Saab was one of those idiosyncratic little carmakers that inspired intense loyalty among its fans, thanks to some genuinely novel engineering, engaging cars, and some charmingly strange quirks. When the corporate giant GM bought out Saab in 2000, it made at least some attempts to keep the Saab spirit alive. One of those attempts, though, may be one of the most cynical things GM has ever done.
I’m talking about the Saab 9-7X, which was, basically, a Chevy TrailBlazer with some different lights, grille, badging, and one key detail that GM figured was good enough to make a Chevy a Saab.
The detail? It was the re-locating of the ignition key to the central tunnel, Saab-style.
Saab had been sticking the ignition switch on the transmission hump between the seats since 1969. It’s there for rational Swedish security reasons, but it’s also become a hallmark of Saab’s unique engineering choices.
When GM decided to re-badge the TrailBlazer into the Saab 9-7X, it seems like they did the least they could possibly get away with to make the car seem like a Saab. They gave it a Saab grille, Saab lights, Saab badges, and then the crowning detail was jamming the ignition switch between the seats, Saab-style.
Even when GM re-badged a Subaru Impreza and WRX as the Saab 9-2X they didn’t bother to move the key. That Saabaru at least felt generally more harmonious with the Saab spirit, since it at least had some novel and idiosyncratic engineering, like a rally heritage and a horizontally-opposed engine. Of course, those were Subaru’s idiosyncrasies, but at least it sort of felt similar. A little.
But the 9-7X is nowhere at all close to what Saabs were, conceptually or engineering-wise. At all. That’s why it always felt like a TrailBlazer in a Saab Halloween costume, and why that re-located key always felt like such a cynical, pandering act.
It’s like if you circumcised a pious Catholic and said boom, now you’re Jewish. It just doesn’t work like that.
GM’s done a lot of crappy badge-engineering over the years, but the Saab 9-7x key location stands out as the most cynical, half-assed, pandering single act of engineering the General has done.