We get familiar with project 9-2X and pick out our likes and dislikes that need changing. We also try on some optional parts from Saab's Accessories list.
Part 2: Electronics, Gadgets and navigation.
The 9-2X gets some refinement with the installment of a bolt in stereo, navigation, back-up sensors and auto dimming central mirror.
Part 3: Suspension and wheels.
We finally get to the fun part and significantly improve the Saab's handling with Work wheels, Kumho tires, GT Spec chassis reinforcements, sway bars from H-Sport and a custom tuned adjustable suspension from TEIN.
Part 4: Bolt on power and tuning
Project Saab gets a quarter way to its horsepower target of 300 whp with the addition of a cold air intake, exhaust and some serious tuning by XS Engineering using EcuTek's programmable software.
Part 5: Brakes and other odds and ends
As we wait for the power parts to come in, we prep our 9-2X for the added power by bolstering the driveline and increasing the braking capabilities. We also address some of the little issues and damage that's already been incurred.
Everything thus far on our project has been to make it a better car than what came from the factory. Now that that's finally out the window, we're out to tune the car to get silly fast and impractical. In other words, this installment is about stuffing all the parts we needed into the Saab short of the turbo, fuel pump and injectors. If you've been keeping up with this project series, you'll notice the repeating motif of a missing turbo. It's not been easy trying to secure the bolt-on Garrett ball-bearing turbo we've been after. So, we've kept it moving by putting as much bolt-ons as we can in hopes that the turbo arrives one day. It took us and the guys at Mavrik Motorsports two solid days of wrenching to get all these parts on and set.
There's a reason we've been so picky about our turbo. Most bolt-on compressors that make decent power are just too laggy. Unlike a 1.8T engine with its tiny K03 turbo that spools instantaneously, the Saab's stock Mitsubishi TD04 turbo doesn't even think about turning until 3000 rpm. Most larger aftermarket pieces are worse and would further ruin our boost response. This all ruins the street drivability.
Front Mount Intercooling
We decided to go ahead and install GReddy Performance Products front-mount intercooler (FMIC). Normally, all the added plumbing used to relocate the intercooler from the top to the engine to the front of the car drastically increases air volume and slows boost response. This would only add to our problems, but we're hoping the free-spinning ball-bearing turbo would be able to compensate for this.
We chose a front-mount system because of the added cooling capacity and better positioning. Many Subaru owners choose to upgrade the top-mount intercooler with a larger unit, but the 9-2X's smaller hood scoop would still limit the amount of flow, making any top-mount upgrade pointless. Besides, hot air rises and a street car that sits in traffic would be better off with the intercooler in front.
The GReddy kit was designed to fit Japanese-market WRX vehicles and comes with Japanese instructions. Since the Saaburu is slightly different in layout (in terms of battery, emissions equipment, reservoirs and fuse box locations) from a Japanese WRX, we spent a little more time modifying and guessing how to make this thing work. It's still a pretty simple bolt-on and fits easily under the Saab bumper. We completely removed the front bumper support instead of cutting out the required clearance to fit the FMIC core. Our reasoning is the Saab sits low enough, that the support would be useless in any type of vehicle-to-vehicle accident.
Aside from the bumper support and foglight removal, there is no other cutting involved with installing the GReddy intercooler. It was a straightforward bolt-on job for the most part. We did have to modify the intake to accommodate the space occupied by the intercooler pipes and also relocate the coolant overflow reservoir, but that's all documented in the manual.
As big as the GReddy intercooler core is, half of it gets covered by the Saab bumper, which has a much smaller frontal opening than the WRX the kit was designed for. Regardless, the frontal area and positioning means that this intercooler will still cool more air faster.
The intercooler kit does not include a blow-off valve to relieve boost pressure. Since the stock blow-off valve was attached to the factory intercooler, we had to welded a flange on the new intercooler piping to fit the new GReddy Type RS blow-off valve. For the time being, we did not plumb in a return track and just had the valve discharge to the atmosphere. It's loud and throws a check engine light, but it's still better than having the compressor surge every time you let off the throttle. This will be fixed when we finally get the turbo and injectors.
