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? 

Saabignition

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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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Goblin
Goblin
8 months ago

Am I allowed to like them all ?

The Saabaru was a good looking Subaru with aluminum suspension elements. What’s not to like (other than Saab’s people disliking and disparaging Subaru and acting like they had a shitty base to start with ?

The 9-7x was as good as its boring base would allow it to get, and then more.

Lancia idk. Risky marriage.

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
8 months ago

I always heard that the placement of the ignition wasn’t a security and anti-theft thing, but a safety thing. The idea was it would keep your knees from being skewered by your keys in a head on collision.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
8 months ago
Reply to  MAX FRESH OFF

On the old ones you had to have it in reverse to take the key out and it locked the transmission as a result, I thought it was just that so the car couldn’t roll away pretty much but I don’t know. That could make for an interesting article in the future

Kurt Hahn
Kurt Hahn
8 months ago
Reply to  Brandon Forbes

The reverse lock was there instead of the steering wheel lock that other cars had (and still have). Since an implementation of a steering wheel lock would have been to complex without the ignition on the column, they went with a gearbox lock instead.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
8 months ago
Reply to  Kurt Hahn

Ah. Ok that’s fair. Thanks

Goblin
Goblin
8 months ago
Reply to  MAX FRESH OFF

That’s what I always thought too. Your info sounds correct.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
8 months ago

I was expecting to see the Fiat/Lancia/Alfa 9000 on this list. Took one for a test drive and just went around the block and brought it back it was so un Saab like.

Matt Gasper
Matt Gasper
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Crawford

I always love this take because it helps remind Saab purists that there’s no “true” Saab.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
8 months ago
Reply to  Matt Gasper

Well, first they were selling those DKW engined things, then there was the Ford hay baler engine era, then those Triumph TR7 engines before the finally started making their own engines.

Will Valleau
Will Valleau
8 months ago

The 9-7x is one of, if not the best vehicles I’ve ever bought. Yes, it’s kinda just another ascender, envoy, bravada, trailblazer, Rainier, I might be forgetting some, but it’s also so much more than that. You get the quirky key position, but also some incredible climate vents, and the flared fenders and Continental-designed suspension also used in the TBSS. Upgraded leather far superior to any GM offering of the time, an entertainment system with wireless headphones, and mine had a factory on-board air compressor for, you-know, actual off-road stuff. Don’t think of it as a terrible Saab, think of it as the ultimate version of the midsize suv that the general was pushing through every possible badge they could. It felt like an upscale euro but you local oil-change shop actually had parts for it. (The air suspension turned out to be a weak point, but a rear strut conversion kit is cheap and allows you to keep the on board compressor functional)

Will Valleau
Will Valleau
8 months ago
Reply to  Will Valleau

On a side-note, the SSR was built on this same platform. It’s a truck, on a truck frame. Not car-based.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
8 months ago
Reply to  Will Valleau

Wanted to own one a couple of years after it came out, but out of my price range at the time. Seeing one and seeing the materials inside certainly felt Saab-like. Nice to hear it was a great purchase.

Last edited 8 months ago by Inthemikelane
Lardo
Lardo
8 months ago
Reply to  Will Valleau

Yep. Not a great SAAB, but the best of the bunch. The LS2 was about 400 hp and 400 torque. A hot rod at the time and maybe still.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
8 months ago

I actually saw a 600 at the Trollhatten factory in 1986 when I picked up my new 900 Turbo. Belonged to a worker at the factory. The Saab rep just rolled his eyes and shrugged then laughed when I asked if it was any good. ‘Not so bad’ was the highest compliment he offered.

I still rank the Saab-Lancia (Slaab) 600 higher than 9-7, but both of those behind the 9-2X. I’ve driven several of the 9-2X and found the experience closest to my 900 among other Saabs (96, 9000, 9-3, Sonett) I’ve driven. A plus is that if you bought the turbocharged Aero model, you didn’t have to worry about burping a head gasket.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
8 months ago

Sorry, I have to ask. In this age of keyless ignitions, how could Saab have any relevance?

