SU Hi-Po Challenge – entry #1

This is the first submission received in the SU Hi-Po Challenge.

It comes from Eric H, in California.

The first sentence sums up the dilemma nicely, but Eric does go on to elucidate how he’d think about doing a higher performance model.


I’d love to see a high performance option from Saab but they need to have a solid model lineup across the board first, so until the new (or at least extremely refreshed) 9-3 is introduced in a year or so I wouldn’t introduce a new performance trim level on the current car. Also given the time it takes for things like durability and emission testing we probably won’t see a high performance halo car before that time anyways unless it had already been in the works which doesn’t seem likely and I haven’t heard of anything planned in this regard for the new 9-5.

Looking at the model lineup within the next couple years we’ll have a heavily refreshed/new 9-3, the 9-4x and the recently introduced 9-5. For a performance “halo” type car we can probably rule out the 9-4x. While the 9-5 is a great car it’s also pretty big and on the heavy side. To significantly improve performance would require a dramatic increase in power which would come at the expense of fuel economy and increased emissions which goes against what Saab is moving towards in their goal of responsible performance. We can also speculate there’s a chance for a new 9-1 or 9-2, and while I’d love to see one sold that has a performance trim level such as an Aero model, it wouldn’t make sense to have your base, entry level model as the halo car.

That leaves us with the 9-3. This next car may be using what Saab calls their Phoenix platform but in reality it’s still just the original GM Epsilon architecture* which Saab had already tweaked enough to be somewhat different from other GM models (for example the internal controversy of the 9-3 convertible not being able to share parts/platforms when Pontiac was developing their G6 convertible due to the changes Saab made). With GM still retaining a major stake in Saab and with part sharing and other agreements still in place that opens up a wide range of components that Saab could use to build a next generation Turbo X-like halo vehicle, but instead this time backing it up with a true performance increase.

* Phoenix is a fully Saabified platform using Epsilon as a starting point. It will be fully customised to Saabs needs, and be extremely flexible, underpinning future 9-3, 9-4x and 9-5 vehicles. I’m personally very wary of calling it “just the original GM Epsilon architecture” – SW

Assuming that at least for the next couple years Saab will continue to use some or all powertrains sourced from GM and the current 9-3 and 9-5 are already using the 2.0L Ecotec, if I were building a performance 9-3 I’d start with a high output version of the GM “LNF” 2.0L direct injection, turbocharged four*. The current LDK/LHU variant that powers GM cars as well as the 9-5 produces only 220hp and 258 ft-lbs of torque and is less than the older LNF’s 260/260 ratings when it was used in cars like the Cobalt SS Turbo, the HHR SS, and the GM roadsters. The reduction in power in for the LHU version used in the 9-5 and other cars was more than likely for emission and economy reasons although the Buick Regal GS is expected to get a version of the LHU making 255hp and 295 ft-lbs or torque.

*Note: According to RedJ, the LNF will not pass Euro5 emissions, making this engine a no-go for Europe. The car will need to be sold around the world. Not dead yet, though……- SW

As the turbocharger and Bosch direct injection system didn’t change on these new variants and GM could continue to use the LNF or have an updated version of the LHU supporting similar power (like the upcoming Regal GS), all that would be required for say 300 hp and 335 ft-lbs of torque would be a recalibration of the Bosch engine management system. GM already spent the development dollars testing and certifying this when they released a dealer installed sensor upgrade and computer reflash for the LNF engine via GM Performance Parts that brings it up to 290 hp and 340 ft-lbs of torque and aftermarket tuning has shown it can support power levels significantly higher than that.

I’d use either that calibration as a baseline (which was created by Bosch engineers for GM under contract) or develop one internally or possibly use Hirsch, who has been working with these engines to bump the power. By using a turbo four instead of the turbo V6 used in the Turbo X it would help shave weight off the car as well as reduce the mass sitting over the front axles which would aid handling. I’d stick with a standard six-speed (the current GM/Fiat developed F40 six-speed that Saab is using should be able to handle the power but GM is also working on a replacement design which will have an Ecotec application and be stronger and smoother in operation) or an optional automatic or dual-clutch transaxle if one can be licensed and is already slated for use in the next 9-3.

