We'd read somewhere that at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. locked in the struggle against the evil Commies, Sweden was considered as a potential candidate for location of a Northern European base for F-117A Night Hawk Stealth fighters. Obviously that didn't happen as the decision was made to base all 59 of the arrow-headed black-as-night fighters stateside at Holloman Air Force Base after testing completed at the Toponah test range. And now, well, now they've all been retired. But we're going to imagine for a moment that maybe a couple of them were sent over to Sweden for some leave time. It's the only way we're able to explain the 2008 Saab Turbo X — because if Saab claims they're born from jets, we're of the impression this jet-black baby meatball's daddy has to be an F-117A. Earlier this week our intrepid Editor-in-Chief and I were invited over to Gingerman Raceway on Michigan's western coast to watch as Saab attempted to prove that pedigree by taking on the limited-edition Turbo X's competitors — the Audi A4 3.2 Quattro and the BMW 335 Xi. In addition, and just to see how it stacked up, the Swedes also brought along a new 2008 Subaru WRX STi and a brand spanking new 2008 BMW M3. So what happened? Well, hit the jump.
First of all, let's talk a bit about the 2008 Saab 9-3 Turbo X. When we first saw the Darth Vader-like sedan from Trollhättan, we were impressed by it's Swedish looks, the engine under the hood and the bits n' pieces connecting the power to the road. Why wouldn't we be? We're talking about a Saab with an intercooled turbo'ed 2.8-liter V6 under the hood with an output of 280 horses mated to a six-speed manual transmission and a fourth-generation Haldex XWD system to put the 295 lb-ft of torque to good use.
But it doesn't just have all the right pieces. As we've already said — it also looks good — from the 18" black-rim wheels to the interior evoking the look and feel of the classic black Saab 900 Turbo. Even the steering wheel's purpose-built for performance.
But enough, let's move on to the test procedure which is what we were all here for anyway. GM asked the Corvette Racing support team from Pratt & Miller to break away from their Jakegasm for the day to time the laps, and behind the steering wheel of each of the vehicles they dropped the Scandinavian sensation Jan Magnussen and sent him out on the track to do some laps on both a dry and wet track. Yes, that's the same Jan Magnussen with 25 Formula 1 starts, and triple Le Mans 24 hours wins for Corvette Racing. Good guy to have behind the wheel, right?
Each of the vehicles were sent out as stock, and all of them were sent out with traction control nanny systems fully engaged. So how'd the Turbo X do? Well, it's a GM event, so how'd you think they did? Actually, surprisingly better than expected. On the dry track, the Turbo X garnered commendable middle-of-the-road status, beaten by the Subaru WRX STi and the M3 by a couple of seconds and the 3-series by only a few tenths of a second. The Turbo X surprisingly put away the A4 by almost 2.5 seconds.
But it was on the wet track that that new 4th-generation Haldex XWD system really appeared to prove its mettle — blowing away the A4 Quattro, besting the Subie and dropping behind the best M3 lap time by only one tenth of a second.
While that's great for Saab to have a product that can take on the best of the mid-size performance sedans, it's still only a limited-run vehicle. Approximately 600 of the 2,000 special edition 9-3's produced will make it across the ocean to be snatched up by Saab-ophiles, which is not enough to really make a dent in the marketplace. Still, with that understated look and those respectably tough performance numbers, it's an interesting choice for performance-minded buyers of mid-size sedans. That is if you happen to be one of the lucky few able to snatch up this spicy Swedish meatball. But we guess that's the point. Saab marketing folks hope the 9-3x will build a buzz about their cross-wheel drive system that'll be hitting the rest of the 9-3 lineup in the near-term future, and expanding to, you know, other Saab models shortly. In that, we think, they've accomplished what they'd set out to do.
We'd have liked to provide a bit more detail on our experience driving the new 2008 Saab Turbo X after the day's testing was complete. However, because the boss's left foot got a little bit heavy — and a lot bit forgetful — we didn't get more than a lap and a half. And by "we," we mean him. We'll just let his sidebar explanation over yonder explain that one to you. Suffice it to say, the Saab folks were mighty good sports, and our intrepid boss was mighty red-in-the-face at the end of the day as he remembered exactly why his road test editor was given the responsibility for track-days.