Fuel Wars: 9-4x vs. the Diesel Competition

I decided to pull out a part of the comment thread from our earlier 9-4X Test Drive post for discussion on the main site, since this subject often gets a lot of attention around here. Commenter dbv thinks that the 9-4X’s gas mileage is going to be a “deal breaker” for him, I’m assuming on price. I’m not trying to be argumentative with him at all (don’t mistake my sarcasm in my comment for facetiousness, it’s late here :)), I just thought it was about time to let the numbers tell the real story. Maybe it will shed some light for International Saabers why I really don’t think the lack of a diesel option is going to kill the 9-4X, especially in the US market. Click past the break for the full thread.

dbv May 3, 2011 at 04:13
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.

Bravada from GMI May 3, 2011 at 04:25
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?
SaabKen May 3, 2011 at 04:43
Problem is, actual consumption *generally* is higher than EPA estimates, even the revised ones by SAE. Fuelly.com gives the *best* real-world figures based on actual users inputs.

74StingSaab May 3, 2011 at 04:48
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.


Jeff May 3, 2011 at 05:34
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 CDI 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 are 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.

53 thoughts on “Fuel Wars: 9-4x vs. the Diesel Competition”

  1. I just thought it was about time to let the numbers tell the real story. Maybe it will shed some light for International Saabers why I really don’t think the lack of a diesel option is going to kill the 9-4X, especially in the US market.

    By making this statement, you should also include the calculations for the European markets. Also, I think the road tax and insurance costs should be considered, at least for the European markets.

    • Barbapappa, the situation is slightly different in Europe, with diesel enjoying less taxation than petrol. So It may take some months less to reel in the purchase price difference in Europe.

      • Ken H, diesel is only cheaper than unleaded petrol in some mainland European countries – diesel is currently £0.07 per litre dearer than regular unleaded in the UK.

    • I didn’t have time to work on it tonight barbapapa but I’d like to do a detailed chart at some point in the near future. As you can see from the calculations, it really comes down to purchase price. That’s Saab’s best advantage.

  2. I currently run an XC90 diesel, and it gets 27mpg in mixed driving (UK gallons). The petrol engines (now discontinued in the UK) get around 5 or 6 mpg less than this. The savings on fuel for diesel is not to be sneezed at, but is negligible when compared to the car’s purchase price. In the UK, the other financial benefits of diesel are lower Road Tax (due to lower C)2 emissions) and slightly lower insurance costs, but again are low compared to the purchase price. In hindsight, I wish I had opted for petrol, as it is a smoother and quieter engine. If the 9-4x is on my horizon when I look to change, I would not rule it out due to the lack of a diesel; for me, a bigger potential problem might be lack of third row of seats.

    • “In the UK, the other financial benefits of diesel are lower Road Tax (due to lower C)2 emissions)”

      In Sweden it’s the opposite, much higher road tax (2-3 times more) since they think the diesels pay to little fuel tax due to higher MPG. In most cases you have to drive over 20.000 km just to break even.

  3. Diesel will loose its advantages in a few years (at least in Europe):
    EU to Propose Carbon Tax on Fuels

    “According to the document—which is the draft revision of an existing law on taxation of energy products, and might still change before being made public Wednesday—the commission will also propose a gradual increase of a minimum levy on diesel to bring it to the same as that on gasoline by 2018.”

    All power and heating fuels in the EU will in the future not be taxed on the amount, but according to their energy content. Diesel will be so taxed higher, since a liter of diesel fuel is more energy-effective than a liter of gasoline, a minimum tax rate about 17 percent above the level of gasoline.

    • Alexandros,
      Be careful, that is a commissioner proposal, which has not been approved yet by the commission and by the European parliament.
      In essence, it makes sense to me to tax on energy content rather than on quantity, but:
      – Implementation to start from 2020 onwards, as most countries already fulfill the minimum taxation
      – German car industry and government as well as other car industries and governments will oppose it
      No big chance to get approved in the current form.
      As a consequence: Not an issue for engine development / model policy for next few years

  4. in the netherlands two third of carsales are company relTed.
    nearly all serious companies have a policy in place as regards CO 2 and fuel consumption all in the terrible labels fom a to e.
    9 4x has an e

    So no sales there….

