CAR Magazine on the Saab PhoeniX concept

CAR Magazine are generally pretty reasonable when it comes to Saab. They, like the rest of us, tend to think that the automotive world is a much more interesting place with companies like Saab in it. That’s why one of their roving reporters was busy getting a good spot at the Saab stand while Opel, next door, were running overtime with their Geneva press conference.

Back again to Hall 2, where I should be seeing a presentation from the brand that will not die. However, it’s GM Europe, Saab’s old owners, working their way through the presentation of the new Zafira Tourer. I’m keen to see the new car, but try to get a better location to view Saab’s presentation instead.

This traditional affection is why I’ll be very keen to read their April issue and see how they explain this headline about the PhoeniX concept. It’s fair to say that early signs from CAR are not looking promising.

From their online digital preview:

A harsh assessment?

I know I’m biased, but I’d say decidedly so. Alfa Romeo would want the “Right Car” assessment because the 4C is actually slated for production. Nobody wants a “Wrong Car” assessment, so it’ll be interesting to read what the assessment is based on – some controversial flying buttresses, or the use of a real-world new platform, a new hybrid turbocharged drivetrain and a real-world communication and control system that’s made massive waves everywhere. I hope CAR bore point 1, below, in mind.

We’ve covered plenty about the PhoeniX on this site and there are a few things of note that came out of that discussion:

  1. PhoeniX is a design concept (my emphasis) and the one thing you don’t want a design concept to be is boring. You want it to create discussion, which PhoeniX has certainly done, with the vast majority of it in the motoring press being decidedly positive.
  2. Given that it’s a rather radical concept in terms of looks, it’s going to divide opinion, which is fine. The trick is to look deeper than what you see at first glance.
  3. The importance of PhoeniX is not confined to it being Jason Castriota’s first statement as head of Saab design. The looks are deliberately Jason with deliberate Saab cues, and some of that look will carry through to the next 9-3. The importance of PhoeniX, however, is not just how it looks. It’s also concerned with what’s underneath. The PhoeniX platform that it’s based on is real – and when the next 9-3 is only 18 months away, that’s an important thing to know – and the PhoeniX concept showcases some of the vehicle proportions that will be possible with that architecture.

I guess I should hold my tongue until I get a chance to read the article, but I have a feeling that CAR may have only looked at the surface to judge the validity of PhoeniX and made a bold headline out of a subjective assessment.


Yes, it’s OK. Tim’s given me the OK to continue to write here occasionally. This is one piece of subject matter that I couldn’t resist.

44 thoughts on “CAR Magazine on the Saab PhoeniX concept”

  1. 🙂 Nice to see you!

    Let’s see when I’ll get this number of CAR… but it doesn’t look great.

  2. So, Alfa’s Lotus ripoff is the ‘right’ car? Huh?
    Suddenly I don’t care what they are saying about the PhoeniX anymore.

  3. Very disappointing, CAR. It’s one of those auto magazines I used to love. Unfortunately for them and many others, Car and Driver has improved so much that it’s now my go to site, their writers and editors are humorous but respectful, and their design work is even better than CAR’s has ever been. Once I’m done reading their article, I’ll happily write a response to Phil and Guy and then move onto sites that actually get it right.

  4. IIRC, CAR were in love with the Aero X. So I don’t necessarily think it’s got anything to do with negative bias towards Saab.

    The Alfa is pure hotness. Better looking than the PhoeniX just like the Aero X was better looking than the 8C.

    @GerritN: allow me to respectfully disagree. The Alfa’s rear is no more a Lotus ripoff than the PhoeniX is a Pontiac “ripoff”.

  5. “A harsh assessment?” – No, just a wrong assessment.

    My wife’s comment about the Consumer Reports 2011 Annual Auto Issue: “Why are cars so boring?” The PhoeniX is anything but boring.

    Just a thought.

  6. As much as i learned to love the PhoneiX the rear end of it doesn’t exactly talk Saab as the Alfa rear talks Alfa. To be honest, even if i love most of the car i’m not a big fan of it’s rear end. There is nothing there that makes me think “Saab” even now when i spent a considerable amount of time starring at it. I think thats why its so convenient for CAR magazine to “duel” the the rear end view of this both cars. If the photos pictured any other angle of the cars i’m sure their assessment would fall pretty flat. That the average CAR magazine reader probably has no clue about whats underneath the metal and that its almost mind bugling that Saab even HAS a concept to show at this time is less good, but i think being on this full size spread not looking its best is lots better then being on some tiny in article picture. In a duel with Alfa is not the worst place a Saab can be 😉

  7. Yes, of course. They (the press) wants to create drama and conflict, thats their livelihood. One should not trust the honesty of what is in car magazines any more then whats in the next Sylvester Stallone movie. Whatever i mean with that. I did not notice that lack of attention at the Saab stand myself before you pointed it out though.

