In early 2014, my wife was very pregnant. She was also very insistent that my 2004 VW R32 would not cut it as our only car. So, the search began for a second vehicle. Being a car guy (read: “idiot”), I did it in the best/worst way possible. Below is part 1 of that story. It was originally published on our little family blog, but it seemed like a good thing to repost here because reasons. Enjoy!
Two weekends ago, I found it. The perfect family car for us. It’s a sensible, safe, reliable station wagon that will carry our child and all the accouterments in comfort....
Okay, you guys: my wife just stopped reading over my shoulder, so now I can tell you what I really did. I bought a special edition sports car that’s very rare, fast, and was made by a company no longer in existence. Actually, to be more accurate, I got a car that’s both everything in the first list and the latter. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the 2008 Saab TurboX SportCombi.
This all started a few months back, when we went to the baby store to find a car seat that fit in the back of my 2004 VW R32—at the time, the only car we owned. For the record, the car seat totally fit, and really wasn’t even that hard to get in and out of the car. As I’ve said in the past, I’m more stubborn than that would have been hard. Anyway, we eventually decided it would be better if Jenny had a car more readily at her disposal. (After a quick look to confirm Jenny is still not standing over my shoulder, I can tell you that one major reason for this is Jenny still refuses to drive my stick-shift car, despite being completely qualified to do so). At this point, you, as a reasonable person, might be saying, “Well, Ian, wouldn’t it just make more sense to replace the R32 with something more practical and with an automatic transmission?” Good point. Also, screw you, pretend reasonable person. You’ll have to pry that car from my COLD DEAD HANDS and who asked you anyway?
And so began my favorite thing ever: making a list of cars to meet The Requirements. Jenny’s list went something like this: reliable (booooooorrrring), automatic transmission (sell out), not an SUV (she gets more car sick in them and doesn’t enjoy sitting up high), all-wheel drive, not too big, wagon. But because I’m essentially just an 8 year-old with a body hair problem, my list went like this: Interesting! Fast! Comfortable! Fast! Not super common! Fun! Pretty! Fast! WAGON. Now, I don’t know how many of you have looked for cool wagons, or even just all-wheel-drive wagons, but it’s not a long list. Especially in the United States.
Here’s how my list came together (warning: massive rationalizations ahead). First, I picked the Car To Beat, the obvious, safe choice. For us, it was a Subaru Legacy 2.5GT Wagon. It had a lot going for it—Subarus are as reliable as finding a Prius driver clogging up the left lane, and the aftermarket is so huge I could easily hammer one into being whatever car I wanted. However, there are a few problems that allowed me to cross it off the list pretty quickly. Foremost is its sheer ubiquity in Denver. They’re EVERYWHERE. We’d lose it in every parking lot. The second problem was price/value. Because this is the obvious choice, lots of people want to buy them, so the resale value is actually really high. In fact, it’s comparable to other, nicer used AWD wagons out there. And I don’t know how many of you have spent time in Subaru interiors, but they’re not especially nice places to be for a long time. The Subbie was looking pretty vulnerable. Next, I like to try to fill in the Raised Eyebrow Choices. These are the cars that are really cool, but probably a really bad idea. Examples of these include the Passat W8 wagon (Pro: interesting engine! Con: interesting engine); the Audi Allroad (the first, always-broken one, not the fake one based on the A4); and the Mercedes E550 Wagon (huge v8 in a wagon! Huge repair bills!). With those amusing-but-not-going-to-happen entries out of the way, it was time to find the real gems. 2004-2006ish Audi S4s were in our price range, surprisingly. I LOVE those cars—such a great engine, bullet-proof AWD system, luxurious, and it comes in a wagon. This was my new top of the list, with the only downsides being that they’re very expensive to fix, and anything newer than about a 2006 without a healthy dose of miles was out of our price range. So we’d sacrifice reliability and affordability for more speed and comfort. Not sure I could sell that as a way to beat the Subbie.
In the end, though, all the contenders fell into this same sort of trap: BMWs were too expensive, the Mercedes too big/not fun enough, the VWs too boring or all front-drive only, and the Americans with literally nothing at all to offer. Seriously, we as a country make exactly one AWD wagon: the Cadillac CTS Sportwagon, which is still too new and pricey. And if you said, “Hey, what about the Dodge Magnum?” please rethink some of your life choices. Even my personal favorite, the Volvo V70R, which is probably The Coolest Car You Can Buy, had to be crossed off. Despite being super cool, super fast, and really practical, it’s a maintenance nightmare, and the aftermarket options are shockingly limited.
Which left us with The Unicorn: the 2008 Saab TurboX SportCombi. The 9-3 with XWD was Saab’s first real foray into AWD cars (the 9-7X was just a re-badged Chevy Trailblazer, and the 9-2X a Subaru, so they don’t count). To celebrate, they made the TurboX into a limited run, with only 600 cars coming to the US. Of those cars, most were sedans (SportCombi is Swedish for wagon, apparently), and the best guess for the number of wagons is about 200 in the States. Pretty exclusive. From the base 9-3, it has more power, the previously mentioned AWD system, a sport suspension, upgraded wheels and brakes and a slightly improved interior. It also looks way effin’ cooler than any wagon deserves. When it was new, it cost $43k before options, so it was something of a critical flop, and people promptly forgot about them around the time that Saab went bust a few years ago. So now, they’re cheaper than most of their contemporaries, even the ones that can’t keep up in the performance department. Now, all that was left was to find one of the damn things. Stay tuned for Part 2: Getting the Dumb Thing Home.