Last week, we embarked on an in-depth look at a key visual element of Saab: The Saab Grill. Now it is time for us to go for a short jog and get ourselves a good look at the view from behind. Most of us like to think that this is a view that other drivers (excepting other lucky Saab owners of course) will be intimately acquainted with. And just as we all want to sneak up on them with class, we want to zoom past them with style. My limited artistic abilities and non-existent photo-shopping skills prevents me from providing a general diagram of the Saab back-side, as I did with the Saab grill. But, it turns out that there is enough “going on”, visually speaking, that I believe the best way to proceed with our study, is to look at examples and point the various interesting facets of the design. So without further ado, we have our first example: The Saab 900 SE
This Saab 900 SE is from 1978-1993. Recall from the grill design study that the Saab grill comes in three-parts. Well, being masters of consistency, the Saab designers split the rear lights that are grouped together as one continuous piece, apart of the trunk: three-parts as well. This design motif, where the light bar spans the entire width of the car’s rear actually experienced a decade-long hiatus (1999 – 2010), making a resurgence when the latest 9-5 was debuted (more on that later). Looking at the rear, you get a mix of very interesting impressions that encompasses the full diversity of Saab’s intentions. From 1994 – 1998, the Convertible (shown as yellow) doesn’t look all that much different.
Later, we will see how more recent Saabs have a few interesting points of distinction between their convertible and hardtop models. Just one year later, we start to see elements of the newer design philosophies sneaking in (shown as the red convertible). The point at which the rear light-bar no longer spanned the rear of the car was also point where the 900 name was replaced with the 9-3 designation. But if we go back in time, again, there were in-fact Saab 900’s that did not have the full-sized light bar. Observe the Red Saab 900 to the right. Many would consider this particular car to have the quintessential Saab look. Here we have a continuously sloped back that reaches down
towards the tail-lights. An interesting theme to notice here is that Saab hatchbacks a very much slanted. This is a stark contrast from the upright or near-upright look of hatchbacks from other automakers. This was a design motif that Saab has been applying for decades, and actually shows how far Saab was ahead of their time. Now, it is becoming more widely accepted for cars to have steep slopes on the front and back. Hence, as Saab continues to adapt additional modern auto-industry design cues, they can’t help but also create a connection to the past in the process. In 2003, Saab gave a slant to the tail lights, and rounded the corners, which made a very bold statement, yet you will notice that the tail lights continue to be only half on the trunk-lid and half off the trunk-lid. I must confess that I am very much fond of the look of the Saab 9-3 2003-2007 (given that I own a 2007 9-3 Arc SS). Saab also continues to be a fan of the black rubber moldings on the back and sides of their cars. This of course protects the sheet metal, but also adds to the cars’ style. It is with these newer models that the horizontal breaking light moves from the trunk lid to the top of the rear wind-shield. This is not a bad idea as it prevents the trunk area from looking overly cluttered. Another interesting addition is the extra piece of metal just above the license plate well, which I find as an interesting throw back to the days where the tail-lights appeared as one continuous light-bar. Next we have a Sports-Combi from the same time-period. This one is actually a 9-5, and is more upright than Saab hatch-backs from earlier years. Just as we have seen in the sedans, the horizontal break-light is up towards the top of the rear, but there is no piece of metal spanning the top of the license plate well for this one. We still have the rubber molding but in this case it sits just below the hatch back, which is not a bad idea as hatchback owners might want to sit in the back, as it is opened, if they are parked somewhere scenic (e.g. in front of a beach). Around this same time the 9-5 SS also had an interesting look. The tail-lights looked very different than you see on other Saabs, as the bottom of the tail-lights on the trunk lid didn’t actually line-up with the lights beside the trunk-lid. Just like we see with the 9-3 Sport-Sedan the tail-lights curve towards a body line that leads towards the rear-wheels, but given the wider stance of the 9-5, the tail lights definitely have a more complex shape. The 9-5 also has a frame of metal around the license plate well. One thing that is curiously absent would be the rubber molding. Presumably this was to make the rear look a bit more elegant for the more upscale 9-5. Late model convertibles have some very interesting design cues that distinguish it from the Sports-Sedan. The proportions of the tail-lights to the size of the rear of the car, definitely stand out as being quite different. Of course there is another very interesting difference in the tail-lights that was also the case with all Sports-Combis and Sport-Sedans as well (which we will look into later). But for now, notice how the bar above the license plate doesn’t line up with the bottom of the tail-lights and the horizontal break-light is on the trunk-lid. These are a lot of distinctions that make the Saab convertible rear look quite a bit different from other Saabs. In fact, I have actually read in Car and Driver that the tail-lights have the effect of “eyes looking in the sky”. While I seldom agree with how media outlets and magazines perceive Saab cars, I have to admit that I can’t disagree here. The year 2008 saw some rather significant changes to both the 9-3 and the 9-5. In 2008 The Sports-Combi experienced the most noticeable changes in the rear, but there a number of interesting changes to the look of the rear of the sport-sedan as well.