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
8 months ago

Knowing Saab, they’d have a center console spot where they install a recessed start button that you can only engage by placing the keyless remote in the recess and pushing THAT down. And if it’s a stick, you couldn’t remove the remote after shut down (or operation), until you put it in reverse.

BenCars
BenCars
8 months ago

It lived on (briefly) in Volvo, which had a slot in the dash where you could insert your key fob.

You don’t have to, but it was interesting.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
8 months ago
Reply to  BenCars

That seemed to be common in early keyless systems. A few luxury makes did that, but so did some non-lux models like Nissans and the Prius. I think it stemmed from everyone fearing that the batteries would die and you’d be stuck/they hadn’t quite gotten the tech to the level now where you just hold the key near the steering column or start button.

Kasey
Kasey
8 months ago

The final 9-5s had a regular push button start set up on the center console iirc.

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
8 months ago
Reply to  Kasey

Didn’t know that, thanks!

Last edited 8 months ago by Inthemikelane
Eggsalad
Eggsalad
8 months ago

Despite the fact that GM owned 20% of Subaru at the time, you couldn’t get a GM employee discount on a WRX, but you could on a 9-2x and a 9-7. Both models sold fairly well in Michigan because of that, and often the 9-7 could be had for cheaper than its cousins because SAAB dealers didn’t really want to sell them.

Arewethereyet
Arewethereyet
8 months ago

Can we do Volvo next? 55? EM90?

Maymar
Maymar
8 months ago

Should’ve included the other kind of Not-Saab Saab, the Cadillac BLS.

I’m going Saabaru as least sucky and Lancia as most sucky (because it’s the mundane Delta, while the Trollblazer at least got the Aero). BLS is probably ahead of the Trollblazer because it’s mostly just an average 9-3 that’s been hacked up with a machete.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
8 months ago

“Only about 2,000 were built between 1980 and 1982, so chances are you’ve not seen one of these and never will.”

These are tricky to find but I haven’t given up hope.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

It would complement your Volvo 66 perfectly!

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
8 months ago
Reply to  FuzzyPlushroom

I’ve wanted a 600 since before I got my 66 but yes, it certainly would, wouldn’t it?

3WiperB
3WiperB
8 months ago

Few may remember, but Saab nearly had another Saabaru in the line-up. They were also planning for a while to re-badge the B9 Tribeca. I think they even showed a concept of it at the Detroit Auto Show. I think that was going to be the Saab 9-6

The GMT360 might have had the most number badged-engineered car brands ever. Chevy Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Olds Bravada, Buick Rainier, Isuzu Ascender, and the Saab 9-7x. And then there’s the extended GMT370 versions of that platform that were sold at the same time. The Trailblazer EXT, Envoy XL, Envoy XUV, Ascender EXT. The Chevy SSR was another variant. How did Pontiac and Saturn not get one of these? Was that just a step too far?

Last edited 8 months ago by 3WiperB
Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
8 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

You could’ve warned us. It might be slightly better looking than the Tribeca but sheesh.

3WiperB
3WiperB
8 months ago

It’s pretty bland looking. Better looking than the Tribeca is a really low bar. It doesn’t even look like they moved the ignition on that one. https://www.motorauthority.com/news/1063368_the-subaru-tribeca-based-saab-9-6-crossover-that-never-was

Last edited 8 months ago by 3WiperB
Eurocanard
Eurocanard
8 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

Honestly the Tribeca design almost looks like a throwback to the styling of the Saab 93 of the 1950s (and early 95/96 which look similar) with the teardrop grille and horizontal vents with chrome trim in the middle, it would have been ironic if the Saab badge-engineered those elements away

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
8 months ago

It’s bland, but not ugly.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
8 months ago

All I see from the front clip is Jumba from Lilo & Stitch.

The Tribeca also suffers from this.

Last edited 8 months ago by Glutton for Piëch
Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
8 months ago

Wow that’s an ugly front end. Even for a tribeca

Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
8 months ago

You could have, you really could have.

