Too good to be true, buyer beware, look before you leap. These are all sage pieces of advice that often get thrown out the window when it comes to the irrational purchase of a cheap performance car. Case in point – my decision to buy a certain, low priced 2005 Saab 9-2X Aero.
The 9-2X, or Saabaru as it was affectionately known, is a byproduct of General Motors in the mid-2000s. Saab, a wholly owned entity of GM, wanted to fill a gap in the brand’s North American portfolio by adding a compact premium car. Subaru, a brand that GM had a large controlling interest in at the time, had recently introduced the second generation Impreza to North America. With standard all-wheel drive and a more premium feel, the car seemed a perfect starting point for Saab.
The Swedish manufacturer added new front and rear clips to the Impreza that made it resemble other vehicles in the Saab family. The interior received an overhaul and was fitted with more premium materials. Volia, a new car was formed – the 9-2X. Better yet, there was also a version of the WRX called the 9-2X Aero. This was the car I always lusted after and in the spring of 2014, I would acquire one.
A Rough Beginning
When my 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata bit the dust, I decided I would look for something a little more practical. Many cars were on my shortlist, including the 9-2X Aero. After a few days of browsing, I spotted a 2005 Saab 9-2X Aero for sale in Montreal. It ticked all my boxes, having the turbocharged engine, manual transmission and the exterior colour I loved.
The price seemed too good to be true and I should have stopped there. Still, I did do my due diligence and got a friend to do a quick inspection of the vehicle. He reported a few minor issues, like one of the struts was leaking oil and the bumpers had the usual downtown Montreal wear-and-tear, but otherwise it was in good shape.
I bought the car sight unseen and headed five hours east to pick it up. Upon arrival I noticed the paint was a little rougher than the photos let on and one of the rear taillights was cracked. The interior was cleaner than expected though, especially for a car with two-tone near-white upholstery.
The drive home revealed there was more wrong with the car than just a leaking strut and a cracked taillight. A constant thumping from the front end meant not all was well with the drivetrain either. The car did complete the journey home and was sent immediately to my mechanic for further evaluation.
A Rough Middle (Literally)
It was determined that the front left driveshaft was basically toast and needed to be replaced. I set off to fix all the car’s issues which would be no small feat. Nine Montreal winters worth of road salt had corroded every surface under the car, seizing every nut and/or bolt.
I ordered a new shaft and found a replacement taillight at a junkyard in Arizona. To fix the leaking strut, instead of going with OEM replacements, I bought a set of used coil-overs off a local car club. Yes, I can see you cringing from here as it was indeed a terrible mistake.
Despite being advertised as in great condition, one of the spindles on the front right shock was seized. Luckily it was set to the ride-height I wanted the car to sit at, but it was also set way too stiff for my liking. I had to make all three of the other shocks match its height and stiffness which turned the 9-2X in a bucking bronco.
Body roll was virtually eliminated, but so was ride comfort. Worse still, this wasn’t optimal for the vehicle’s dynamics as it didn’t allow me to adjust front and rear stiffness for my preferred handling feel. Instead I was locked in rock-hard-non-rotating-mode. One trip to the track was enough for me not to want to venture back until I replaced the expensive mistake I made to my suspension.
A Rough Ending
Over time, I learned how to live with the granite suspension and ticking front differential, the latter of which was solved by installing a catback exhaust to drown it out. For nine months the car was fairly reliable and mostly fun. I planned to buy a brand-new set of coilovers in the spring and begin to restore this car to pristine condition.
Then, in late winter, it all went to hell.
First the windshield cracked in two places from end to end. Next, the brakes began to whistle indicating their end was near. Then the power steering box rotted out from the aforementioned rust and was leaking fluid everywhere. This was the final straw. The costs to replace the windshield, brakes, coilovers and power steering unit were adding up to be more than I wanted to put into a car that just kept finding new maladies to suffer from.
Besides, my wife was due with our son in a few months and I needed a more reliable car before then. It was decided that after not even a year of ownership I had to dump the car and sold it off at a loss.
It is a shame really as the 9-2X Aero was a fantastic car – just not the one that I bought.