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1988 Redux: The Saab Story

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Although we have yet another mealy-mouthed Massachusetts liberal running against a half-patrician, half-oily, Texan--it isn't 1988 all over again. How do I know? Four reasons: Die Hard is now a way of life in Iraq rather than a charming Bruce Willis vehicle; Perestroika has given way to Putinmakeruleka; Eck and his moustache are in the Hall-of-Fame not serving 'em up to Gibby; and the beloved oddly-shaped Saabs I grew up with aren't nearly as ubiquitous as they were back in 1988, much like Alf. (My kingdom for a brown, furry, pizza-and-cat-eating alien driving a classic Saab 900.)

Sorry for letting nostalgia get the best of me. Saab still makes contoured cars dripping with Nordic charm, though they aren't quite the full-on turtle shell design of old. And the 9-3 convertible even comes in this tennis ball drowning in a pitcher of Mountain Dew color, keeping the not-quite-as-Swedish company ahead of the pack. (And it's also green in stature, getting 28 mpg on the highway). Even toned down, though, ever since Svenska Aeroplan Akitebolaget (AKA Saab) expanded from military aircraft into the automobile industry, the fastback has been easy to recognize from a block away. And the fact that Saabs are now made in Japan doesn't change that one bit...maybe it is 1988 again. I wonder if Stockholm drivers are slapping "Buy Swedish" stickers on their older 900s.

The car I drove however, was the 9-2X Aero, which didn't immediately conjure up images of the Dukakis glory days, but looking at it up close, it was Get Outta of My Dreams, Get Into My Car all over again. The spoiler and hood scoop give the 9-2X Aero a hint of European muscle, like a certain Austrian movie star from back in the day. (And if you said in 1988 after sitting through Twins and Red Heat, "I think he'd be perfect to captain the ship of the superpower's biggest state," you're a lying girlie man). And the 9-2X actually can flex its pipes, the five-speed 9-2X Aero carries a 2-liter 4-cylinder 227-hp that moves its 3,100 lbs. with a lot of pop. With nearly 28-cubic feet, it's more utilitarian than other uber-hip Euros like the Mini, and the 9-2X has gotten a jump on the Audi A3 and the BMW 1 series, so it should be as popular with 21st-century yuppies as the "Beamer" was. (It remains to be seen if Bolivian marching powder returns to prominence with young urbanites as well.)

I drove the $31,890 version loaded with packaged goods: Sport (17-inch alloy wheels, moonroof); Premium (leather seats, xenon headlights) and Cold (heated seats and outside mirrors). In typical Saab fashion, the interior is understated and uncluttered. The two-tone seats, aluminum pedals, and metallic highlights all add up to a coolly efficient machine running on 19/26 mpg. For all of Saab's technical know-how though, I don't get the 6-CD player without random. I need my Billy Ocean, Poison, INXS, and Terence Trent D'Arby in a late 80's jambalaya. Totally.

Last updated: Oct 1, 2004




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