Joe Ryan
Joe Ryan
8 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

Yeah this might indeed JUST edge out the Cavalier of the 80s, which was an Oldsmobile, a Chevy, a Pontiac and a Cadillac!

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
8 months ago
Reply to  Joe Ryan

The T-car is up there, too – Chevy, Pontiac, Opel, Vauxhall, Holden, Isuzu, Saehan, Daewoo, Bedford, and Grumett.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
8 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Are you sure you didn’t miss a couple? Seems like there should be more…

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
8 months ago

There were Brazilian-made GMC Chevettes (two/four-door sedans) sold in Argentina in the early ’90s. That’s the only omission I know of offhand. (Not as weird as the Uruguayan Grumett Indiana, of course, which I only know about because of a Torch article on the old lighting site.)

Maymar
Maymar
8 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

The Suzuki Sidekick might compete, also being sold as the Geo Tracker, Chevy Tracker, GMC Tracker, Asuna Sunrunner, and Pontiac Sunrunner in North America alone

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
8 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

The Tribeca was rolling sadness.

Glutton for Piëch
Glutton for Piëch
8 months ago

Bravada is worst. Obviously. Even if it was a redeeming vehicle, which I doubt, the other options are a pimped up WRX and a Lancia. Of those, the WRX is better, because the engine *probably* won’t need a rebuilt before the Lancia rusts into the ether.

Last edited 8 months ago by Glutton for Piëch
Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
8 months ago

I’d argue the Saabaru was more Saab than other conventional Saabs at the time with it’s flat 4. Saabs originally had all kinds of weird engines, V4, slant 4, 2 stroke 3 cylinders, then they sold out and just went with inline otto cycle 4 cylinders cause of the ‘man’.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
8 months ago

The 9-7 is an abomination in the eyes of god and I will never, ever forgive GM for what they did to this wonderful company.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
8 months ago

I like the Saab 9-2X because it was a better Subaru with a nicer interior and front styling than a contemporary Impreza and the Aero was less likely to attract wannabe racers at stoplights than a WRX.
The 9-7X is,the worst because a Chevy Trailblazer with a floor mounted ignition was the anti Saab, the evil opposite of Saab. Conversely its short-lived successor the Cadillac SRX based 9-4X was a good Saab.
The Lancia Delta Ikea edition is news to me and probably a decent car but not very Swedish

World24
World24
8 months ago

I voted for the Saabaru, only because I like the 9-7X and the Lancaab (Saacia?). I think they’re better than the Subaru, but then again, the Subie was probably closer to a Saab then a Trailblazer or Delta. Oh well.

Last edited 8 months ago by World24
Jack Trade
Jack Trade
8 months ago

At least GM did move the ignition on the 9-7x, showing at least some familiarity with the source.

Would have been worse if it hadn’t. Like in the ’90s when Hollywood studios starting rebooting old movies and tv shows, they often just used the name and a nodding familiarity with the setup for something almost entirely unrelated, just with a hip hop theme added.

Sure, we’re in retro hell now, but at least they take the time to work in easter eggs, clever usage of minor characters, etc. so our intelligence/taste isn’t totally insulted.

Last edited 8 months ago by Jack Trade
EmotionalSupportBMW
EmotionalSupportBMW
8 months ago

All are blasphemy in the House of Saab. Don’t promote such vile exercises in human greed. Saab died for GM’s debt sins. And you profit off it. Heresy! Shame!

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
8 months ago

The least suckiest is easy, the 9-2x. It allowed adultish people to drive a WRX without the d-baggage of a flat-brimmed, vaping, dude-bro driver.

If the 600 were based on the Integrale, then it might jump into the LS spot ahead of the 9-2. But since it isn’t, and since it apparently couldn’t survive a single Swedish winter, I think you have to put it in the MS spot, below even the lowly 9-7x. At least a Bravada can survive multiple winters, kind of a must for a Swedish car.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
8 months ago

Counterpoint: dude-bro’s weren’t vaping yet when the Saabaru came out. e-cigs were for the classy back then.

