9-4x First Impressions and Analysis

The first official reviews of the 9-4x poured in to us at the end of last week, and by all accounts they’re extremely positive. We’ve gotten about 30 tips to the articles (and we appreciate all the emails!), but we waited until today to post (and I’ve delayed it now twice due to breaking news :P) to get official permission to use images and quotes from articles– trying to be ethical is always fun, but usually not as fast as I’d like.

These first reviews were held in Northern Virginia on a rainy thunderstormy day in March which we covered briefly here. This is the first of at least two rounds of first drives, aimed at long-lead publications that need more time to get ready for print. One of these testers was James Bell of the Motor Press Guild who came away pretty impressed, as we mentioned in our earlier post.

“…rest assured that this vehicle should put this venerable brand back on discriminating shopping lists across the country.”

In his review at Expressen, Matt Davis went a step further. He suggests that it might be “the car that saves Saab.” For those of you who want to read these first reviews of the 9-4x, by all means skip this article and go right ahead. Here are the links.

Car and Driver

Automobile Magazine

Motortrend

Autoweek (added)

Autocar

Expressen (English Translation) – more to come from Matt Davis when his whole piece goes online soon.

9-4x test drive outside Swedenburg Winery. Photo by James Bell

For those of you who want a more my take and reflection on these writers conclusions from a very personal viewpoint, click past the break.

 

Rather than take you through this as a generic rehashing of googleable news links, I’d like to take you through the mindset of an actual customer who is in the market for a new compact to mid-sized CUV, someone near and dear to me– my Mom. She’s been looking for something that’s big enough to fit a bulky piece of furniture or bags of mulch she might grab on a shopping trip while still feeling small enough to get around town like a car half its size. This segment seems to appeal most to suburban women like her, and since that group tends to go for the higher margin options and packages, it’s no wonder automakers have cashed in big off SUVs and now CUVs in the last decade.

Last week I had the opportunity to take her to the New York Auto Show for a morning and she had the chance to test out every single automaker’s entrants into the small CUV segment, including the unreleased Range Rover Evoque. Having a Saab nut son, you’d think I’d have sold her on the 9-4x already, well sadly she wasn’t sold by the initial pictures of the car (which is the real reason you saw me make so many Sport Package photoshops, I was trying to convince a family member). Truthfully she’s been ready to buy a new CUV for a while, but with so many new entrants focusing their sites on the segment, it wasn’t hard to convince her to wait just a little longer until the Saab was released.

No doubt the 9-4x has been a long time coming. It’s development started as a joint project between GM and Saab engineers, chiefly Peter Dörrich, whose father also worked for Saab. He’s now chief engineer of midsize vehicles in Trollhättan, so he’s got his hands full. As he’s stated in earlier conversations with Swade and Robert Collin the 9-4x is Saab through and through.

 

According to Peter when he was interviewed by Robert Collin for aftonbladet,

“We had many ideas that were not shared by Cadillac (that is, Cadillac didn’t see the value in them), not in the beginning anyway,” says Peter Dörrich when we meet in Los Angeles. But the American executives at GM had full confidence in me and I was working on getting the Cadillac people convinced of how we wanted the car…”

And indeed Motortrend takes it a step further having talked to him again at their test drive.

Though the 9-4x is shared, this time it might be Cadillac’s version that feels more like a Saab under the skin than the other way around.

As I stated before, the SRX is selling like hotcakes in the US right now. It’s even outselling their bread and butter CTS sport sedan. For those of you who don’t live in North America right now and have a hard time understanding why this model is so important, try to wrap your head around that last statement. CUVs are so huge in the US that they sell more than their car counterparts. It’s a fairly incredible statistic. That the SRX was improved on by Saab and that the authentic version will go on sale can’t be undersold, this is the car that should be a game-changer for US attitudes towards Saab and gives the company an incredible opportunity to press reboot.

The Interior is Just Right

One of the sore spots in initial reviews of the 9-5 sedan was that certain parts felt too standard (read: matte plastic dash). Thankfully there are changes in the works and that will be remedied soon. Fortunately, the 9-4x will launch from the start with a combination of interior materials and ergonomics that make it top of its class from the start. I can vouch, having sat in both the Aero and Base model trims, with aluminum and wood bits.

Matt Davis from Expressen seems to agree with me.

The design is so good it can be. Inside it is exactly what should have been 9-5 when it was launched a year ago.

From the french stitched leather dash surround to the subtle metallic effect dash panel, it feels every bit as premium as the competition. In fact, my mom who is shopping for a new CUV came away from the 9-4x saying that it was second only to Porsche in terms of her perceived quality, beating the X3, Q5, and ML from Mercedes (this comes from a woman who has driven a Jag or Merc for the last 20 years). There’s something about the layout of the dash and that huge nav screen cocooning the driver that really puts a driver at ease, and Saab designers worked hard to make every surface feel and look just right, the Leonardo dash buttons feel more at home in this dash than ever. Indeed the massive sunroof and cavernous headroom complete the effect of an open airy cabin, and the rear visibility sealed the deal for Mom– “Finally one I can see out of!” were her actual words.

Motortrend agrees with her.

Saab is shooting for big players like Audi and BMW, so there was no room to compromise. From the very top, designers started with a large panoramic roof. Even under dark, rainy D.C. skies, the interior feels light and open. Even if customers don’t opt for the giant roof, Saab’s traditional wraparound cockpit greenhouse allows for plenty of outward visibility.

In crowded beltway traffic, lane changes are never an issue and blind spots don’t seem nearly as bad as in some of the more swooping-roofed competition.