Part of the boost response problem is all the flow restriction on the intake and exhaust--more so on the exhaust side. The Saab has three catalytic converters, one before the turbo, one right after the turbo and one further downstream near the transmission. We replaced all these with a GPMoto 4-2-1 equal-length stainless-steel header, and a Random Technology 3-inch downpipe which includes a 300-cell stainless-steel catalyst. This replaces all the exhaust piping all the way from the exhaust port to the exhaust tip, and takes three restrictive cats down to one high-flow cat located right after the turbo. Considering what an exhaust alone did for the car's drivability, the backpressure reduction from the new piping performed miracles.
We installed GPMoto's equal length header not just for the flow advantage, but primarily to reduce the Boxer sound of the stock motor. The Boxer sound comes from the firing order of this particular engine design and the unequal-length stock exhaust manifold runners. By making each length near equal, the pulses have a canceling effect on each other. The result is a dramatically different sound, bordering on that of a Honda with a tinny exhaust, so I'm not sure if that was the change in sound that we were looking for. GPMoto's header comes completely welded together including the expansion slip joints. (That's why you see the tabs for springs that would otherwise hold the assembly together.) The welded joints make the header more streetable and not as prone to leaks, but the fact that everything is welded together makes proper flange seating an issue. We ended up grinding one flange a little to make sure both flanges were level. The header also replaces the factory up-pipe that holds the pre-turbo catalytic converter. It's all one huge assembly that has to be installed on a lift so there's enough clearance to maneuver the header into place and mate it with the turbine inlet and each head. New studs for the turbine flange were included, which made life a lot easier than pulling the studs from the factory up-pipe. We found an issue with this particular header because of an improperly designed compression fitting for the factory EGT sensor. The sensor screws in, but the lack of a compression seat meant that the sensor was free to swivel in place. If the sensor tip came lose, it would go straight into the turbine blades, and we'd have to kiss our turbo good-bye. A little weld repair and drilling fixed the problem.
Right after the turbo is the 3-inch Random Technology downpipe. It comes in two sections and is a direct bolt-on to the stock turbo. The downpipe inlet is contoured for better flow when the internal wastegate opens. There's also an additional oxygen sensor bung at the inlet to mount a wide-band oxygen sensor, in addition to another bung on the lower pipe for the factory post-cat oxygen sensor. It all bolts on and mates straight up with our 3-inch Greddy SP2 exhaust. A 3 to 2.5-inch adaptor can also be ordered from Random Technologies so the downpipe can be merged into exhausts with smaller piping diameters.
While disassembling the stock intercooler, we noticed a bit of oil sitting at the bottom of the piping, a possible sign of excess blow by. Sure enough, we checked the turbo inlet side and found oil right after the crankcase return. We had already planned to use a catch can to prepare for the new turbo and higher boost, and this only validated our hypothesis even more. Because the new FMIC sits below the level of the turbo, we wanted to catch as much of it as we can so oil doesn't slowly collect at the bottom of the intercooler core. We used a GReddy oil catch can and plumbed it between the positive crankcase ventilation and the intake tract. The hard part was finding a spot in the engine bay to hang the can in a vertical position.
We also replaced the stock battery with an Optima D35 Yellow Top. Not that the factory battery was deficient, but with all the additional electronics we are running in the car the added capabilities of the D35 couldn't hurt.
A'PEX Integration offered one of its Super Grounding Systems to try out. From what we can tell, the unit augments the factory ground with heavy gauge wires to the transmission casing, engine block and chassis ground. All this passes through a signal conditioner that's then tied to the positive and negative battery posts. A'PEXi claims this makes power by providing a more consistent voltage for the spark coil. We tested the product on GIAC's Mustang all-wheel drive dyno, but did not measure any repeatable gains outside of 4 whp, something on the border of measurement variation on a dyno.
