The curious case of the Saab 9-4x

The third of Saab’s four, upcoming vehicles, is the Saab 9-4x and there’s beena review over on the New York Times which has cast a little doubt on it’s ability to stand up to the competition.
The review is actually of the Cadillac SRX, but seeing as how the main criticism is of the base level engine and transmission, and seeing as how it’s the same base level engine and transmission that will be in the US-spec Saab 9-4x, this is a potential problem.

If a car could break a sweat, you’d need to mop the Caddy’s brow every time you trudge up a hill or struggle from a stoplight. The SRX takes a lazy 8.5 seconds to reach 60 m.p.h., according to Car and Driver magazine. That’s last in the class by a good margin, about 2 seconds slower than the Audi Q5 or the Acura RDX. Lincoln’s excellent new MKT crossover is nearly 2.5 seconds quicker to 60 with its lusty twin-turbo V-6, although it is heavier and roomier…..
……The transmission is another buzzkill, obsessed with moving you into high gears too soon, an obvious sop to fuel economy. In city traffic or hilly terrain, the SRX seems always in the wrong gear. Press the gas, and the Caddy lugs and bogs, forcing you to press harder, at which point the transmission finally wakes up and executes a lurching two-gear downshift.

The offending lump is an all-new 3.0 litre direct-injected six cylinder unit. It’s a non-turbo affair that puts out around 260hp and from we’ve learned previously, up to around 350Nm of torque. Those numbers sound OK on paper, but the SRX is a reasonably heavy vehicle and there’s not much to suggest that the 9-4x will be significantly lighter.
Now, I should mention that comparing the 0-60 acceleration times of SUVs is a bit like a couple of eunechs eyeing each other off in the shower block. Yes, they have some of the essential gear, but they’re not going to be using it any time soon. Anyone for whom 0-60 times are really a top priority is not buying a SUV, they’re looking at a sports car or a sports sedan.

That said, the concerns with the transmission are a worry because they actually effect the driving experience. What I haven’t Ctrl+P’d here is that Cadillac state some of the sluggishness in this test car will be overcome with a throttle adjustment very soon.
Now before we proceed any further, we should establish a few things.
1) According to all information received so far, this is the engine that will be in the base level Saab 9-4x, at least in the North American market. We’ve had engine specs posted in comments last year and those specs agreed pretty much 100% with an internal GM preview document that I received from Djup Strupe around March of last year. The Aero version will get the 2.8T V6.
2) This is just one review and there have been other reviews of the Cadillac SRX that have been much more favourable. Jalopnik, Autoblog and Left Lane News all rate the SRX quite highly, though a few mention the undesireable aspects of the transmission in normal mode and express a preference for Sport Mode.
With those facts out of the way, here’s why our NYT friend’s article is even more annoying than you might first care to think.
This criticism of the DI engine should never be applicable to a new Saab in the first place.
Whether this guy’s being too picky or not, whether this DI engine is any good or not – none of this should really matter because a new Saab vehicle, in a new Saab era, should only ever be turbocharged.
I know they’ve got to have trim levels so be able to ‘sell up’, but putting a normally aspirated engine into this new vehicle is, in my humble opinion, a mistake I wish they’d avoid.
I’m not one for offering finger-snap solutions. Car design and specification take place over a long period of time and can’t be changed as quickly as you think. But let’s just say that if they decided to offer 2.8T engines in both models, one detuned and one full-on crazy, then I’d be a happier camper.
I’m all for purity of line and the idea of having an all-turbo lineup (and marketing the daylights out of it) is very appealing.
This new 3-litre DI engine is probably quite a decent lump and yes, I think our NYT writer was possibly being a bit critical for criticism’s sake. GM vehicles have been on the east coast media’s hit-list for some time.
His writing is about the Caddy, however, not the Saab. Despite the common bases that these vehicle share, I’m quite sure that the Saab engineers have worked some magic into the car that’ll make it a very decent ride. Maybe they can learn from a few of the criticisms of the SRX and improve the Saab 9-4x before it even comes to market.
I’m still feeling very confident about the Saab 9-4x. I think it’s going to be the right vehicle in the right market at the right time. Say what you will about CAFE rules, etc, the US still loves its SUV and the crossover segment is still a very large market.
Saab will be a bit later to the party than what we’d like, but they’re going to hit it with what I believe will be a very nice ride.
I just wish it’d be all turbo, all the time.
Further reading……
If you’d like to a little more reading, test drive the plaudits that Saab should be getting and read the same author’s comments on Ford’s new turbocharged Ecoboost range of SUV’s.
Thanks to Karen for both NYT links via email!

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