Tony Swan from Car and Driver focused on how unlike the SRX it is.

Like the SRX, the 9-4X is strictly a two-row proposition, comfortable for four but not so good for five, thanks to the center console. The rear seats fold flat, and there’s a nice little storage well below the floor of the cargo bay.

Unlike the SRX, the Saab’s interior is subdued, with a mostly black color scheme, albeit with high-quality materials and soft-touch surfaces. The seats are well shaped, with sporty bolstering; the instruments and dashboard will look familiar to anyone who’s been in a Saab recently; and the Denso nav system is excellent.

Paul Eisenstein (who also reports for the Detroit Bureau) had a similar take on the 9-4x’s genuine Saaby feel.

The interior is equally true to Saab’s roots, down to the green-on-black gauges in the five-passenger interior. There’s even a starter button located where you’d expect it in a Saab, between the front seats. The two front buckets, incidentally, are technically shared with the Caddy crossover, but you’d have to rip them apart to discern it. The shared frame is fitted with unique foam and bolsters, and Saab’s trademark active headrests.

During typical use, the 9-4X’s cabin is incredibly quiet, but there are two points worth quibbling about. Almost identical to that of the 9-5, the instrument panel of the new crossover is functional to the point of looking plain and dull. We also found the 9-4X’s driving position trying; it was difficult to get comfortable irrespective of where we positioned the adjustable steering column.

On the last point I have to disagree with Paul. The only difference I really could note between the 9-4x and the X3 or Q5 in terms of “plain” or “dullness” is that the vents on the latter CUVs are detailed in a brighter metallic plastic. Saab keeps the surfaces varying shades of deeper blacks, most likely for functional reasons which he overlooks (think Night Panel usefulness). Saab could have easily picked a brighter shinier surface, but I’m glad that as usual they opt for function and substance over glitz and shiny bits. Mom is usually a sucker for those shiny elements, but as she sat behind the wheel of the 9-4x and the instrument lights turned on for her, she was impressed by how clear, easy to find, and engaging the instrument panel appeared. I will say, lighter seats go a long way towards remedying the sea of black that Paul is referring to, and I’d advise dealers to try to order as many of the Parchment or Shark Grey models as they can– stay away from Jet Black leather. Another point I’ll disagree with Paul about is the lack of a comfortable driving position, Mom is 5’7″ and I’m 6’3″ and we both found great seating/steering positions. In fact she remarked how sporty the steering wheel was, and its flat bottom certainly gives it the feel of a much smaller car.

The back seat was especially comfortable. Michael Febbo who wrote the piece for Motor Trend had fun seeing how the tall marketing guy from Saab fit in the back seats.

That higher roofline means even adults have plenty of headroom in back. Our towering marketing engineer couldn’t complain about leg- or headroom in back for his day of journalistic-driven terror. It was so roomy, we even let him in the front passenger seat so we could experience life from behind the DVD monitor-equipped headrests.

I was impressed by the rear leg room in the back seats, and the controls for HVAC in the back of the rear armrest were easily accessible. Even easier was folding the 60/40 rear seats down flat, with the press of a button they dropped right down (standard in its  class I know, but it was so immediate and even with the headrests fully extended that it surprised me).

It Just Looks Good

At the NY show last week, Swade mentioned to me that after seeing the 9-4x driving around Trollhättan two weeks ago, it was fast becoming his favorite Saab. I’d have to agree, its proportions, details, and height give it a certain weightiness and muscularity that really hasn’t been a part of Saab traditionally. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve advocated a proper 9-2x or 9-3x that is more along the lines of the original 9-3x concept proportions– a true BMW X1 or Audi Q3 competitor, with unique styling that could dominate what I believe will become the hottest new segment in the next decade. Sure Saab dominated the small car market in the 50s and 60s and Victor is keen to point out that a 92 is a natural fit for Saab, but I think that the idea of the hatchback, versatility, and practicality have moved the ethos of Saab to more naturally fit this new segment, and if Saab really wants to hit the jackpot in sales they should focus on a smaller crossover.

Surely Saab could do it better with fewer compromises than other automakers.

All that said, the subject here is the 9-4x and it’s a true looker in the metal. Motortrend thinks it stands out just enough from the crowd, but not in the wrong way.

The exterior will stand out in a crowd of German and Japanese crossovers, while still looking reserved and understated.

I agree, and at the NY Auto Show, it certainly stood out from the crowd.

Paul Eisenstein agrees that it belongs in the premium CUV segment.

…the new Saab 9-4X is more sporty and – to our eyes – more appealing than the Cadillac SRX with which it shares a factory. Its dynamic act is certainly polished enough to bear comparison with flagship petrol version of the Lexus RX and Infiniti EX.

You can almost smell the quotes wafting their way into Saab press brochures. Automobile likes it more than the SRX too, going so far as to say,

The Saab’s design is arguably the more handsome of the two, and looks right at home alongside the new 9-5 sedan.

Car and Driver goes further.

The SRX and the 9-4X may share the same architecture—exemplary in terms of rigidity—but even the most casual observer is unlikely to confuse one with the other. Besides the familiar Saab fascia and wraparound windshield, the roofline slants downward to the hatch with very little arc, à la Land Rover Evoque. And the blacked-out B-pillars lend drama to the profile, reminding us of the new Ford Explorer.

The 9-4X team also suggests that there are hints of the old cult-fave 900 hatchback in the new vehicle’s rear-window design, though it would take a very keen and practiced eye to perceive this. On the other hand, the Saab’s rear window is bigger than the Caddy’s, providing a much better view of whatever’s going on behind.