While the Generation 4 Haldex XWD with the eLSD can bias power to the rear and help reduce understeer it does add weight and some Saab owners still seem to prefer FWD even if it does have a little of the characteristic torque steer. I’d say either keep to FWD to keep costs and weight down or use the XWD for best traction and overall performance. It’s one of those areas where an option between the two might be the best choice from a consumer’s standpoint but it would require extra certification for things like emission and economy testing. Since the XWD should be superior I’d lean towards using it, especially since it doesn’t add too much weight and combined with the 2.0L four should be less than the last Turbo X although I could see an even lighter front drive car being popular when combined with a limited slip differential (like is already available from Quaife for the current F40). A lighter, high powered turbo four in a front drive configuration might also be an interesting choice in the 9-5 as a true Aero4 model, so if the engine is developed for a performance 9-3 it could also be used in the bigger 9-5 to help recover some of the costs.

To summarize I’d use a torque rich direct injection 2.0L Ecotec with around 300 horsepower and 330-340 ft-lbs. of torque (~450-460 Nm) as Saab should already have access to this for the next 9-3 combined with their current XWD and the eLSD and a possibility of a more Saab-like (to some) front drive configuration using the HighPer Strut from the Epsilon-II 9-5 and a limited slip diff in the transaxle (similar to Ford’s RevoKnuckle design on the current Euro-market Focus RS) to tame torque steer. There are already options for brake, steering and chassis upgrades from the GM parts bin for the Epsilon chassis and Saab should be able to slightly lower the car even more than the Turbo X since the platform should be slightly re-engineered to better accept the all-wheel drive components this time around.

Install an aggressive but understated body kit, a set of unique wheels, and for the interior some unique but simple touches like increasing the size of the seat bolsters, use Alcantara/suede-like inserts on the seats and maybe dash/door panels, a different instrument panel background and other small upgrades that wouldn’t involve a significant development cost. A halo performance car has to look the part but more importantly it needs to back it up with performance. Although the Turbo X looked great the power increases weren’t enough compared to cars like the M3 and S4 and the chassis, although greatly improved with XWD, didn’t push the performance envelope far enough.

By going this route Saab could utilize pieces already in existence to come up with a lighter, more performance tuned version of the next 9-3 that offers better economy than the competition along with lower emissions which are important in many markets and the philosophy they want to move towards. With the LHU version of the Ecotec now supporting E85 ethanol they might even be able to offer 300 hp on premium unleaded gasoline and a further boost in power to 320 hp on E85 which has much greater availability in their home market. Less weight, more torque and power, and a heavily revised chassis tuned with a sporting nature for not a significant outlay in development expenditures.

Depending on those costs, what else is already getting upgraded on the next 9-3 that wouldn’t need significant modifications for performance duty, and how many “halo” cars they can expect to sell Saab might be able to price such a package (whether it be called another Turbo X, Viggen, or something altogether new) for a $4-5k dollar premium or less here in the US. It’s not about coming up with all-new powertrains and other expensive changes. They already have access to everything they need. Saab just needs to get a talented group together to put the pieces in place and make them work together in a cohesive package on a “new” car that doesn’t carry leftover stigma of the old GM days.

A few side notes. With BMW just formally announcing a new direct injection, turbocharged 2.0L four cylinder that may replace their naturally aspirated straight six in most markets, that would be another option Saab could build on. If the next 9-3 uses a base 1.6L turbo four from BMW (which was co-developed with PSA Peugeot Citroën for use in the Mini Cooper) they’ll still need a larger engine. That could either remain the GM-sourced Ecotec or possibly the new BMW 2.0L turbo four. The Ecotec is already proven at the power levels I’m suggesting but it wouldn’t surprise me if the BMW engine could support similar numbers. With Audi and Mercedes also announcing a shift towards smaller displacement, turbocharged engines in future vehicles I’d say any performance car from Saab is going to follow suit if not lead the way.

I also think it’s too far out and they need something sooner, but a high performance front drive turbo four combined with the electrical rear-drive module to form a hybrid electrical AWD like they recently announced could eventually be an option even in a performance car. Other automakers are already moving in this direction and it would make a great halo car for Saab if they and American Axle & Manufacturing can get it out the door before the competition. A halo car with great performance and unique technology would be an even bigger homerun for Saab and show that even though they are small they can still innovate.


Swade’s brief thoughts.

A truly admirable effort from Eric, however…..

The 350hp baseline is an immovable object. A 320hp outome on E85, which isn’t widely available to such an extent that everyone who buys this car could reasonably expect to benefit from it, is not nearly sufficient for the terms of the challenge.

Second – and in every way the most important aspect of this challenge – Saab have very limited resources with no fat to be trimmed. That means that in order to build a hi-po model, something has to go. Your task as part of this challenge is to identify what element of Saab’s business is less important than this hi-po model.

