In the grand scheme of automotive design, marketing and sales, it's commonplace to take a car from Company A, change around a few design elements, and presto!, Company B has a brand-new model to sell.
Sometimes the changes between shared models run deep. The Ford Focus, Mazda 3 and Volvo S40 all share a common platform, for instance, yet each of these cars are very distinct entities. The Volvo and Mazda certainly won't be mistaken for one another, either visually or from behind the wheel.
Other companies produce shared models that maintain a much closer bond. The Chrysler 300C sedan, wildly popular with both the hip-hop and suburban white-bread lifestyles, also serves as the base for Dodge Charger, which takes on a slightly more aggressive look for the NASCAR (and NASCAR-wannabe) crowd.
Over at GM, it's seemed for years that despite the massive line-up of vehicles spread out over a fistful of companies the automaker was actually only selling four models: a two-door, a four-door and a couple of trucks. That's changed in recent years -- thankfully -- although the shared-model approach really does beg the question of what's the difference between a Pontiac and a Buick?
It is, however, generally easier to tell the difference between a Saab and a Subaru. Or, at least, it was. Now GM has taken one of Subaru's most popular platforms, the Impreza, and re-badged it as a popularly-priced entry point into its Saab subsidiary.
Although Subaru only shares a business partnership with GM, it does share some important aspects with the quirky European-based Saab. Both companies make cars that prove the truth of the aphorism that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And both companies have built loyal followings with solid-performing cars that at times look as if they were designed by beating the modeling clay with an ugly stick (helllloooo Tribeca!).
Some Saab enthusiasts were appalled by the decision to combine the two strains, dismissing the resulting 2005 Saab 9-2X as a Saabaru. Which, frankly, kind of has a nice ring to it -- those enthusiasts better hope some wild marketing type doesn't get a bright idea based on it.
Anyway, the 9-2X turns out not to be an evil spawn of marketing. It's more of a happy middle child, eager to please and generally competent all around, even if it's not the favored child of anyone.
The exterior certainly brings the Saab look to the fore, with the distinctive front fascia leading the way. Otherwise, the 9-2X is rather nondescript, with the rounded-wagon end not breaking any new ground. Compared to other Saabs it looks positively diminutive.
The interior feels more like a Saab than a Subaru, at least to me (I'll admit I'm no Saab freak, so I may be missing some subtleties that stand out to others). In fact, it felt somewhat spare, particularly for a car that sells in the mid-20s. The back cargo area, though, is ample and accessible for this size car.
Driving, though, is a jaunty experience. The Subaru underpinnings are loud and clear when tossing it around a handful of curves and dashing about town. It's not made to take a thrashing, but it will take a fair amount of what the average (or even a bit above average) driver wants to throw at it. And the decent gas mileage doesn't hurt these days, either.
Is there a reason to buy a Saab 9-2X instead of, say, a Subaru Legacy? That depends on which quirky badge you want to have greet you every morning in your driveway. That is to say, it's a very personal choice.
To read more of Sean Bugg's car reviews, visit www.metroweekly.com/gears.