No doubt we’re the keen and practiced eyes he’s referring to. That C-pillar structure which Peter baked into the design is part of the structure that even the Cadillac shares. I’m guessing that he won whatever argument GM designers might have had to change it, and even the Cadillac though it disguises its original intent benefits from the squat proportions that result. It looks so Saab in person.

Sure it Looks Good, How Does it Drive?

This is one point I nor my mom had a chance to test. I hope to remedy that in the coming weeks and share my thoughts with SaabsUnited. Most initial impressions of the 9-4x included statements like “If it drives anything like the SRX, it will be tuned more for cruising than sporty driving.” I was shocked to see the testers mention almost no comparisons to the SRX’s road behavior. Motortrend suggested that it inspires the confidence of a heavy european sports sedan.

Saab DriveSense allows drivers to select from cushy, cruising Comfort Mode to stiff, stable Sport Mode via a center console-mounted switch. Not only does the system control damping rates, throttle, and transmission mapping, but also steering assist. Even in comfort mode, the steering effort is heavy by crossover standards, but most Saab customers will appreciate the sport-sedan level of heft and accompanying feel. The brake pedal requires even greater effort. The action is as immediate as mounting the brake pads directly to the sole of your shoe. The pedal barely moves, and brake bite is instantaneous. Stopping power is a direct result of pressure, not travel, which is the case in most cars. While racers will jump in and feel right at home, the average driver will need a little bit of time to learn to modulate. Saab salesman are probably going to experience a few tense moments on test drives.

I read every single SRX review, and I never heard of driving characteristics like those. Automobile magazine writer Joe Lorio thinks that the extra time in the oven served Saab engineers well. I think they’re just better than their GM counterparts 😉

The Saab’s long gestation was helpful in one respect: it gave the engineers time to rework both engines for better responsiveness. Indeed, the 9-4X Aero feels livelier than the last SRX turbo I drove, and engine noise is well suppressed. The turbocharger’s boost is nicely integrated, making for linear throttle response.

How does it compare with its European, even Swedish competition though? Matt Davis’s piece in Expressen makes a pretty extraordinary claim.

The 9-4X is a serious competitor for the title of best mid-sized SUV on the planet.  And I’m not joking. The car is better than the Volvo XC60, better than the BMW X3 and better than the Lexus RX.

‘Dem’s fighting words. While Car and Driver didn’t necessarily feel like it gave thrilling driving performance (nor should it, it’s a CUV…), they did think it felt solid and differentiated from the SRX in a few important ways, notably damping and transmission.

Spring rates and damping are a little stiffer than those employed in the Cadillac, and there are two presets for the suspension: normal and sport. However, the 9-4X rarely lets the driver forget its substantial mass. Although the steering is tactile and nicely weighted, transient responses are deliberate. This is not a rig that wants to be tossed into turns or snaked through a slalom.

On the other hand, ride quality is surprisingly supple in both suspension settings; no noise finds its way into the cabin via the suspension; and the six-speed auto is much smoother than the SRX turbo’s we tested last August.

Automobile had a nice take on how it handled the roads of Northern Virginia, some of which are very similar to some UK roads I’ve driven.

Our drive in the 9-4X took us from Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown out into the quaint, historic northern Virginia countryside — as well as the not-so-quaint northern Virginia countryside that has been overrun by the Toll Brothers and their ilk. On the drive’s scenic parkways, feverishly expanding freeways, and gentle byways, the 9-4X Aero’s chassis was pleasantly tied down. At the same time, it capably sopped up the few bumps we could find to throw at it, with decent ride comfort despite rolling on high-style, twenty-inch wheels. The Aero has the advantage of adaptive dampers, part of Saab’s Drive Sense system, which also varies steering effort and throttle/transmission mapping. (Drive Sense is not available on the base car.) The system also includes selectable Sport and Comfort modes (with a middle-ground, Intelligent, mode due to be added for 2012), but we could discern no meaningful difference between them. In either one, the steering is firm with rather high efforts, and the throttle is not too aggressive.

All in all, the 9-4X comes off bank vault solid, whisper quiet, with good road feedback while never feeling too stiff. Add to that a lower price than most of the competition and more usable interior volume, and you’re really starting to see the value the total package. Needless to say, mom’s convinced after shopping around that the 9-4X is the most CUV she can get for the money, and it’s the best looking of the group too. In the end it wasn’t as hard a sell as I thought it might be. Which leads us to a comparison of the 9-4x vs. it’s competition in pricing.

The base model 9-4X 3.0 (265HP) comes with a lot of standard equipment, and I predict it will take up a huge portion of sales in the US. Key equipment includes the wood and leather effect surfaces which to most actually come off appearing more premium than their Aero counterparts (weird but true), all the standard options people come to expect in this class of SUV like dual zone climate control with cooled glovebox, heated mirrors, keyless start/stop, a full slate of airbags, U-Rail cargo management, CD-Player with USB/Aux input and Bluetooth. Expect dealers to check the box for the $1,385 Power Package, which includes those sexy LED lipped Xenon headlamps, auto dimming/folding mirrors, power lift gate and pedals, and rear view camera and heated seats. That brings the sticker to $35,590. The Panoramic roof is a $1,400 option, but totally worth it…it almost feels like a convertible inside, and at a total price of $37,040, it makes the 9-4x a bargain (and in the configuration that nearly all customers will end up in). XWD is basically a $2,500 option on the 3.0L models, if you think you need it go for it, if not save some weight and get better gas mileage (I suspect most Northeastern dealers will go with all XWD configurations). With XWD the total is $39,535.