To the right we see an example of a 2008-2012 Saab 9-3. Notice here that the rubber molding goes away. Since the image here is actually a 2012 model, the 9-3 and 2.0T emblems are below the tail-lights. Note that in 2008-2010 those emblems were actually above the tail-lights. But you may also see that the bar over the license plate well and the tail-lights themselves are bolder looking. The later is because there is dark trim bordering the headlights, creating a very strong visual effect. Not only is this a wonderful new addition to the Saab look, but it also is a throw-back to the Saab 900. If you take a look back at the Red Saab 900 above (the one Saab 900 picture that shows the rear-side view), you may be surprised to see the same border around the tail light pieces. This actually marks the beginning of Saab’s move of incorporating historical design motifs into their modern cars. Well, actually there is a bit of an exception. Take a look at the 2011 Saab 9-3 Sports-Combi. Whoa! Where in the heck did those vertical tail-lights come from? (cough Volvo cough). Yes, it does looks pretty slick but we have to confess that this is a massive departure from the Saab hatchback design. And when we look at pictures of the upcoming 9-5 Sports-Combi, it’s quite obvious that Saab is in the process of back-peddling from that design decision. In fact, next we will do just that and have a look at the Saab’s latest offering that we should see rolling off the production line any day now. And as I was eluding to earlier: the continuous light-bar is back. Also note the wrap-around rear-windshield. Simply put: there is no other hatchback that looks like this. Also note that instead of curving downwards on the sides of the car, the tail-lights curve straight ahead. Think of this inversion as a reflection of Saab’s new “reverse hockey-stick” motif. And while there is no body-molding, we see a nice indentation below the bumper. Expect to see more of this in future Saabs, as they continue doing progressively more fancy things with their sheet metal. Of course, this has nothing to do with the rear-end view of the car, but I am a big fan of the wheel rims that have a large number of spokes, just as we see here. As a final exhibit of production Saabs, we now have the 9-5 Sport-Sedan. The back-side of the 9-5 SS is indeed very much consistent with the back-side of the 9-5 SC. One curious change is that 2.0T models now have a “Turbo4” emblem. I’m honestly torn as to which I like better, but having actually driven the NG 9-5, I can say that desperately want one. Of course the biggest change: No Griffin! That’s right, the Griffin is indeed missing in action. Even the steering wheel has no Griffin. For those of you who may remember, when I first joined the Saab community, I did a lot of griping about the phasing out of the Griffin. I’m still not particularly happy about it, but at the same time: The Saab wordmark is beautiful enough that frankily, I believe it can stand on its own. A rather intriguing principle of Typography highlights that the shape of letters have a very real visual impact. There can be a certain beauty to letters, their font and how they are combined that isn’t easy to describe. And years before I became insanely fanatical about Saab, I felt something rather special whenever I would see:
Finally, let us take a look at the view from behind of the Saab Pheonix concept:
Exactly how much of this car we will ever see in production Saab vehicles remains to be seen. However, I can say that the horizontal tail-light which is shaped like the retro Saab logo is a likely candidate. And we could very well see the taillights of a future ultra high-end Saab (ala Lexus LFA) have a similar look. Those tail-pipes are also quite plausible. But, the wierd crooked looking things going from the trunk to the top of the car? I say forget it. But hey, It is a concept car after all. The history of Saabs design-language is quite intriguing indeed. As we saw last week with the evolution of the Saab grill, there is an impressive array of details going into the look of the Saab rear-end.