Back in time – first thoughts on the Saab 9-4x

This post was originally published at Trollhattan Saab back in January 2008. I was in Detroit at the time, had spent all day at the North American International Auto Show looking over this vehicle and gathering my thoughts. I put this together, hit ‘publish’ and ran out of the hotel to go get a big steak with Greg Abbott πŸ™‚
The Saab 9-4x is in my thoughts more and more these days. Saab have a public relations coup on the cards with the Koenigsegg deal. They have the 2010 Saab 9-5 to pacify many of the purists for a while and there’ll be the 9-4x – a first real Saab in the crossover segment.
I’m pretty sure this vehicle is essentially ready to go. I’m sure the internal deal was that Caddy would get the SRX first and now everything’s held up further with GM’s and Saab’s respective situations.
Anyway, for those who might be a little unfamiliar with the Saab 9-4x, here’s a look at the concept vehicle on which it will be based. This is very close to the real thing in design terms, though the materials will be more garden variety and it won’t have all the tricks this car has.

You probably know already, but let me tell you a little about how Auto Shows work.
press pack
You have a huge number of huge displays and a huge press pack moves around from display to display. The company executives come out and make their presentations, which typically revolve around the most important thing they’re doing at that time.
There isn’t a bigger presentation at the Detroit Auto Show than the GM presentation. It was climbing-room-only. And Saab was right in the middle of it.
GM used their address to announce a major partnership with Coskata, an ethanol group working on a new cellulosic production method that will significantly reduce the cost and physical resources consumed in the production of ethanol. You can read more about that here.
To accompany this announcement, GM also revealed two ethanol-fuelled vehicles – the Hummer Hx concept and the Saab 9-4x BioPower concept. It didn’t quite sink in at the time, but to have GM’s primary presentation of the show, with Rick Wagoner, Mark LaNeve and Carl-Peter Forster addressing the crowd and having Saab right at the center of it really put a spotlight on the 9-4x – and you could tell it worked.
This is the first view we had of the Saab 9-4x:
Saab 9-4x
As I mentioned earlier, the press pack typically moved from stand to stand with the presentations. Today, there was one particular thing that worked to Saab’s advantage – lunch. I joked about it earlier, but the lunch break meant that people hung around, they looked at the 9-4x and in great numbers.
I can hear you – “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus!”
So let’s take a look at it.

Saab 9-4x
If you’ve read this site at all in the last week you’ll know that I wasn’t too excited about this car. The Swedish media might report in the next day or so that I’m still not excited about the car. I spoke with Auto Motor and Sport as well as Aftonbladet about it very soon after the car was first shown.
The CGI images never excited me and I’m not excited by SUV’s anyway, but after a full day spent wandering in, out and around this vehicle I can tell you that true to form, it’s much better in the metal.
The main problem area for many was the front grille:
Saab 9-4x
Click on the image above, or the one before that, and you’ll see that the rise into the hood isn’t nearly as offensive in person as it was on the CGI. Actually, that’s damning it with faint praise. The center grille actually looks much better proportioned in person and you don’t notice the cutaway into the hood at all until you look for it.
I still have some problems with the outer grilles being so far away from the center, however.
I spoke at length with Anthony Lo (video here) and he explained that dues to the vehicles larger proportions, everything had to be bigger than usual. There were two ways Saab could go with that center grille – down further (like Audi) or up just a little higher. They definitely didn’t want to go the Audi route, so they set the front bumper as a lower boundary for the grille. Going up just a little into the hood area gives it a good proportion and trust me, it looks a LOT better in person.
And please allow me to just say this: Anthony Lo rocks! I had such a good time chatting with him. Par Brandt from AM&S pointed it out to me and I’d never seen it come through before, but A-Lo really, really loves the Saab brand. I actually made him laugh a little by suggesting that he and I go over and trash the Cadillac stand πŸ™‚ . Of course, he couldn’t as he’d get in trouble, but I think I saw a twinkle in his eye there…..
To the headlamps:
Saab 9-4x lamps
One notable thing about these is that they’re not on show as they should be. Whereas the 2008 Saab 9-3 has a light-pipe accross the top of the headlamp, the 9-4x concept will have a light-pipe going from the corner and down below the lamp.
The lamp wasn’t working today, however. I’m unsure if it will be working at all during the show.
Saab 9x asked for a shot of the rims. Ask and you shall receive πŸ™‚
Saab 9-4x rims
Chunky versions of the turbines, sort of……
Moving to the back.
Saab 9-4x rear
The rear is dominated by this strip of red light – a direct homage to the Aero X. It looks good, though points off for the Saab lettering instead of the griffin badge. The lettering is just too hard to read and won’t work as an identifier for the car.
The other donimating feature of the rear is the tail lamp assembly. Although in red, they do resemble the curvature of the old 9-5 headlamps in a way. I’m not sure that this configuration will make it through to the production model. I need to get a better photo of the rear tomorrow. This one’s way too affected by the lighting conditions present at the time.
Saab 9-4x tail lights
When the rear opens you have a sizeable storage are that’s been very well designed.
Saab 9-4x rear
The floor extends outwards on a set of tracks to create a loading area outside the car, and revealing a storage area underneath. This area has been designed in consultation with Salomon and some individual extreme skiers as well.
Saab 9-4x rear
Under the sliding tray is a heated compartment to store your ski gear, in particular a space for ski boots. The chromed ‘square’ in the floor area itself actually folds upwards to reveal a ski rack. Fold down the middle section of the rear seat and you can rack your skis and they push through the middle of the vehicle.
Saab Ski rack
So let’s move inside, then….
The interior of this car is what had me most excited, and from the photos to the real thing it only gets better.
Saab 9-4x interior
This is a very, very attractive driving environment. They have a video screen in the dash at the moment playing skiing videos but this would likely be replaced by satnav and a user interface for the entertainment and climate control features.
The switchgear is hard to photograph, but it’s all very elegant, soft touch and looks brilliant. I’d love to see what it all looks like at night. In fact, the whole acrylic panel can be set up with soft lighting, which would be great to see as long as it doesn’t detract the driver like the light panel in the latest Toyotas.
Saab 9-4x
Here’s the gearshift area of the console. You can see some buttons to the side.
Saab 9-4x console
From the bottom up they are as follows:

    Start/stop. The diagonal bit acts as a safety against accidental starting/stopping. You flip it up and get access to the button.
    Parking brake
    Night Panel
    Hazard lights

The seat and interior materials are all very soft. This concept vehicle had a white leather interior, though the production version will likely feature the usual grey, black or sand colors.
Par Brandt from Auto Motor and Sport set the front driver’s seat to his usual position and then got into the back seat to check out the rear leg room – a handy test. He’s about my height, and as you can see below, there’s quite good room in the rear with a six-footer at the wheel.
Saab 9-4x rear legroom
I asked the vital questions about whether or not we’re going to see more of this interior. The Saab people were non-committal in some respects.
The good news is that we will see more of it in the 9-1 concept interior in Geneva in March. As to whether we’ll see it in production, Saab are still developing it to production standard and it’s not quite there yet. It uses an acrylic as well as some sophisticated lighting and getting it all to a point where it’ll go the dinstance in a production vehicle without wearing or fading is the challenge. The Aero-X used a similar system, though this looks much more advanced. The Aero-X’s interior acrylic looked dated already when I saw it in Sydney, and that was less than a year after it’s launch.