    • Then SUVs won’t sell there anyway, we’re just looking at a competitive analysis regarding CUV vs. CUV.

  5. BTW, I gathered from dbv’s IP that he lives near Akron, OH, thus the sarcastic tone I took when I reached the point where I priced gas in his town :P. I couldn’t help myself at 1am. Back to sleep for me.

  6. Lexus has an A label and BMW/Audi manage to have all roaders with better lables then E if I am not mistaken….

  7. One over looked scenario would be a CNG conversion. CNG is quite popular in Europe and is almost 60% the price of 95RON petrol. It would be great if Saab could offer CNG installation at dealer level that wouldn’t negate the warranty. CNG although starting out as LPG, is made more from Biogas which made from a whole plethora of natural sources from methane to sewage. It’s certainly an area SAAB should be looking to stay environmentally responsible given that e85 isn’t widely available but CNG is and the expectation is that CNG will hold a 17% market share in the not too distant future.

    A 9-4x 2.8 V6 Aero running on BioGas means MPG figures rises to over 30 (US) in a worse case scenario when converting the 60% price difference to fuel. The car itself will still only achieve 19mpg but you can buy more gallons for your money. Ecologically CNG puts Diesel to shame.

  8. nAccordig to Car and Driver blog Grand Mother may put a Turbo 4 cyl into the SRX. Could be a nice Saab option in the 9-4 instead of the na 3.0 V6.

  9. Well, to me personally this is an easy matter.. For the American market I´m convinced that the petrol verion will be JUST FINE. But for the European market diesel is the way to go. I need to change my perk-car next year and the only way for me to get a 9-4 is if it is avaliable as a diesel. Most companies has this as a Company Policy. All in all in a three-yaer period diesels are cheaper for companies to lease.
    In Sweden a huge part of Saabs sales are leases to companies so the math is really easy…

  10. I am kind of shocked my post got picked to jump on. I am a huge Saab fan owning 4 9-5’s and one of the only 2010 9-5’s that I have seen in my area (in fact have never seen another).

    My point is that for Saab to really blow it away in the US market if gas prices continue to go up will be to come out with a SUV that not only looks/drives great (from the reviews the 9-4x has that), but that also really improves gas mileage, not just meeting or almost meeting other SUV’s. I love the looks and styling of the new 9-4X, but in freeway driving my GL320 gets around 26 mpg and it is a much bigger SUV and holds its value really well.

    The price of the Saab has little to do with our decision to buy, but we really do want to get better mileage with a newer SUV, not the same or maybe slightly worse. Also, all of Ford’s new cars/SUV’s use regular fuel (I know this not a major difference in price long term), but nonetheless, it is a great selling feature in a high gas price market. The last time gas prices in the US got this high, you saw SUV sales slow way down. If prices stay this high, it will happen again.

    After all of this, we may still buy a Saab 9-4x, I am just trying to say how Saab could really sell a lot more in the US.

    Hey dbv, I’m not picking at you at all, more making fun of the whole argument that people should even make an issue out of diesel vs. gasoline right now in the US at all. In fact, thank you so much for your comment because it exposes a fallacy in the market right now. All I’m saying is that it takes way longer to break even on the initial investment in a diesel CUV right now than if prices go up. Even if gas goes to $10 a gallon, It would still take 22 years to reach break even in the BMW X5 35d vs the Aero just on fuel costs (8 years for the Mercedes). If you’re basing it on economics, diesel doesn’t win right now– not at sales prices. Keep commenting here, you’re valued, and I apologize if you felt picked on in any way. I agree with you on your point about using regular fuel, and I hope that Saab surprises me and decides to put the 3.6L engine into the 9-4x. Great job buying a 9-5 and I really hope you pick up a 9-4x too. Your garage would definitely be the coolest in town 🙂 -Jeff

    • I highly doubt that Saab did not WANT to offer a diesel engine for the 9-4X in the US, but they did not have the option available to them or the time and funds to go through the US approvals…..at this time.

