The Saab Sensation Part Two – by Lance Cole

This article is a follow-up to a piece written by Lance back in June – The Saab Sensation (how only design and money can save Saab)

Lance Cole is a writer living in England and has penned several books on automobiles and aviation. Saab enthusiasts would know him best for the book Saab 99 and 900: The Complete Story, which is an excellent and essential volume and available for sale at the SU Bookshop.

Click here to read all of Lance’s previous contributions at Trollhattan Saab.

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The Saab Sensation Part Two – why the new design of the new Saab 95, really is a landmark

  • Lance Cole on how design integrity is easy to spot

Ah, another motor show, another new car launch. After years of attending them , it takes a lot to make me lift my veil of cynicism – honed has it has been over the years by listening to shiny corporate boys extol the virtues of their new Bloggs Botox Mk III Gti, ST, face-lift wonder car.

Yet here we have something genuinely worthy, a piece of design that, despite the constraints of its conception and parentage, has actually achieved something – and I was not even there to see it! But I have seen it in the flesh, and it bears discussion – because it is real design – that timeless, hallmarked auto sculpture that I see in the annals of Battista Pininfarina, Giovanni Michelotti, Nuccio Bertone, Robert Opron, Bruno Sacco, William Lyons, Malcolm Sayer, Claus Luthe, Bjorn Envall, and Paul Bracq, to name but a few.

I talk of the new Saab 9-5.

2010 Saab 9-5

A few weeks, ago, after Jaguar premiered the new XJ prototype -for-production, Autocar magazine kindly published my views upon its design.Therein, I asked of the new Jaguar XJ, if its shape was, “a genuinely new design language.. or an amalgamation of varying themes in search of an identity shaped by fashion instead of design integrity?” For me the answer is that, that indeed is what it represents, no matter how superb its execution.
Yet at least the XJ is not a retro-pastiche a la Rover 75 or Mini, or Mustang, or the Porsche Panamerica Halibut…

Weak design is like perceived wisdom, a contradiction in terms, for it dates quickly and passes through the u bend of lifestyle fashion before being excreted into an instant past whilst the next re-birth is enacted. Flashy detailing and of- the -moment graphics, as found in the euro-market Honda Civic, can be seen to be flashes in the pan that age overnight. And neither does good design throw away a design lineage in the manner that Subaru has sadly now just done with its new big car. And Lexus also know about weak design- with their cars that look like bits of Mercedes and BMW welded together in some collage of aspriant ‘me-too’ design.

Good design is about form and function, a reflection of historical themeology -yet without insisting on redrawn pastiche and re-skinned ideas. Good design is new without being gimmicky, good design is about the architecture of essential elements clothed in a cohesive package that will last and which defines its own style without being a victim of fashion and focus groups of opinions. Good design is about the integrity of the organic, whole, and about the emotional response it creates in you the viewer and user. Think of Porsche – if you don’t get it yet.

2010 Saab 9-5

This point is why Saab and Citroen and Mercedes Benz boast a design lineage par excellence – because their cars are the whole package, viewed from any angle. Indeed, Sixten Sason and Bjorn Envall used to view Saabs from above, in the upper gallery in the Saab design barn- to make sure that the designs ‘worked’ from every angle.
But a new Saab does not have to be curvy, it does not have to have a clamshell or a turret top – it can – but it does not have these as compulsorily purchased design elements.

For example- when you see a Rolls-Royce swish past you, you know what its design means. That is the essence of what I am talking about. Saabs have had that and the new 9-5 has it spades because it works as a whole.

For here in the new 9-5, is a car that has a massive job on its hands, it had to share certain elements with a corporate parts bin, and above all had to rebuild a brand and a model line which, however good, had become an ageing dowager of design.

In the new 9-5,in an instant ,we have a car of such design integrity and purity that it looks as if it could have been honed by a master of Turinese sculpture.

See how it oozes the totality of its elements, the smell, the stance and spirit of Saab, yet does so genuinely and not with retro gimmicks or false promises. This is design that will last, design that will be seen to be genuine and thoughtful. It is design that is Scandinavian in a marketable manner. It is a long time since we could really say that…

2010 Saab 9-5 sketch

2010 Saab 9-5 sketch

I love the swoop of the rear and the way in which it is curved without being an aerodynamic nightmare. See the sharper rear side edges- to control airflow and cross wind stability by tying down the critical separation point. Watch how its rear end will stay clean (like a Citroen) because the flow separation and vortex management have been managed all the way down the boot (trunk) lid.

The front achieves the Saab look without resorting to a clamshell, the windscreen architecture shouts ‘Saab’ at you. See the detailing on the side mirrors and the crease that lifts the lower panels from looking heavy- and which starts in the front wings: This is all careful, intergrated design.

Even the shiny, alloy- chrome effect, side window trim is unusual in that it runs up the reverse angle of the hockey stick and then stops at the top of the C pillar. How crass that chrome would have looked if it had joined a shiny strip along the top of the doors.

2010 Saab 9-5

The front works too – although that grille might benefit from some colour treatment. In lighter colours the front might seem a touch jowly, but this is no real demerit to the design -legislative constraints are largely responsible for today’s big front ends – although only bad taste is responsible for the gaping mouths that adorn so many cars of the moment. The 9-5 avoids this with its frontal stance and down the road graphic.

Do you know something – all the successful Saab 9-5 elements mean that someone -more accurately some people plural, actually thought about design when they drew this car. And that is without mentioning the stunning interior – although why can’t we have a proper, classic, tan leather option please? And what about some brighter more jewelled exterior colours -like metallic crimson or bronze, or cosmic blue?

As Simon Padian, Saab’s style chief has said, this really is a piece of Scandinavian design, yet one which is not narrow nor clichéd.

In part One of the Saab Sensation, I talked of how only design and money could save Saab. I cited examples of cars whose design had been sacrificed at various altars. Well, now we have the act of design we needed for Saab.

For me, the new Saab 9-5 really is automotive design at the height of its skills, and in five years time it will still have an identity, still be fresh, and still be Saab. It has elements of Saab concept cars, and yet a face a visage of its own. Maybe the NSU RO80 body design is a relevant comparison – and also perhaps the 1960s Jaguar XJ6, and Pininfarina’s Peugeots, The Renault 16, and Citroen’s CX, GS and SM. These were defining moments in car styling and now we have another one – the clean, totally elegant sculpture that is the new Saab 9-5.

A classic of modern car design is upon us.

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