  8. I wouldn’t read anything into the lack of legs in the photo. The stand was quite busy for the whole two press days. Much busier on day 2 than I anticipated, actually. They could have taken the photo very early in the morning or very late in the evening (Saab had a function on night 1, at the dining area of the Saab stand, that last until around 8pm).

    • I think the legs was photoshopped out of the saab stand:)
      Its hard enough to be funny in ones own language but that’s nothing compared to try being funny in a language ones mother did not support. In my head i’m kinda funny but in .txt of course my great humor isn’t as obvious.

      Nice to read something that is very balanced but also very emotional at the same time again.

      • My impression of what I see here is that I also come to the conclusion that they have modified the image free from people.

  9. IMO that Alfa is butt ugly. Looks like someone rearended an 8C and decided they’d call it a 4C. I have read CAR for over 25 years but they seem to have turned every issue into a review of the Veyron or some car from BMW. And their attitude to the 9-5 sucks!

  10. I would tend to agree with the statement I can see (I also didn’t read the article, just saw the headline centerfold as pictured above). I am not that keen on the Alfa 4C, but it was the right car for the brand to display at the show. The PhoeniX, for all its merits, was the wrong car for Saab to display in Geneva.

    Saab won’t die and everything will work out just fine. But Saab still tend to be misallocating their resources for optimal effect. I hope they realize that sooner than later.

  11. Well, I do not understand why Saab bothers to make a concept car like this. If they want publicity, the sure should put their PR efforts to the cars they actually can sell. If they want to test reactions to a new direction of design, that can be done in clinics or through reseach.

    Besides, I find it to be the ugliest car I have seen in a long time. And I cannot see what is Saab-like about it, either. Why can’t Saab make a car that people desire?

  12. CAR has their opinion, and the PhoeniX is after all polarizing as few others.

    But declaring the rather awkward looking 4C as the measuring point seems a bit default. “Oooh… an Alfa, what a beauty!”

    I stopped subscribing to CAR and EVO long time ago, as they both seemed to have hit the “repeat” button. Guess it’s status quo.

  13. Didn’t Jason say something like: Some will like and some will hate it? Well, guess Car, or one of their editors, didn’t like it. At least Saab is back in the picture, it appaerantly got great coverage over here… everyone can see Saab is still alive.

  14. The PhoeniX is polarising, I was not pleased when I first saw the pictures. But I went to the Geneva car show and in real, it looks far better. Although the design is pretty loaded, it grows on you and some of the features like the front and aerodynamic windscreen would be welcome on future Saabs. Automotive News is right saying that it fullfilled its mission. Having said that, personally I believe the 9-X bio-hybrid was a concept that better matches the Saab philosophy.

    Now some thing I regret with the Saab stand in Geneva was that the electric 9-3 SC was missing. Given the strong interest in alternative powerplants in Geneva and the fact that Volvo displayed 2 C30 Electric from the same Swedish fleet test program, this it was a mistake not to put up the electric 9-3 SC on display. (According to a poll on the Geneva car show web site, 78.5 % of the visitors are interested in electric and alternative powered cars.)

  15. In my opinion the only clear mistake JC did on the outside of the car was the rear lights. I guess lack of time must have been a big factor but the scattered ‘American’ LED cluster does very little justice to the over all design.
    If visible -Saab like- turning and reverse lights had been in there it’s possible no one would have anything to complain about.

  16. In my opinion the difference between these two cars is the the fact that the 4C is obviously an Alfa Romeo with cues that can be directly linked to the gorgeous 8C. The fact that it will be in production next year, utilises carbon fibre to keep the weight down, and will allegedly be sold for less than £40,000 must also go in its favour.

    The Phoenix concept however is not at first glance a Saab, unlike the Aero-X which successfully carried forward the Saab DNA. The technology to be used (IQON etc) sounds fantastic but I think to be a real success we need to see more “Saabishness” / “Swedishness” in future concepts.