Optioned out in the same way (using truecar.com), here’s what the competition costs:

  • Audi Q5 2.0T: $40,275
  • BMW X3 2.8 (240HP): $44,065
  • Lexus RX350: $44,292
  • Lincoln MKX: $42,230
  • Mercedes ML350: $53,700 (very close in size to the 9-4x, more so than the GLK)
  • Infiniti EX35: $39,695 ($44,695 includes xenons but also adds navigation)

If you want navigation in your 9-4x, you need to opt for the premium trim which has more standard options including upgraded wheels, ventilated seats, auto air recirculation sensor, rain sensing wipers, remote start and keyless passive entry (those fancy door handles you touch and they open without needing the key), universal garage door opener, power passenger seat, and an Upgraded Bose Audio System. When combined with Nav brings the total to $43,270 ($46,265 with XWD). For an extra $2000 you can have an Aero which gets you a lot more features including the Drivesense, and add another $1,450 and you can add the moonroof and get the complete package. If you add navigation to the competition you get:

  • Audi Q5 2.0T: $43,275 ($55,825 for 3.2L with Aero options)
  • BMW X3 2.8 (240HP): $48,675 ($54,725 for 3.5L with Aero Options)
  • Lexus RX350: $47,442 ($56,042 with Aero Options)
  • Lincoln MKX: $44,110
  • Mercedes ML350: $57,540 ($59,590 with Comparable Aero Sound System)
  • Infiniti EX35: $44,695

As you can see, the 9-4x always comes out less and in many cases is far less expensive for what is a more complete package.

The word from Matt Davis at Expressen that Saab is only planning to build 12,500 this year, which means if you want one of these rare gems, you need to get to your dealer pretty quickly to snatch one up. Matt wrote:

This is the car that could save the entire Saab on its own. And so they plan to sell only 12,500 cars in total, 10,000 in North America and only in 2,500 in Europe, including Sweden. It’s crazy.

That’s right, only 10,000 will be sold in the US for 2011, seven times as many of it’s brother the SRX sold last year here. Hopefully presale orders allow them to boost that total, but with the supplier situation as it is, right now they’re sticking with the original plan. The fact that it is guaranteed to be more exotic than Porsche Cayennes and BMW X6s on US roads means you’ll definitely stand out from the crowd too. I’m not actually trying to hype up the car, I’m very seriously warning you that supply is limited and the 9-4x is actually so good that you might want to call your dealer to see exactly when their first shipments are coming in so you can test drive one for yourself.

I’m actually working on lining up a similar opportunity myself, except with other journalists from major blogging sites and newspapers in the US, which is scheduled to take place in the next few weeks. It’d be nice to get a thorough review aimed at real Saab customers that actually told you all the nitty gritty for a change wouldn’t it?

_______________

Going a step further, here’s my own comment and editorial on the 9-4x diesel situation.

Some might suggest that not having a deal breaker is a huge deal for Saab’s sales in the rest of the world. I don’t disagree. But I also don’t think that the diesel CUV segment in the rest of the world even adds up to a fraction of the scale of how big the gasoline CUV share is in the US. We’re talking millions of vehicles, all selling for premium dollars. The bigger concern is fuel economy using gasoline, for many here a diesel just isn’t a winning proposition (I’ve heard from my BMW dealer that they’re taking a lot of their X5 diesels back on trades actually). Diesel is more expensive, still not as clean smelling, and still gets a bad rap in the US among the kind of buyer that is going for an SUV. The real way to increase fuel economy in this segment and get more bang for your money is hybridization– every other manufacturer understands that it’s the way forward in the CUV segment (literally all of them are focusing their efforts on one– Porsche Cayenne Hybrid, VW Touareg Hybrid, Mercedes-Benz ML Hybrid, BMW X5/X6 ActiveHybrid, Audi Q5/Q7 Hybrids.

The most promising hybrids out there are the ones that use the latest battery technology and allow for plug-in capabilities. In the US, you can even deduct up to $7,500 off the price of the car depending on the size of it’s battery (the Volt qualifies for the full amount for instance). It just so happens that the car that the 9-4x shares its platform with is in testing to add such a system, with little else changed. Even if Saab were to charge $55-62K for it, with a full tax credit applied you’d still be paying around the price of the 2.8L Aero, except this new version is likely to have more power and better fuel economy. It will probably have an electric only range that allows the driver to go the first 20 miles or so without using gas. That’s the killer package, not diesel.

Going a step further, Jan Ake suggested that the 9-4x is going to stick it out with its current engines until it switches over to production in Trollhättan on the Phoenix platform. Meanwhile, the SRX is going to switch to the less thirsty, more torquey and stronger 3.6L V6 engine that it will share with the Cadillac CTS Sedan. It earned rave reviews in that car and doesn’t require the premium fuel that the SRX needs in 2.8L Turbo form (we’re still waiting to hear what the 9-4x requires, all indications are 91/premium or 10% higher cost gas than regular). Switching to the 3.6L would allow customers to use cheaper fuel, give better fuel economy (even better than a 2.0L 4 cylinder can offer thanks to fuel/cylinder management) and better performance than even the Aero offers.