Oldhusky
Oldhusky
8 months ago

I once met a guy in a Subaru dealer parking lot that said be bought a Saabaru because of a bike rack-related incident with his former Subaru of the same generation, which i have also owned since new. On these models because of the design of the integrated roof rails a roof-mounted bike rack must be installed backwards so the hatch door doesn’t hit it on its way up. Apparently, with his bike positioned backwards thusly while driving on the interstate, the force of wind on the underside of his bicycle saddle broke the plastic strap holding the rear wheel, his fork tips broke off in the clamp, and his vintage lugged steel racing bike ended up as twisted scrap metal on the highway. So he traded in his Impreza for the Saabaru, which didn’t have an integrated roof rail system allowing an aftermarket rack to be mounted farther forward on the roof, allowing a bike rack to be mounted facing forwards. This whole encounter began as a friendly warning from this fellow upon seeing the same bike rack setup on the roof my Subaru that had resulted in the destruction of his irreplaceable bike. My fear of this happening to me while transporting my bicycles mounted backwards on the roof of my Impreza has haunted me ever since.

Last edited 8 months ago by Oldhusky
Donald Petersen
Donald Petersen
8 months ago
Reply to  Oldhusky

So I guess I’d just take the saddle off for transport, then? Or turn it around.

Last edited 8 months ago by Donald Petersen
Isis
Isis
8 months ago

I had 2 turbo Saabarus at different times. They were definitely nicer to drive than a WRX and the interior was a bit better too. I made a few tweaks as one does to cars like this but they were really decent cars for the money. They stickered higher than the WRX but you could get the GM discount for everybody at the time and that made them way less expensive. They also depreciated about the same so once they cut in half from sticker after 2 years, they tracked right with the Subaru for resale.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
8 months ago

The 9-2X and 600 are quirky enough to join the Saab family. With only the front clip, steering wheel, and ignition location changing from the standard Trailblazer, the 9-7X is just too normal.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
8 months ago

Ok, so the TrailBlazer and it’s ilk were actually quite good SUV’s of the time and I’ll defend the Atlas 4.2 I6 it deserves more love than it gets. The 9-7x Aero was a TrailBlazer SS, which was a very good sports SUV and had the LS2

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
8 months ago

The Atlas I6 was/is good, but the SaaBlazer will always be a cynical cash grab and not even a very good one at that.

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
8 months ago

Ahem, you mean Trollblazer… 🙂

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
8 months ago

Haha! That’s right…I knew something about that sounded off. 😉

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
8 months ago

The 9-7X, because of how much it was whored around GM’s different brands, like a cheap Chinese wristwatch that you can pay to have screen printed with whatever brand you want on the dial.

GMC, Chevrolet, Saab, Isuzu, Oldsmobile, and Buick, all with sheet metal changes only ahead of the firewall, leaving the unmistakable doors and glass unchanged, so they all looked exactly the same from the side profile. It was lazy, cynical badge engineering of the worst kind.

The 92X is less egregious, because it was only shared by two brands, and was at least somewhat more Saab-like to start with, and the 600, again, at least incorporated some Saab input and was only sold in selected markets.

Motorhead Mike
Motorhead Mike
8 months ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

When I read you second paragraph, my first thought was NASCAR.

rctothefuture
rctothefuture
8 months ago

The 9-7x was also availabe with the Trailblazer SS drivetrain. That at least earns it’s spot as a “desirable” GM Saab product. The idea of a “luxury” SUV means it was the first proto-X5M, before that idea really started to catch on.

Alexk98
Alexk98
8 months ago

Had a friend when I was growing up whose parents had TWO Trailblazers. The one time I got a ride from them, it stalled coming out of the neighborhood, it couldn’t have been more than 5-6 years old at that point, and it was struggling, in a (at the time) modern automatic SUV. Yeah, 9-7x is most worst as is anything else on that god-forsaken GMT360 platform.

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