With all these changes, we were tempted to take the car in and get it retuned and see how much more power we made. The problem is the stock injectors are stretched to their limits of delivering fuel. There was no point to increase boost when there's not fuel to go with it. All this additional flow will require a larger capacity fuel delivery system.
GT Spec offered up some new chassis reinforcement and bushing products for us to try out. First is a new three-piece, aluminum, 14-point subframe reinforcement that replaces the stock stamped steel U-brace and their four-point ladder brace. This unit requires the stock U-shaped chassis brace to be removed and replaced which ends up saving half the weight and adds a tremendous amount of additional rigidity. You have to remove the plastic undertray, which has aerodynamic drawbacks if you keep a top-mount intercooler. Since we're using a front-mount, we only have to worry about the dirt that comes up into the engine bay.
While the braces were off, we also installed GT Spec's anti-lift bushings. The 9-2X chassis is notorious for large amounts of dive and lift that cause non-linear steering response. The GT Spec bushings are designed to reduce dive and lift to give more natural steering response and improve corner exit traction. These bushings lower the rear pivot point on the front lower control arm, which changes the angle of the pivot axis for that arm. This causes the instant center for the front suspension to shift to a more neutral position which decreases the anti-lift effect. Bottom line, the car handles and puts power to the ground much more consistently than in stock form, while the added brake dive is compensated by the stiffer TEIN suspension.
One thing that has always bothered us on the Saab is the stock seats. They're good for O.E., but with the huge cornering loads and the minimal body roll the car now generates we needed sport seats in a bad way. Without going overboard on race buckets, we decided to try out Top Spin Design's motorsport seat, which we special ordered through Top Spin's U.S. partner, SupremePower Parts. They come wrapped in a grippy synthetic suede material and offer good side bolsters while maintaining sufficient shoulder clearance for the average sized guy.
The seats and sliders were mounted on Wedge Engineering seat brackets for the Subaru WRX. These seats share the same bolt pattern as Sparco seats, so any Sparco bracket for the WRX will work. Unfortunately, the brackets, sliders and seat bolt holes did not align exactly. We had to grind and shift each bolt hole on the sliders roughly a quarter inch to let everything line up. This probably compromises the crash safety designed into the sliders, though. There's no height adjustment on these brackets either, so the Top Spin seats sit rather low in the car. We don't mind so much since the driving position feels better, but hood visibility is pretty much gone. Look at it as a cheap way to help lower your center of gravity.
The Saab factory short shifter was also replaced with a B&M Racing short shifter. Not only does it reduce the throw, but the replacement linkage bushings take the side-to-side slop out of the lever when it's in gear.
Call us superficial, but these two simple interior updates totally change the driving experience in Project Saab. You're no longer wasting energy and effort hanging on to the wheel and making sure you grab the right gear. The lower and better driving position, side bolster support and solid shift feel transform the 9-2X from a mundane grocery getter to a touring class racer built for the streets.
Now we wait. This is about as far as we will go on Project Saab with the exception of more power and retuning. It might be a while, but we'll eagerly await our soon-to-come bolt-on Garrett GT28RS turbo.
At a Glance
Estimated time: 10hr @ $90/hr = $900
A'PEXi Super Grounding System (477-A903): $239.00
B&M Short Shifter (45150): $141.18
GPMoto equal length 4-2-1 header (11001): $799.00
GReddy Front Mount Intercooler (12060020): $1180.00
GReddy Type RS blow off valve (11501662): $230.00
Greddy Type RS aluminum mounting flange (11500451): $34.45
GReddy Oil catch can (1350050915): $104.00
GT Spec anti-lift bushings (GTS-SUS-1047): $189.00
GT Spec 3 piece subframe reinforcement (GTS-SUS-1092): $659.00
Optima YellowTop (D35): $139.99
Top Spin Motorsport Sport Seat: (includes headrest, sliders and lumbar support pads): $599 x2
Wedge Engineering Seat Brackets (2038, 2039): $80.00 x2