It’s a no brainer for Saab to switch engines to whatever GM is planning to offer in the Cadillac. I understand there’s little money left over to pay for certifications, testing, etc. and Saab need to focus every cent on their current cash crisis and development of the 9-3. I understand that GM has placed restrictions on 9-4x production too. But I genuinely think that the 9-4x is the best car Saab will have in its dealers this summer, and it’s the car that will save Saab at least in the US if they get their strategy right. It would save GM money to streamline engine operations at their Ramos Arizpe plant, and simplify the line and production to only have 2 engine lineups. Rather than rush production back to Trollhattan, why not take advantage of GM’s incredible platform that Saab so heavily invested their time in (or at least Peter Dorrich) and get a little more out of it? Why not enjoy the currency benefits production in North America will bring them? If terms can be negotiated with GM to produce more 9-4xs on its current platform (I’m still waiting to hear an official response from Saab on that) then I  seriously think they need to rethink their long term strategy for the 9-4x. Just one man’s opinion.

50 thoughts on “9-4x First Impressions and Analysis”

  1. I am NOT reading all that, I am trusting your judgement in the summary at the top. I just wanted to ask you to give your mother my regards – I didn’t know you were THAT young! 😉

    • I’m closing in on 30 and she’s more than double my age, you do the math. 😛 That’s enough of that. It does show just how much headroom there is in there though, the guys at Motor Trend weren’t kidding! After we took that photo I adjusted the seat so she would have the perfect driving position– you can really move it into any position you want.

      I’m aware that it’s a long read, but SaabsUnited is where you go when you want a well thought out read on what’s happening at Saab, not just a link service summarzing news. We try our best.

      • The math didn’t seem to appear as stated with a low-rez view! 😉

        Inside Saab had the same links and select quotes a little sooner. Perhaps this should have been an iterative post with the links that was updated with a longer version later. With that said, I do like the quoting since I don’t always have the time to go through the complete stories.

        It was a good idea to talk about how the SRX/9-4X platform came to be with the Saab influence from the start. This story should be part of the sales process at the dealer (since it may be trickier to make it part of broader marketing). We’ll call it the Saab of Cadillacs.

        And this…

        but I think that the idea of the hatchback, versatility, and practicality have moved the ethos of Saab to more naturally fit this new segment, and if Saab really wants to hit the jackpot in sales they should focus on a smaller crossover.

        was a great observation along with the link to the 9-3X concept.

        I’ve been sent some driving impressions by some non-CUV types who have driven it and even they are impressed. When you tie the reviews with the pricing against competitors and the limited availability in the first year, this is really uplifting. If the word can get out about the 9-4X and Saab gets past its “glitch” and any perceptions caused by the glitch, this could be this year’s turning point.

        • Maybe, but it was only an extra day and a half wait for most people. I’m not a fan of just posting a link and telling people to go read it without a guideline of what to look for. We both know readers are able to search for “Saab” on google and read/translate articles (especially saaboholics), or even easier, set up an rss feed. What we come here for (at least why I started coming here to read Swade’s posts) was to hear someone else’s take on what’s happening in and around the Saabosphere. That’s probably why our comments section is so healthy, it provides a safe space for debate where you are assured to get near instant feedback from many different Saab drivers around the world.

          As for the quote process, I was working with friends who are editors at c&d etc., and as I’m sure you’re aware there’s a big difference between quoting most of an article’s highlights and summarizing and providing a link. For a site with as large a readership as SU, we need to be careful to get actual permission to pull multiple quotes (something I certainly wasnt aware of before I got into the writer’s seat and I’m not sure Arild is familiar with the laws related to blogging yet, it’s not like someone wrote them all down and gave us a handbook, we learn through trial and error, either way he’s doing a good job as a backup SU working very hard, no knock against him). That’s the reason when you read and autoblog or jalopnik post, you see a summary and a link, we need to always ask permission on these editorials. Translations are easier to get away with as they’re obviously in a different language.

          And as for the low res picture, I think you met or saw her at the press conference in ny. She was visiting that week, we had fun. It was great seeing you! You’re the Saab guru.

          • AutoWeek’s Flash Drive Car Review appeared today (5/2/11).

            Another AW article discussed how BMW pushed back the U.S. debut of the X1 until the end of 2012 because of strong demand for the X3. The redesigned X3 crossover went on sale in January and 5,710 were sold in the first quarter, up from 1,355 a year earlier. BMW sold only 6,075 X3s last year. U.S. sales of the X3 could reach 25,000 this year. So, as you discussed in the post, this is a hot segment. The 9-4X may be late compared with competition but not too late for the market!

            My only added comment is about posting a summary with links vs. lots more is don’t underestimat the value of being the news aggregator. Not everyone wants to spend time searching for articles when they can find (the links for) them here. In the case of these 9-4X reviews, they were short enough and good enough that you probably didn’t need as much quoting to achieve your goal. Plus, as I originally stated, you can start with the summary and links and then update the post (and get it to the top again) with your additioal added value.

          • Great points Steve, and I get what you’re saying! I’m not under the naive impression that people only check SU and not other sites, I know most check them out (and I certainly hope Swade’s is up at the top with us above the rest). But I do get what you’re saying. I guess I feel like SU should differentiate itself from the rest by providing a more curated approach, but a summary (like I published) could very easily go up on the front page as a teaser with more to come in an update below. Best of both worlds, if you will. I added the AutoWeek piece to the group, too.

