My 2 cents on the Saab 9-4x

At last, the Saab 9-4x cometh.

It’s been nearly three years since I first made my way into a Detroit winter to see this vehicle at the 2008 NAIAS (meeting up with new 9-5 owner Greg Abbott at the time, too). The car made a bigger impression on me than I thought it would back then and personally speaking, I find it to be even more interesting now.

From concept to the real deal….

Saab 9-4x Concept front

Saab 9-4x

So why’s it more interesting now? Because now it’s for real. Pretty soon this is going to be a tangible vehicle on dealer lots that people will be able to drive and buy. It’s built on modern technology and it’s been envisaged from the ground up as a Saab vehicle. The last time Saab actually expanded its range with an all-new deliberately Saab vehicle – not a replacement for something else – was with the Saab 9000 in the mid 1980s. To say this is a rare thing would be a massive understatement and to dismiss the vehicle for any reason whatsoever would be foolish in the extreme.

I don’t know if, or when I’ll get a chance to drive the Saab 9-4x but I can’t wait. My memory from Detroit is of a vehicle that offered generous accommodation without feeling like a huge monstrosity. It’s my hope that that feeling endures and translates into a vehicle that offers some of the benefits of an SUV, without feeling bogged down and bloated like an SUV.

It certainly looks the goods. The front end has been altered slightly and people’s opinions will differ as to whether that’s an improvement on the concept. Personally, I think it tightens the front up a little. Bigger vents might have been nice, but it’s a handsome vehicle for a large Saab and very much in keeping with the 9-5.

Saab 9-4x concept dashboard

Saab 9-4x

The production interior does not feature all the glamour of the concept vehicle, but then we never really expected that it would. Concept interiors are for car shows. Production interiors are for life. I hold out some hope that the ice panel of the concept car will make its way to real life some day, but the rest of the production interior carries the torch lit by the Saab 9-5 and it translates pretty well. The equipment list looks comparable with the new 9-5, too, which is encouraging.

The proof of this car will be in the driving. Saab have promised car-like dynamics from a chassis designed from the beginning for a pure crossover vehicle. The base engine will be fine for many who actually consider buying the car, but the party piece will be the Aero and I can’t wait to get my hands on one and try it out. Fuel consumption will not be spectacular, but should be acceptable for a vehicle that offers what the Saab 9-4x will deliver.

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Let me say right up front that I’m not an SUV or Crossover person by nature. I personally prefer small hatchbacks that you can chuck around corners. I love Saab’s old school, scaled down solutions to the problems of carting stuff around. But I’m also realistic enough to know that those vehicles are gone, are not coming back right now (not as they were, at least) and critically, I know and understand that not everyone thinks the same way that I do.

This is a massive segment in the US and one that’s still growing. And make no mistake, the Saab 9-4x is a vehicle with an unabashed North American focus. Like it or not, the US still Saab’s biggest market and the one with the best growth potential. Saab dealers need this new vehicle like they need oxygen. I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant number of them had held on to their Saab businesses simply because of the promise that it was coming. The 9-4x’s sister vehicle in the Cadillac SRX is enjoying quite a deal of sales success and I hold every hope that the Saab 9-4x could emulate this, albeit on a smaller, more Saabier scale.

Yes, I have my questions (weight, engines) and I have my wishes for the vehicle as well (Eurodiesel) but it would be extremely near-sighted to let those things overshadow what is a great development for Saab.

For those who want to persist, I also have what think is an answer to some of those questions – the fully funded business plan. This vehicle was largely complete as far back as 18 months ago. It was endowed to the new Saab operation as part of the sale agreement. It has a high level of specification, a brand new design, a role as an expansion model and it has has a specific target market (that’s not diesel-centric). Why spend precious and scarce resources from your business plan in order to make tweaks that will lower margins but lead to few extra sales?

For the new Saab, the 9-4x and everything it brings is pure gravy.

Look at it in that context and there’s little Saab can do to go wrong. The Saab 9-4x is here and for as long as Saab are operating, it will be here to stay. The business case for it is overwhelming and thankfully, the car definitely looks like it’s ready and appropriately equipped to steal a few hearts.

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