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2009 Saab Turbo X: Not Quite X-traordinary

Posted in Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Expensive Cars, GM, Lexus, Saab, Volvo by Geoff | August 3rd, 2008 | 21 Responses |

the awkward years and now
Saab: the awkward years and now

I am not a Saab naysayer. I have always found the slightly quirky cars a nice balance to all of the Luminas and Cavaliers cranked out over the years by the “designers” (and I use that term loosely) from mothership General Motors. I also, admittedly, generally only write about cars I like and I WANT to like the Turbo X. But I don’t; and like most bad things these days it’s because of money.

First the good news:

One of the main reasons Saab has failed to make much of an impression in the U.S. is because of Saabs rather lackluster performance in comparison to other European luxury cars. In that regard the Saab earns higher marks than is usually expected. Instead of the front-wheeled drive we’ve come to expect all Turbo X models come with all-wheel drive and a pretty exceptionally turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 that produces 280 horsepower. Finally Saabs horsepower numbers are at least in the ball park of their sport sedan cohorts. Turbocharging is something Saab has nearly 30 years’ worth of experience doing, so the Turbo X does it and does it well; without any lag of power that has plagued the Turbo’s reputation in the past. Best of all, Saab generates all its torque at low engine speeds: 2,150 r.p.m., which, means the power is immediately available, providing great acceleration the moment you step on the gas pedal. In terms of handling, the AWD is great, perhaps even the best of the cars in its class.

Not lagging far behind the competition
Turbo X: Not lagging far behind the competition

Now the bad news: All of this available power sucks down gas at an abysmal rate.

The Turbo X’s EPA rating of 15 m.p.g. in the city and 24 m.p.g. on the highway is worse than any of its competitors and worse than larger cars like the all-wheel drive Cadillac CTS. In Saab’s defense, I’ve read that it gets marginally better gas mileage on the highway than what the EPA rating states. So maybe I’ll give it a pass on that.

While the exterior and interior styling itself, for that matter, is quite attractive and very much in league with other luxury cars, the execution comes across as cheap. Like much of GM’s products, there is too much hard plastic alongside the upscale leather upholstery and carbon fiber trim. Additionally, fit and finish is an issue with a car trying to be talked about in the same breath as Audi or Lexus; a big no-no. And while it is nice, it isn’t quite nice enough for a car that costs, wait for it…….over $40,000.

That’s bad news #2. The 2009 Turbo X starts at $41,765 for the sedan, $42,565 for the wagon, and is nicely equipped at $44,560. In a competition where your rivals are the Audi A4, BMW 225xi, Lexus IS 250 AWD and Volvo S80, all of them AWD vehicles; the Turbo X is the priciest entry of the bunch.

While the Turbo X performs admirably it really hasn’t earned the right to be the most expensive car in that group.

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21 Responses

  1. Jessika says:

    I’ll be right behind you if they get rid of the turbo and give me a supercharger instead. Saab has always had really comfortable seats. I hope this is not a manual only model as I insist on an automatic transmission.

  2. James says:

    The guy who wrote this article is cluess what a Saab Turbo X is. First and foremost the Turbo X is a Limited Edition car. Seems the editor know’s nothing of xwd drive and yes XWD not AWD drivetrain. It’s a cross transfer all wheel drive train let you get that on beemer or audi.
    There is so many things left out and the reason why this car really shines to comment on, best to disreguard the editors write up and read one where editor know what he his talking about.

  3. Geoff Scheusner says:

    I’m sorry I gave the impression that this was not a solid car in many ways, “Turbo X: Not lagging far behind the competition.” It does handle well, but the “XWD” of the Saab whose handling I commended as being “great” is not unique to this “limited edition” model. In fact, you may get it (and most other options on this vehicle) on less expensive Saabs. In fact, the paint job may be the only thing special about it. The engine is the same as in other Saabs as well, but without a torque limiter. The XWD itself is simply a pre-emptive system that does not rely on front wheel slippage to engage. Truth be told, and I’ll allow you to make your own conclusions once you’ve driven both cars, the xDrive, (by BMW no less) which I have not had the pleasure of driving, is thought by many to be superior to the XWD. From BMW, “xDrive acts in advance, actively withdrawing drive power from the axle with less grip and re-distributing this power to the wheels benefiting from greater traction on the road beneath.” Sounds awfully similar to Saabs doesn’t it? In Grant Yoxon’s test drive last October he felt that the XWD system would not allow the kind of driving, even at lower speeds, that those looking for a performance sedan might want. It may make the car safer, but certainly not more fun. Finally, I will reiterate that the performance of the “X” was not the issue, but actually the price. Limited Edition or not, most would not think a cheaply finished Saab should be more expensive than the other AWD, XWD or WHATEVER-Drive vehicles mentioned as its competitors. Thanks for reading James! Hope that clears things up.