            The 9-4x is a very important car for Saab. It’s why I think I more than any other writer here is obsessed with it. I truly think it will be the most well rounded Saab available, at least until the new 9-3. It’s why I’m doing everything in my power to be at the press test drive in the very very near future (damn work gets in the way, you know how it is, but I’m trying). Your mention of the BMW sales is exactly what I’ve been saying. For so many buyers, there hasn’t been a car that has raised Saab above their radar screens enough for them to care enough what’s been going on with the company. With the press launch of this car, Saab needs a serious reboot, that assures customers it’s on stable footing and that the 9-4x is the biggest bargain on the road. A great lease deal is just what the doctor ordered, and I’m very very anxious to see what the numbers turn out to be. $299 for the base model with Power Package ($35,590 retail) with $2-3K down would just about do it I think. I could see them selling 30-40K of them no problem at that price, what about you?

  2. My wife are buying a crossover within 2 years for our growing family and this is number one on our list as could be our second SAAB in the family. It’s between this and Audi’s offering. However, this gas mileage could be a deal breaker. Just terrible. Also to offer an engine that isn’t turbo to me isnt SAAB. If this thing was getting Audi or better mileage it would be a guarentee that we would buy this.

  3. Holy moly! Longest post ever? Love it. And the new banner. Perhaps we should call it “Beijing Blue”?

    Car and Driver seems like the outlier review here. Essential conclusion is buy a BMW. Is it me, or is that a sort of cut and paste solution with them?

  4. Well Jeff, I know you’re not for short articles but this one… wow! 😉

    I read all of it because I wanted to know what you think about it now that you saw it in metal. I took a very close look at the 9-4x at Geneva as my wife fell in love with it at first look. So I had to examine if I would like it, too (I never was a CUV guy). I have to say I was more than impressed with the car and all those details. From everything I can say now, without having driven it, it is a true Saab and I really can’t wait to order mine.

    Great writup!

  5. Agree Jeff. Keep building the 9-4x in Mexico. The $ is at a level right now that I guess Saab is almost loosing money on each sold Saab in US.

  6. I think the cons list for the Theta based 9-4x is at least as long as the pros list.

    No need to leave that platform and simultaneously no need to keep it.

  7. I manages to read the entire thing! My brother was looking for a Lincoln MKX around January for amusement, but his Volvo is starting to crap out… He keeps teasing me about him buying a Kia Optima, and I’m forced to yell at him whenever he does, and I tell him that Saab is the better choice.

    Anyway, I sent this link to my brother. He didn’t think that the Saab was gonna be a good car when we were in the Lincoln and Audi dealerships…

    He was wrong! And that makes me happy to know…. 😀

  8. I managed to read the entire thing! My brother was looking for a Lincoln MKX around January for amusement, but his Volvo is starting to crap out… He keeps teasing me about him buying a Kia Optima, and I’m forced to yell at him and tell him that Saab is the better choice whenever he does.

    Anyway, I sent this link to him. He didn’t think that the Saab was gonna be a good car when we were in the Lincoln and Audi dealerships…

    He was wrong! And that makes me happy to know…. 😀

  9. The 9-4X is just getting more and more interesting — much because of reviews like this, but even more because of the car’s presence IRL. It is drop dead gorgeous (though I still think the blue iceblock headlamps are, well, too blue). If the NG9-3 really is delayed, then one just might see me in one of these instead.

    And sure, Kevin, the mileage is disappointing, but still better than my 9-3 Aero V6. And for the 5000$ saved for not buying an Audi or whatever you’ll get quite a lot of gas 😀

  10. Bring this car to the dealers in NA as fast as possible. It will generate positive image for SAAB and traffic at the dealer so that also the 95 gets some attention

  11. Lol! If that’s your mom, I was going to ask if you were 12! And lucky mom to have such an appreciative son.

    Sorry, couldn’t help it.

    From an older mom of a younger son. 🙂

    Ps- I tried to get in that car last week at the show, too, but they had it locked. The 9-5 SC was open though. That’s the one I want, but I wonder when it will finally get to the US.

    • You’re too sweet. Whichever one you choose you can’t go wrong. That 9-5 wagon feels big doesn’t it? Some people really love that feeling though. The 9-4x feels spacious but the higher driving position and windows give it a more commanding and somehow smaller feel to me. Hopefully they appeal to a broad swathe of buyers, you and mom included. From all indications we’ll be seeing the wagon around Christmas time in the states, but things could change. Obviously if you check here often enough you’ll know just as soon as we do.

      • The wagon was interesting to me, in that the cargo space is definitely smaller than the current wagon (well, at least my 2003). It is a big car, and as someone posted here some time ago, the rearview camera will be a good addition. I like the 9-4x, but the mileage is awful! Just came back from a trip where my mpg was about 33mpg. I’ve been considering a Volvo XC60, but the 17/22 on that one has been one of the primary stumbling blocks. I wouldn’t buy the Aero 9-4x with the 15/20 mileage, or 15/22, whatever it was. We’re now deciding between the 9-5 sedan (which does seem huge) and the Volvo. I just love my Saab with manual transmission, but the safety features are outdated. Bad timing… 🙁 It’s no longer possible to pick up a Saab in Sweden and then ship it home like Volvo does, is it?

        • Sadly it isn’t. Try pricing out a 9-4x though at this page on truecar.com. Then subtract about 5-10% right off the top because the dealer will most definitely want to work a deal with you. You might find that the 9-4x comes out much lower than the 9-5 SC (which will be very close to the price of the 9-5 with similar options, which you can price at this page). Get the Saab you want, just don’t get the Volvo 😛 (no offense to my Volvo friends!).

          The money you save buying a 9-4x you could put towards gas for the next 10 years 😉

          • Thank you! The mpg issue isn’t really financial – my husband drives a Prius and I want my new safer car to be the family car – which means he has to drive it (or at least travel in it), too. Lol, I don’t think he wants to be seen in a gas guzzling SUV. Btw, when he saw the SC at the car show, he said “Now that’s a beautiful car!” I even asked the dealer if I could lease a loaner until the SC came in, but that’s a no go, mostly b/c they have no info on when the SC will actually be available. And thanks to you guys, I seem to be better informed than he is.

