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.