  17. And how can they show a picture of OG9-5 as an example of the current 9-5??
    Choose all brands and then Saab.

  18. I guess it’s okay if they don’t like the design, but I’ll have issues with them if they put Saab in the spotlight in a negative way. I guess we’ll have to see the full article to find out what these silly boffins are up to…

  19. To me, the real question is “which car is the more significant?”

    Let’s face it, the automobile is very likely to return to the status of being a rich man’s hobby, and the Alfa is a step down that path. The Saab, on the other hand, addresses some (though not all) of the issues facing the automotive industry. It’s economical and practical without being bland. 200 HP and 120g/km CO2 in an affordable 4 seater is not a bad thing, especially if they can keep the price reasonable, the weight down and the lifecycle long. I would love to see them work more on making insurance affordable, like Gordon Murray has done with the T.25, but the PhoeniX is a step in the right direction on all fronts.

    The Alfa is a Miata at twice the price, a distraction for someone who is bored with their first and second car. The Saab has the potential of being the only car you really need: fun, practical, economical and affordable. In the end, aren’t those the characteristics of a real Saab?

  20. I still believe that the PhoeniX did exactly what a concept car is supposed to do – like it or hate it the PhoeniX created buzz for Saab. Some would say even negative attention or press is good, but I wish the automotive press would find another brand to bash and recognize how much Saab has accomplished in just about a year of independent ownership.

    My fire and passion for Saab won’t be diminished by any article that misses all of the great things Saab has to celebrate.

  21. I think your vision of CAR is from former years, their current bias against Saab could not be more obvious. Their list of top 100 motoring events from 2010 did not mention the purchase of Saab and its rebirth as an independent company (but included the death of Pontiac, not even sold in the U.K), their GBU section has not updated its 9-3 section in years except to lower the overall rating to two stars and drop any reference to the 9-3x, and their reviews of the new 9-5 always conclude with a remark about how much better some BMW is (they add this remark on many reviews). Their recent review of the new Audi A-6 lists a number of cars to consider as competitors, concluding with a “Don’t consider this..” for the 9-5. The CAR website on Saab is at least a year out of date, and is still showing the old 9-5. I think SaabsUnited could take the link to CAR off the page, and ask CAR editors what Saab has done to offend. A hatchet job on the Phoenix is no surprise.

  22. I need to say something about SU posts on PhoeniX…. come on people! Stop dismissing looks as not the most important aspect of the car. OF COURSE looks are important! That’s what concepts are all about! Maybe the engineering community is interested in the platform and the engine, but everyday consumer sees skin-deep. Let’s face it, and stop sugar-coating it. The goal of the concept is not to be “polarizing” but to wow the public and create vision for the future, not make people scratch their heads and go “huh?”. If it needs to “grow on you” its a fail.

    The SAAB community is treating this car like a parent treats an idiot-ugly child. We know you’re dumb, we know you’re ugly, but we love you anyways because you’re “ours” and we’ll find something, ANYTHING, positive about you.
    This rhetoric about “this is just a design experiment” and “it’s meant to be polarizing” is a bit pathetic. You’re not loving this car and you know it. Everytime the press tells us how it is, we complain that they are just not looking at the right places. Well, if you have to look that hard, then something is clearly wrong.

    Everyone loved the AeroX and the SAAB community, loved the fact that everyone loved it. Now that PhoeniX is clearly a mess, we claim that its an experiment and people just don’t understand.
    Do you think VM and JC do not wish this was as widely successful as AeroX?

    This is a critical time for SAAB and to have a concept that even the die hard fans are struggling with is a problem. So, please, please, stop making excuses for it. Sometimes the press is right, and this is one of those times.

    • You don’t speak for me, Yuros. If you don’t like the PhoeniX, that’s fine; you’re entitled to your opinion. But don’t generalize and project your feelings for the concept on the rest of the SU community.

      • CraigS.
        I did not mean to project my feelings. I think the posts on SU speak for themselves. So far all articles are attempts to find something positive about it. All I am saying is that it reads like a community is trying to justify this concept to itself.

        • Yuros +1000 point, that`s exactly how I feel about it too. And to be honest I`m very concerned about the future of Saab, this is like a great music artist selling out to mainstream music and letting its past behind, trying not be “boring”, who said Saab was ever boring? Saab doesn`t need this change, not as dramatic as this, Saab always had beautiful concepts and beautiful road cars, I don`t see how you can have ugly concepts but beautiful road cars, I can`t name a brand who ever achieved that, so stop say`n that this is just a concept, an exercise, that it means very little, well is doesn`t , but that`s just my opinion, I would love it if I was wrong.Let`s hope I am. 🙁

    • Yuros,

      Can’t help but disagree, and not just because I wrote this post or a lot of the other coverage on PhoeniX, or other cars over the years. Let me explain why, point by point.

      OF COURSE looks are important!