  4. Tim says:

    To be fair the Turbo X does come pretty much fully loaded. I suspect that it is significantly cheaper than all of the cars you listed if equipped comparably, except for the IS250 (which is significantly slower, by 1.5-2 seconds to 60). The S80 is also considerably slower and isn’t really a sports sedan anyway.

  5. Xavier says:

    Generally car reviews will evaluate the performance of the car not perform some calculus after looking at the specs and sticker price.

    Even on that basis this review fails. The IS250 is not a valid comparison – try the IS350 and you’re closer (and also well into the $40s). Likewise direct competitors from Audi and BMW would be the S4 and 335xi (both $40s – $50s).

  6. Xavier says:

    And by the way, the difference between AWD and XWD is not just marketing spin (pun intended). Audi’s quattro system is a full-time AWD system which equally distributes power to the four wheels. XWD (and xDrive for that matter) are Haldex systems which have a front-drive bias (rear in the case of BMW) and only engage all four wheels when traction is lost.

    Whether you prefer BMW or Saab is largely dependent on whether you prefer a rear wheel drive experience or front drive. I’ve owned both and I can tell you they’re different but neither is decidedly “better.” It’s like deciding between a brunette and a blonde.

  7. JT says:

    Why doesn’t the reviewer actually read up a little on the Haldex XWD? Five minutes surfing (or even 2 minutes consultation of the Saab literature) should enable him to conclude that the XWD is far superior to other 4X4 systems at present. If he is not prepared to do this (look at his followup remarks (15 August 2008)in which he digs an even bigger hole for himself) then I do not see why I should bother helping him out. His review + followup is simply factually misleading.

  8. EMD says:

    Subaru Legacy GT does the same for $10K less. And is more reliable!

  9. Mb says:

    Black Saabs rule. Subarus are for middle aged dykes in sensible shoes.

  10. Brett says:

    I bought a new car this summer, an 06 saab 9-3 aero. very much like a turbo x just without the xwd. i have the same engine just dumbed down. i have to say that the car is a dream to drive, except in traffic.

    I also test drove a subaru legacy gt which is also a great car, but I have to say that the saab looks better and performs better.

    Both are pretty fast, very quick, but the saab entices you to go faster while the subaru is like driving a maxima with some boost. there is no flare to the subaru.

    the saab pulls and makes u want to run with it.

    kind of funny though, the saab 9-2x is a wrx lol

  11. Rafa says:

    The Saab history my friend, the potential. I am eagerly awaiting stories of aftermarket performance projects. Wouldn’t a 600kw Saab make a WRX have very little to lose..

  12. wtfreviewer says:

    This review: Lacking in substance. Comparing a 9-5 to an A4/IS250/225xi is a mistake right out of the gate. Compare horsepower, trim levels, interior space, engine size/output. None of those cars matches the SAAB in engine, trim, space, or designated purpose. The 9-5 is and always has been the flagship of the brand, more akin to an A6 quattro/IS350/528xi. All of these cars, similarly equipped, are more expensive than the SAAB, have comparable if not worse mileage, and are just as expensive to maintain. And another thing; SAAB’s 9000 series consistently beat the BMWs and even porsches of the 90’s era with similar engine outputs and trim levels. SAABs have not been historically underpowered, it is only in the last couple of years that they have stagnated technologically (a lamentable situation I will attribute to their new owners, GM).
    Finally, even through the review there are inconsistencies, since A4s and 325s come out of the box with less than 200 bhp (Audi A4 quattro, 2.8 V6 198 hp/BMW 325xi 184 bhp), which IS comparable to the SAAB 9-3 series, which boasts 210 hp in the same trim, with a smaller engine and better feul economy.
    Learn your shit, then try to claim SAABs are over-priced. Quirky, front-wheel drive, small displacement? Yes. Underpowered, overpriced, out of their element in the import luxury scene? HA. Not on your life.

  13. What a lame review. First of all, when you see the word ‘quirky’ in a Saab review you know the reviewer is a total hack. BORING…

    I have owned Saabs since 1972. The Turbo X is easily the best one, though my 1972 96 that I kept until 2000 (with other models in between of course), was probably the most fun, especially after I bored out the V-4, milled the heads, added an Isky cam grind and some other stuff and shut down so many gawking heads.

    But look, you can pick away all you want as this cliche meister does, especially whining about gas mileage in a review of a performance car? What is that about, except a need to belch crap because the car’s not a Bimmer or an Audi, but I can tell you this: I’d rather have the 9-3 Turbo X than some cramped girlie claustrophobic BMW 3 series any day and I’ll match the trouble free 9-3 experience I’ve had since 2002 against any Audi owner’s experience over that period of time. I’ve heard enough Audi horror stories over the past decade to scare me away from the brand for now. I’ll put the 9-3 Turbo X up against any of the competition, and give me break about comparing the Saab to a U R a BUS. Ok, there are a few plastic posts on the steering column. BFD. The seats are comfortable, the ride is tight, the 6 speed manual is VG and overall i wouldn’t trade this car for a fat BMW 5 series either. The 9-3 Turbo is just right.

