuuity
Discontinuuity
7 months ago

The Saabaru does not have the steering rack from the STI, it has a version of the WRX rack with a quicker ratio, that was later used in all 06-07 WRXs. The quicker ratio was similar to that in the 04 STI rack, but they’re different part numbers. You can swap an STI rack into a WRX or Saabaru, it’s a pretty common mod.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
7 months ago

Two of those are fantastic. I don’t understand headline one bit. But I’m no Saab purist, so this article is for someone else anyways

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
7 months ago

Moving the ignition to between the seats on the 9-7x probably made a ton of sense to GM engineers at the time… At least there the weight of other keyring junk hanging off of the key won’t accidentally shut the car off!

JDE
JDE
7 months ago

But the huge by large gas station sodas were a real concern I bet

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

Just how much crap do you carry on a keychain?

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
7 months ago

Not me personally, but that was the crux of the GM ignition switch recall where cars were shutting off and disabling airbags because the weight of peoples keychains were dragging the ignition to off, turning off the airbags

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago

Wtf really?

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
7 months ago

I voted 9-7x because it’s GM doing GM, abd about as half-assed as you’d expect. The 9-2x, though not any less cynical, is a genuine good car so it gets a pass from me. I really hope someone has done a Integrale-type build on the Saabancia.

The Dude
The Dude
7 months ago
Reply to  Cam.man67

Wouldn’t the fact that GM bothered to move the ignition be considered using their full ass, at least for GM rebadging standards?

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
7 months ago
Reply to  The Dude

3/4 ass, max.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
7 months ago

3/4 is a lot more effort than they were known for at the time though

Motorhead Mike
Motorhead Mike
7 months ago

But, but, but, you forgot about the 9-4x! I suppose that’s ok, everyone else does.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
7 months ago
Reply to  Motorhead Mike

+1 came here for this! The 9-4x

Kasey
Kasey
7 months ago
Reply to  Motorhead Mike

There’s one in my area that I see every now and then, much like the final 9-5s the styling holds up today imo.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
7 months ago
Reply to  Motorhead Mike

The 9-4X wasn’t really a rebadge job though, not like the 3 Saabs here that were more “we have Saab at home.” The 9-7X had the most “effort” but you can obviously tell what bits and hard points were borrowed from other GMT360s, while nothing outside in the 9-4X was shared with the SRX, and the interior styling was completely different. That said the GM corporate switchgear had certainly proliferated by that point along with the final 9-5, but those were as much a Saab as it could be in that era of GM IMO. Plus the powertrains, they at least offered a motor that was mostly Saab-specific here with the Aero 2.8T V6, it was more unusual that the Caddy offered the 2.8T V6 (but they thought they could sell that globally).

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