      True, but the fact that PhoeniX doesn’t make you fall in love with it at first glance doesn’t mean that it’s “idiot ugly”. It took me a while to get used to it, too. I first saw it on a computer screen in Los Angeles and my first reaction was very reserved but I held off because that wasn’t a full and proper rendering. I didn’t write about it here on the site, I waited to see it for real and I’m glad I did.

      In person, the car is taut, it’s muscular and the paint looks absolutely fantastic. The buttresses were the most controversial part of the car for me, but if you’ve seen the photoshops people of done without them, you’ll see it looks more complete and sensible with them.

      It’s taken time, but the only part of the car I don’t like now are the rear lights. Every other part of the car looks great to me and from the comments I’ve seen about it here and elsewhere since Geneva, that goes for a lot of other people as well.

      If it needs to “grow on you” its a fail.

      The Saab 900 needed to grow on people. It still polarises people today, but generally they’re not Saab people that don’t like it so much. What grabs people when they experience it is how comfortable it is, how practical it is and eventually, how great it looks. Personally speaking, that’s how I fell in love with Saab’s most iconic and successful model – by experience, not just by it being eye candy.

      This rhetoric about “this is just a design experiment” and “it’s meant to be polarizing” is a bit pathetic. You’re not loving this car and you know it.

      Far from it. I’m sure every designer would love 100% of their work to be loved by everyone instantaneously. It’s human nature. But the enemy of any designer or any creator of anything is indifference.

      I didn’t love the Dame Edna 9-5 when it came out, I can tell you. Go back to Trollhattan Saab and read about it. I’m almost ashamed of how scathing I was in some respects because I didn’t know how much I’d come to like that front end. I didn’t know, back then, about the process I’d go through of getting to know designs better.

      Sometimes the press is right, and this is one of those times.

      Two points here…..

      I don’t mind that some people from the press don’t like the car. That’s normal and natural, just as it is with regular non-press people. What irks me about this article from CAR is the headline and the impressions they’ve created from the artwork. It’s totally dismissive and when you’re a magazine with the experience and integrity of CAR, you should have a bit more depth about you and take a bit more care.

      Second, if you were following here during the Geneva show, then you’ll have seen Eggs’ reports on the press reactions. And if you saw those, then you’ll know that “the press doesn’t like it” isn’t an accurate statement at all.

      CAR doesn’t seem to like it. You don’t seem to like it. That doesn’t make the rest of us who do like it apologists, or crazy.

  23. The veredict is “Wrong Car” because it’s ugly and a retro-futuristic-Saab pastiche.
    And it also looks like shite.
    Would love to know what Sniff Petrol has to say about it. Probably the same.
    “Let this be a remainder to all motor enthusiasts not to pretend to be a real car designer. Over and out!”.

  24. My only thing to comment on this one is how long did Alfa spend on getting this car completed? My point being, Jason has been at Saab for a very short time and in that time was able to come out with the PhoeniX and get people talking, hell look at BMW concept from the show???? what was that? I think we are an easy target because of low sales and I really think it’s just cheap writing.

  25. The title may worry some, it worried me when I saw it last week, but the article is more than fair. It concentrates on the reaction of the design community for a paragraph before letting JC answer his critics for a large portion of the article. What they do focus on (and I am surprised that there was not more comment here) is the interior and are full of praise for the red lighting (some food for thought for the green light addicts) and the android OS for the car.
    Why they like the Alfa (and so do I) is that for an engine 150cc bigger with than the Phoenix with the same bhp the car runs 0-60 in less than 5 seconds and a 155mph+ top speed. Hi Power figures without Hi Power engines, as I argued in the Hi Power challenge. The fact that it costs 40000 euros and is on sale next year adds to my love for the car.

    Also to be fair to Car, Phoenix gets more space in the magazine and Saabs united is name checked. JC “blames” the SU readership for the shape of the car J

    JC stated that this car was designed to be controversial, and I think we need to be a bit less thin skinned when it ocmes to Saab being criticsed. Should Car be more “respectful” and say they love it?

  26. Well the automotive press again is projecting their own insecurities on the automotive industry onto one of only a handful of innovative (and not das boring as Swade would put it) and unique manufacturers such as SAAB at the show SAAB is willing to take risks and stir up less (das boringness) amongst the group of car companies unlike the VW group, BMW, GM (snore), Toyota (catatonic), Mitsubishi (Rumple Stilsken sleep), Mazda (snooze fest), Cirtroen (oye vey). The only other companies that are happening are SAAB, Renault, Alfa, and possibly Koenssing(sp?).

  27. Who cares – there is only one of them who starts every morning in minus 20c and can take a crash with a moose anyday with the driver walking away. Italian cars should have V8 engines and have drivers as Alonso to impress me.

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