            Now to check out those sites and waste more time reading about Saab.

  12. Pricing is still gonna matter here folks. Saab totally missed the target with the MSRP so I’d expect substantial discounts right off the bat. A well equipped 9-4 Aero XWD should cost about the same as an Acura MDX with SH-AWD which starts at 42K (MSPR).

    • I totally agree! The product is very compelling. The pricing is the critical part. The 9-5 has missed the mark on pricing. SAAB would have sold a ton more 9-5’s if the pricing was correct for the market. Had SAAB priced the 9-5 appropriately for the market in the US–they would have sold a ton more. If they price the 9-4x correctly…I think this dog will hunt!

    • Since the 9-4X Aero comes standard with DriveSense, Navigation, heated and ventilated seats, 20″ wheels, and Bi-Xenon cornering headlamps, then the MDX with “Advance Package” is a more fair target. The MDX with Advance Package starts at $53605. The 9-4X Aero starts at $48835.

      That is almost $5000 higher for the high-riding Honda Odyssey!

      Also, for those that are disappointed with the EPA estimates, the Saab’s 15/22 ratings look just fine versus the 16/21 numbers that Acura manages.

      Other Saab advantages vs. the MDX:

      standard front and rear park assist
      standard remote start
      standard roof rails
      standard cargo cover
      (all of the above are accessories in Honda land)
      longer wheelbase
      vented rear discs
      3 years/36000 miles of scheduled maintenance
      more torque!

      • Thanks for debunking that Peter :-). Indeed the pricing of the RDX more closely lines up with the 9-4X, and I can speak from experience that it’s just not up to the same level of refinement as the Saab (plus it’s nasty looking with that buck tooth grill).

  13. I have to agree with Kevin. It’s a gorgeous car, but the MPG is really bad. I mean, it’s 2011. Those are numbers you’d expect in the 90s.

    As someone in the market for a new SUV, the 9-4 was on the top of my list, and I was waiting to see the listed MPG. This is unfortunately a deal breaker for me.

  14. No doubt you’re eager to share your enthusiasm for the 9-4X, Jeff. But did you really have to write almost 5,000 words to do it? Especially since you included links to several magazine reviews? FYI: Your mother looks very happy in the 9-4X. You sold her on the car, right?

    • It was either this or 3 shorter posts about the same thing 😉 rather than clutter up the site, I chose to be comprehensive. She’s sold on it, though she wants to drive the 3.0 Premium XWD vs the Aero before making up her mind on which one she likes.

        • Gracias. Just trying to keep the place organized, with so many writers the site is getting crowded enough with posts as it is. Also when you want to go look back for something you read later, it stinks having to check multiple articles. Much easier this way. It’s not like I didn’t provide an intro page (which in the future I’ve decided to make just a little longer to provide a summary for the quick browsers among us). 🙂

  15. As much as I think the 9-4X looks totally fabulous, given its lackluster city/hwy fuel economy, I think I would not ever consider it. We just bought a minivan for the family, so my ’93 9000 CSE is freed-up and back to being my personal ve-hi-cle 🙂 In 2013 it’ll hit its 20th birthday, at which point I may (depending on finances) trade it in for a 9-3X.

  16. I think the gas mileage is a killer too, especially as gas prices continue to go up in the US. We were going to trade our Mercedes GL320 Bluetec in for one of these, but assumed the gas mileage would be better (since it is a smaller SUV). That is probably a deal breaker. Saab definitely needed a diesel version or a gas engine that really beats the competitors at mpg. It is too bad, really wanted to support Saab and buy a 9-4x to go with our 2010 9-5 Aero. Probably will not now.

    • Knowing you can afford those kind of vehicles, does the hypothetic MPG (which has as little to do with actual consumption as possible from my experience) really matter that much to you?

        • BUT…. there were a few here who months ago said to a post of mine ” people who usually look at and who can buy these cars don’t care too much of fuel economy”

          I am sure that tune changes for some of those people now that gas is close to , if not exceeding $4/gal

          Having a Saab I feel safe in and enjoy driving is still worth the price of admission to me. Used or new, people buy what they want and can afford… sometimes “cost of ownership” is overlooked.

          I want the 9-4X to sell many units but it’s just coming at a terrible time. It should have been here a year ago.

    • Bravada, I’m right behind you…the epic post deserves an epic comment of its own (which I’ll make a new post in a minute).

      Hey dbv. Let’s analyze what you’re saying…

      You wanted to buy a midsize SUV/CUV, correct? Obviously since economy is important to you, price is of upmost concern in your buying decision.

      Assuming you’re looking to downsize from your GL320 which is more in the large SUV category, your diesel choices in the midsize SUV field consists of:

      1. Mercedes-Benz M-Class DieselI: $52,165 ($61,090 with nav/xenon/heated seats etc)
      2. VW Touareg TDI Sport: $48,770 ($52,620 with nav/panoramic roof/heated seats etc)
      3. BMW X5 35d: $57,975 ($63,425 with nav/power liftgate/heated seats etc)

      That’s about it. Porsche used to have one, but right now they don’t. Those are your diesel options.