      I fully expect that if the 9-4X is successful, when Saab refreshes it in the future (when production moves to Trollhattan?) that they would look to adapt the new eXWD from the next 9-3 to the 9-4X which should help a lot with fuel economy.

      For right now, Saab has to aggressively market the new products it has to sell and compared with the competition, the purchase price plus existing fuel economy numbers make it very competitive. The key is getting that message to potential customers.

    • From the Car and Driver review:

      “Since the X3 is comparably priced, substantially lighter, and not as thirsty—EPA fuel-economy ratings for the Aero are 15 mpg city and 22 highway—Saab seems to be looking at a pretty tough sell, without even considering some other significant players in this game: the Audi Q5, the Infiniti EX35, the Lexus RX350, the Mercedes GLK- and M-classes, and the Volvo XC60.”

      Game over.

      Game over? The base BMW X3 with only the basic options (they call them premium, cold weather, and convenience packages– doesn’t even include nav) selected stickers for $44,065. The Saab 3.0 XWD with the same options goes for $39,535. They compared the top of the line Saab Aero tester to the mid-range X3, if you option out the X3 like the Aero it costs $54,050 (to the Aero’s $50,285). And how much do you want to bet you’re going to pay full price at the BMW dealer who has a 4-month wait vs. the Saab dealer who is desperate for customers right now? How long would it take you to pay off the difference in gas savings? Pretty simple math to me. -Jeff

      • So be it..
        Your choice.

        So when do you expect US to start driving 4-banger diesels? Or maybe the Smart 850 CC Diesel
        At the same time everybody cries for more power and luxury that thay can not live without

        I am still driving my Saab at 12km/l (approx 28 MPG) on Shell V-power at 99 octane, at a price of 14DKK ($10 a Gallon) for 70-100 km a day.
        It will not be the gas prices that stops me driving.
        Our gas prices has gone up 25% over the last 2 years, Our 25% just represent a little more in real money

        I thought US mentality was something like the introduction of the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am SD455 in 1973, just after the first oil crisis. 🙂

      • Jeff, you’re ignoring a really important factor here: When you need to trade in, or re-sell, which vehicle will have higher residual value? 😉 You’ll more than make up your initial investment with the significantly lower depreciation of the BMW after three years. The difference is at least 20 percent, probably more.

        The 9-4 is caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, pricing wise. It needs premium pricing to position itself among its class rivals, but for many people — especially those badge-fetishists who think anything with a roundel is God’s chariot — the difference isn’t big enough to justify the decision.

        The availability of base- and mid-range BMWs is one of the factors forcing the deep discounting at Saab in the US, but what’s also a huge unknown is whether the current Saab company can afford the same level of discounting that it had with GM.

        • Well and if and then:

          At the moment it would make the most sense for Saab to move out of US, maybe leave the 10K annual production in Mexico of the 9-4x to keep GM happy, and concentrate the efforts on China and Europe.

          • Maybe.

            With China as the world’s largest car market, expansion of Chinese-built Saabs would likely become a prime brand, with the Trollhattan plant available for satellite production for Europe.

            It could work. Renault, Citroen, Seat and Skoda are doing just fine…

          • Well again.
            As long as people are critizing the products for being too expensive and only available in options that are not good enough for the market, the option is becoming exactly that.
            It seems to be what people are demanding from Saab in NA.
            Cheap, with a lot of glittering extras and decent economy
            Sounds like a Skoda anyway

          • It’s just a realistic assessment of Saab’s likely position in the market, moving forward. Positioning as a luxury brand didn’t work so the next step should likely be a serious run at the mid-range of market segments.