My thanks to Eric for his thoughts.

If you’d like to share your thoughts on Eric’s submission, please consider how it meets the criteria of the challenge.

I’ll post a summary entry on this challenge once all entries have been published (around the end of the week) and then we’ll move on.

13 thoughts on “SU Hi-Po Challenge – entry #1”

  1. Good in theory butI don’t know Saab has the money. I recon Saab waits till they have they money, adapt the phoenix platform into an all new sports shaped Saab and call it the Sonnett 4.

  2. Not sure bout you….but for me Way to much etc … I Thought we had finally shaken that shackle !!! And about bloody time to..
    The next generation 9-3 with have a BMW 1.6 Turbo engine …at least .. not sure where the gm boat anchor bit came from !!!!
    The Performance model in every line 9-2,9-3,9-4x and 9-5… etc.. should only come in a manual gearbox…. and comes in two specs.. one where the seats weigh more then the car + every electrical aid known to man and
    The Exciting one…. NO aids…no auto…. no electric gizmo’s etc .n no flappy paddles
    If you can’t drive a manual don’t get one

  3. Hang on… You have E85 both in USA and most of Europe… I think there’s even a chance to find E85 in places not covered by the satnav maps that comes with most Saabs…

  4. An admirable and knowledgeable effort, with many interesting points. Still, I believe that with the (very) limited resources & time at Saabs disposal, I personally would like the product line to be complete with three new models and variants before anything more exotic being produced. Possibly, the eAAM hybrid effort could be tweaked to HiPo but get the “normal” Saab cars ready first, use the resources wisely….. “Lagom – så det räcker hela laget om”, then inject resources when and if available…

  5. The likely hood of SAAB licensing GM IP for future models is very unlikely. The 2 companies can talk all they want about howmany undefinable years they will work together but the evidence is there to prove otherwise with the 9-3’s replacement using a BMW engine.. This will be adapted for e85 use and SAAB still have goal of getting 240hp from this 1.6 Turbo, Add the 184hp ‘ePower’ motor on the rear axle and SAAB will have the most powerful vehicle they have ever produced.

  6. I agree with Eric on the point that a hi-po model would be best suited for the new 9-3. Though I think the ambition is a little low. 300hp and 430Nm might work fine with a lightweight fwd car. If so I would ditch the hiperstruts etc. to save as much weight as possible.
    Though if we went with the haldex awd then we would need a bit more power. I think a straight-six would suit saab nicely, but don’t think there are any good engines to source out there now. Then a slightly larger 4 could work. Isn’t there someone out there making a 2.2 that we could slap a couple of blowers on? Easy to get 380-400hp out of that.
    I would rather see a real performance car then a slightly faster 9-3. Make it in limited numbers and with limited warranty on certain parts.
    Nice work Eric, but to summarize: More power, bigger statement.
    I won’t participate in this challenge since its just about impossible to guess the cost for a project like this and I can’t therefore give a solution to integrate this car into the saab budget.
    All I know is that the development cost for slapping a bigger engine in an existing platform is smaller than some people might think.


  7. The focus in this challenge is on the financial aspect. I shouldn’t worry too much about the performance. In the older generation 9-5 it’s relatively easy to boost performance up to 300bhp, that other 50bhp can be gained with a little more effort, but still it’s doable. See the excellent tuning guides on Add a bigger intake pipe, aluminium intercooler, bigger downpipe, racekat, bigger turbo, bigger injectors etc. Basically let more air and fuel in. The engine itself is pretty capable.

    Although another interesting option would be to add a second turbo on a petrol engine. Have it spool up quickly in low rpm and have a bigger one take over at around 4000rpm to maintain the turbopower.

    I’m babbling… Better get the financials straight first, it’s a tough challenge!

  8. Maybe we are onto a difference between Europe and the US, and two halo models are needed. Could it be that the Europeans drive significantly faster on average which will mean that weight and cornering are more important in the US, while aerodynamics and stability are more important in Europe?

    From my own observations, I would say that virtually nobody really cares for speed limits in most Europen countries, the average highway speeds easily reaching 150-160 km/h.

  9. I don’t think Eric is getting the proper kudos he deserves (and not just because I’m a native Californian :D). He opens with the point that it’s too early to launch something just yet, and I thought he did a good job pointing to reasonable possibilities for the not-so-distant future.

    The GM “separation” was very uplifting, but I’m not opposed to having a GM engine (maybe Saabified a little) or other parts on the car. Honestly, I haven’t kept up very much with the details of Saab’s relationship with GM, so I don’t know the likelihood of their cooperation on a project like this (especially if it’s nicknamed “Project ‘Vette-Killer” :D).