      As for your concern that the competition is going to blow away the 9-4x’s numbers, fear not. It’s well known (at least around here) that Saab is much more accurate about their real observed fuel economy than most other brands. I’ll let Car and Driver explain this for me, excerpted from Erik Johnson’s post in the January issue:

      Contrary to the downsizing hype, however, Q5 2.0T buyers may end up with no real mpg benefit compared with the V-6, especially if their right feet are as heavy as ours. Although the respective EPA ratings for the four and V-6 are 20/27 mpg and 18/23, we got only 19 mpg with the 2.0T versus 21 with the 3.2. The cold weather during our 2.0T test surely affected our number, as did our tendency to lean on the gas pedal during the couple of beats it takes for the turbo to spool. We’ve seen similarly deflated real-world fuel economy from Ford’s EcoBoost V-6, and this test provides further evidence that the power and efficiency claims of engine downsizing are generally realized exclusive of each other.

      I browsed around Audi forums and Truedelta.com and saw similar statements about the Q5’s observed mileage figures (between 16 and 22 mpg). Be that as it may, if we just go by the sticker price of the 9-4x (not even the purchase price, which we know will be lower with lower margins than the competition).

      9-4X 3.0 Premium (265HP) : $41,070 ($46,265 with nav/moonroof/xenon HID lights)
      9-4X 2.8 Aero (300HP): $48,835 ($50,285 with moonroof)

      Now assuming you’re say, oh I don’t know, near Akron, Ohio ;), I’d guess that the cheapest gas you could buy is at Murphy USA on Tuscarawas & Valleyview Ave NW for $4.04 and the cheapest gasoline you can buy is $3.94 at Marathon on E Waterloo Rd & Massillon Rd. I know these prices fluctuate, but it’s a known fact that diesel costs more than the US, and has for quite some time. That’s not changing anytime soon.

      So based on information available to us today, you can drive for 10¢ cheaper per gallon in a 9-4x than any of the diesel options. Based on these figures, the annual cost of running each of the diesel models above with 12,000 miles per year is as follows (using real life figures from truedelta.com, not marketing BS) and based on diesel costing $4.04/gallon:

      1. Mercedes M-Class Diesel (24.8mpg avg): $1,954.84
      2. VW Touareg Diesel (24.0mpg avg): $2,020
      3. BMW X5 35d: (22.0mpg avg): $2,203.63

      Since the Saab has only been tested by journalists who reported it was in line with it’s claimed fuel economy numbers, we’ll average it at 21mpg for the 3.0 and 19mpg for the 2.8, assuming gas costs $3.94/gallon, and just for kicks I’ll give the Aero premium which costs $4.17 at good ol’ Murphy USA.

      1. Saab 9-4X 3.0 XWD Premium (21mpg avg): $2,251.43
      2. Saab 9-4X 2.8 XWD Aero (19mpg avg): $2,633.68

      So for all of you who wanted to know the general difference between driving a 9-4x 3.0 vs Aero, you’re looking at around $400 difference if you drive 12,000 miles a year, gas hovers around $4, and you live in Ohio :).

      I hate to exhaust you dbv, but you so clearly are saddened by the subject (I believe you used the words “deal breaker” actually) that I am compelled to finish.

      The differences between the diesels and the Saab is represented below (Aero costs in parentheses).

      Annual Fuel Costs
      1. Mercedes ML vs. Saab 9-4x 3.0 (Aero): $296.59 ($678.84)
      2. VW Touareg Diesel vs. Saab 9-4x 3.0 (Aero): $231.43 ($613.68)
      3. BMW X5 35d vs Saab 9-4x 3.0 (Aero): $47.80 ($430.05)

      Difference in Purchase Price (with options)
      1. Mercedes ML vs. Saab 9-4x 3.0 (Aero): $14,825 ($10,805)
      2. VW Touareg Diesel vs. Saab 9-4x 3.0 (Aero): $6,355 ($2,335)
      3. BMW X5 35d vs Saab 9-4x 3.0 (Aero): $17,160 ($13,140)

      Here’s the fun statistic: Months it would take to reach break even
      1. Mercedes ML vs. Saab 9-4x 3.0 (Aero): 600 months (191 months)
      2. VW Touareg Diesel vs. Saab 9-4x 3.0 (Aero): 330 months (46 months)
      3. BMW X5 35d vs Saab 9-4x 3.0 (Aero): 4,308 months (367 months) 🙂

      I’ll admit, the VW comes close if you compare it to the 9-4x 2.8L Aero. If you keep it 4 years or more, you’ll break even. But you’re forgetting one last cost, maintenance. Saab covers it. So does BMW and VW. Mercedes, not so much as you’re probably familiar with your GL320CDI. So chalk up a few hundred bucks more a year for that too if you pick the M-Class.

      What does this all mean? The 9-4x is a freaking bargain compared to the competition, and I haven’t even included dealer incentives in its purchase price. If you’re realistic about real world gas mileage and stop kidding yourself that a 5,000 lb SUV must be a diesel or it won’t get sales, stop kidding yourself and just do the math on your own. I might make this a table and break it out internationally if I get enough requests and help to do so.

  17. Extremely well written, Jeff! Since I saw the Saab 9-4X in person I am very excited about it, and I can’t wait to see production cars reaching Swedish dealers! 😀

  18. I’m a bit perplexed by the criticism coming from people in the American market (Europe and lack of Diesel I understand). This car is deal by comparison to other products here, the price is significantly less than the x3 & q5 but it’s size is comparable to an x5. The gas mileage isn’t as good as the smaller x3 and q5 but it’s not outrageously bad and it’s comparable to other similarly sized SUVs. Not to mention the entry price is in the mid 30s, something unheard of now in the luxury SUV market.

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