  14. interwebs says:

    From the follow ups, I see this author has no idea what he is talking about.

    Has he actually driven any of these cars he writes about?

  15. carter bishop says:

    as an owner of an 08 Turbo X Sportcombi , I can tell you that I love my car. I have owned, BMW’s, Audi’s, Cadillac’s, Chev Corvette’s and many others but none of them made me want to drive fast and hard like this SAAB. There truly is something about driving a SAAB.

    I also get more looks,compliments and questions about this car than any others I have owned. As well, exclusivity it a great perk. I didn’t want to own another 3 series BMW because they are as numerous and invisible as a Toyota Camry.

    The bottom line is this, if you have not driven a Turbo X , shut up and mind your own business.

  16. Cober says:

    Wow, Geoff! Looks like you really kicked up a shit storm with that review. Better luck next time.

  17. Chris says:

    JUst wanted to say that I ordered my ’08 Turbo X as soon as I heard about it. I was driving a ’04 9-3t linear with some aftermarket work and loved that car sooooo much that I decided to dive right into saab. I had a ’00 Audi S4, a ’97 BMW 328is and this is BY FAR the coolest car I have ever had. I blacked out the windows and people stop me everywhere I go to ask me about it. My niece calls it “uncle Chris’s Batmobile”. I can’t wait until it is nice outside so I can just go drive all day. Forget comparisons, specs, all of that stuff. This car has “identity” and “personality” and just wants to go. That’s cool that it’s not for everyone. They only made a few so that’s a good thing. I think the people that have them are a very lucky and select few. Great comments!!!

  18. Saab Spyker says:

    One must keep in mind that the philosophy of Saab produce cars that drive enthusiastically and are safe. BMW’s is to produce the ultimate driving machine. Audi is… well thats a good question but I think it has something to do with clever headlamp designs (they’re great cars thanks to VW). Saab is not striving to follow the familiar formats of their Germanic brethren. They stick to what they believe in and do it well. I feel as many the in recent years GM has, as the are notorious for, penny pinched Saab’s to its limits (and almost to death). Despite that the strong philosophy of Saab carried through produce cars that are undeniably their own. The Turbo X acts as a shining example at the end of the GM era. Now that GM has been shed and a Spyker has taken the reins, Saabs of the future will look like the organically grown re-conception of Saabs of old. The cars will be incomparable with the Germans while not claiming superiority. Modestly continuing to be Saabs performing what Saab owners desire and expect from the cars and the brand.

  19. not-so-fast-eddie says:

    To start with I think this “by price” comparison is nuts. Some cars are getting way more than MSRP and some are just “suggested” with emphasis on the word suggested. Had that happen with Audi when I bought my Volvo XC and again with Toyota when I priced, but did not buy an FJ. In short, they wanted more and were getting more than the list price. Conversely, they were discounting the Saab’s but not by as much as you would think. That said, I did buy an XWD “base” car and I like it. It is a real nice basic ride and is a bit better than my Volvo that has 100K miles on it but regarding the old Saab and the rally tradition, I’ll say that and the “quirky” nature of the Swede is gone. GM kind of “neutered” the cars and it’s hard to find a car with character today.

    Performance? Well this Saab doesn’t whisper in my ear to go faster though because it’s smoother than other cars in the driveway I tend to go a bit quicker. On the other hand, when I started to get into this Turbo X thing and liking my new XWD, I figured I may start to hunt for one on the used market but one drive in my 2000 base Corvette cured me of that. I will try to find a Saab to test but I doubt if the extra 70 horses is going to lure me to put the Vette on the market and replace it with a Turbo X. I’ll give it a chance but, I doubt it.

    Before I get accused of not understanding the “brand”, this is like Saab #7 in our family, a few “classic 900’s” along with second gen “9’s” and a 9000 tossed in for good measure along with an older 9-5 that I almost forgot about.

    Quality? Upon delivery it had a missing lumbar knob, a few burnt bulbs and some of the plastic has sharp edges so it sounds more like The Trolls were …. actually in Norsk legend, Trolls are nasty little things that live under bridges and frighten children and horses, so they were alive and working for GM the day my car was built.

  20. Rich says:

    i purchased a brand new turbo-x sedan and had it for about a year and love it.

    it’s not the perfect car and i’m disappointed saab didn’t put a little extra work to make it a little sportier like perhaps a short shift kit or maybe a little more aggressive bumpers or something. bumping the power up a little would’ve also been nice. either way i’m pretty pleased with my car.

    re: xwd and the front wheel bias someone mentioned i agree it’s all a matter of preference but i’m convinced xwd is the superior system from whats currently out there..i think we’ve all read the info on the 911 turbo and i think the gtr going through the corners with a turbo x.

  21. […] United States last year. So what can we expect from this continued partnership that has decidedly NOT worked for Saab? Hopefully not more of the […]