    As far as what existing part of the line-up should go–I’d say the 9-3 sport combi. The 9-5 and 9-3 seemed to get more similar over the years (until recently), that it’s hard for me to instantly tell them apart. I didn’t see the point in both cars catering to the same market. Even more pointless (in my humble opinion) was the need for both to have sport combi variants. I always think back to the 900 and 9000. Both very distinguishable, and both coveted by many Saab enthusiasts. Yet they also seem to split us as far as which is more prone to souping up. To me, the 900 SPG/Aero seemed more of an off-the-showroom floor hi-po car than the 9000 Aero (though people often argue since the 9000 is beefier, it can support more ostentatious aftermarket upgrades). That setup continued into the first-gen 9-3 and 9-5, with the Viggen and 9-5 Aero. I think it’s a good idea to keep with the tradition and make the prized pony out of the new 9-3.

    About the horsepower issue: the current 9-3 claims “up to 210hp”. The Turbo X made about 280hp, but with a V6 turbo that wasn’t very good on gas. It’s my opinion that 320hp (or 350hp) should be the maximum power output, not the jumping off point. I understand people are always going to want more power (and more power still), but there’s a limit to how much is “too much” and I think that boundary is quickly approaching from the distance. I understand the consumer’s mindset who won’t be impressed with 300hp, especially when she/he compares this car to its competition. I also understand that business is business, and that Saab can’t really afford to be comfortably unique at the moment. Just my two cents. 🙂

    Good job, Eric! Well thought-out and clever, in my opinion!

  10. Kudos for the entry…. at least you tried which is respectible…

    For the near term and as long as Saab is struggling…. I say the following statement and fully expect to get flammed.

    Saabs LIMITED use of the GM parts bin makes sense. All Saab dealers have the GM special tools, diagnostic equipment and parts supply chain. It only makes sense to slowly unchain themselves from GM and not to hurridly slam the door. I have always argued this point that the GM relationship, as bad as it was… still has some “friends with benefits” appeal…. for now.

    To just dump GM totally and dive into bed with BMW would require a big chunk of costs to revamp the support structure. It’s nice to dream about the Ultimate Saab, powered by some exotic engine and driveline…. but who’s going to support it when it breaks? What about the added support costs?

    Lets say they go with the BMW engine… Take that engine and all the accessories attached to it. You’d have to either A, modify all the mounting points to fit Saab / GM stuff to it or B, buy all BMW engine accessories (added cost) to bolt to the engine… then retrofit all of the hardware / engine mounts/ Air conditioning/ air inlet, exhaust piping…alternator… ect.. Think of the added “down the road” costs for each dealer to now have to buy the special tools to fix that BMW engine, the added cost to stock parts for the engine/ driveline…. in a hurry… cost outweighs benefit.

    For this right now, real time project… using the Saab/ GM parts bin is the way to go… as much as some people may dislike dipping into it.

    Once Saab is steady on her feet…. then it’s time to break another chain.

  11. after reading all of the hi po #1 and #2 entries and comments, i think everyone is off track. a lot of comments refer to saab needing tons of resources to get a project like this off the ground…which i think is completely false. i have the 2.8 v6 so while my comments will generally be geared toward that engine i believe the same can be said of the smaller 4 cylinder. right now there are tuners that are making 300+ hp with just simple changes to the engine management system. swap tubos, injectors and exhaust and these guys are pushing 400 hp. if these smaller companies and in some cases guys in garages can make this kind of power then saab certainly can. i’ve had my car tuned for two years now and have had no signs of excess wear from the extra hp and i even get better gas mileage on the highway (in town is lower due to a heavy foot). the car is much more fun to drive and i think a factory supplied high power car would have a fair chance of stealing a customer or two away from our german counterparts.

  12. The use of a “daily driven” 2.0l engine with 290/300 hp should be interesting. That makes non sense with today ECU strategies/ technologies.
    Engine peformance is defined as a product of rpm x combustian pressure and displacement. If you wouldn’t like to raise the combustian pressure to kill the engine internals or like to have a “sportive Honda”like engine with blasting high rpms you need to stay in the 260/ 270 hp niveau on 98 octane (european rating) gasoline.
    The goal will be to have the right downsized, high volumetric engines in place. CO2 g/km will be a main task for the next years. Why shouldn’t Saab use the new BMW four cyl. engine? Why should they keep going on with GMs ecotec?

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