      • I’d refer you to my earlier post called the depreciation myth, but you probably already read it. 🙂

        SUVs have traditionally depreciated much slower than cars in the US, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The 9-7x even has good residual values for being essentially a fancy Trailblazer. When I searched for a used X5 35d with navigation (optioned out), I found them asking between $42-44K with 16-40K miles on them online. That’s a $20-23K hit in less than 2 years. What will a $50K 2011 Saab 9-4x sell for in 2013? Probably around $30K, but we don’t really know yet because the car has no recorded sales history. If a 3 year old Saab Turbo X can go for $23K now, I don’t see how a 9-4x could go any less after 2. I doubt many people will pay that close to sticker either, minimizing that potential hit. So while it may be a greater percentage of value lost, dollar for dollar you’re still going to win buying the Saab.

        • That last line is puzzling: If you’re losing a greater percentage of value, and the cars aren’t far apart to begin with, then how will you win?

          The BMW is still the better buy…for people concerned with the resale or lease residual value. If you plan to keep the car, then go with the Saab.

          • In other words:

            BMW Purchase Price: $63K, Resale Value: $41K, Total Depreciation: $22K, Total Depreciation %: 35%

            Saab Purchase Price: $47K, Resale Value: $30K, Total Depreciation $17K, Total Depreciation %: 36%

            Yet in dollars, if you bought the BMW, you’ve lost $5,000 more of your initial investment than if you had bought the Saab. Get what I’m saying?

            You’re saying they’re not far apart to begin with, I’m showing you proof that they are.

          • Jeff, I’m not getting what you’re saying with figures without actual car models or years attached to them, nor about unsourced anecdotes, but I can get a better sense from organizations that actually price out used vehicles. 😉


            If you want to persuade me that the resale value on the 9-4x will be as high as the X3 in three years, when that would defy history for all other Saab models — and not just the cherry-picked special edition — then go right ahead 😉

          • …and I just read your “car depreciation myth” post.

            It’s an impressive bit of research that, again, seems to fly counter to prevailing history. An “advertised sales price: line an MSRP, says little about the final price at which the car was sold. (I’ve bought all my Saabs, new and used, for well below the asking price.)

            Unfortunately, the only way to actually verify the charts would be to use actual sales prices from specific locations that have to record them for excise tax purposes. That’s a tough undertaking, so we’ll have to take your research for what it is: a good pricing snapshot.

          • What we can use as a basic guide is the Cadillac SRX as our guide since it’s similar to the 9-4x (and actually I think the Saab will fare better on resale than the Cadillac because it has less flashy styling and will age better).

            Again, I’m using advertised sales prices on cars.com because from my own personal experience having just looked to buy a car from there, they’re extremely close to final sales price. I could hardly get any of the sales managers to budge more than $500 on their internet pricing, so what you see is a much more accurate representation of sales price, the truest we’ll probably see. For MSRP I’m using truecar.com’s fantastic configurator tools.

            I tried to find the highest mileage example of 2010 Cadillac SRX I could find, and here’s what I came up with:

            Mileage 48,085: $33,988, original MSRP: $41,355 total depreciation: $7,367 depreciation %: 17.8%

            when I do the same test for a 2010 BMW X5 (not the X3 since it was just released a month ago) I get:

            Mileage 49,281: $46,990 original MSRP: $63,725 total depreciation: $16,735 depreciation %: 26.2%

            Interesting, eh? I can see where people are coming from saying that used Cadillac goes for a lot less than a used BMW, but they’re ignoring purchase price. It’s crazy what people will pay for a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes these days. It’s the same reason Victor had such confidence in the business plan. It’s time to execute on it and point out that these cars are just as good.

  11. The 2012 GM vin decoder shows…SAAB 9-4X… L4J- ENGINE DIESEL, 4 cyl, 2.0L, DI, INTER CLR TWIN TURBO DOHC, FAM B/C, 138 KW
    Is this the same diesel as in the 95? Will this engine be available in the US?

    • If that is true and a four cylinder diesel engine is coming to the Saab 9-4X, it is tremendously good news for the European market! 😀

      But as Jeff says, we need your source to actually believe it.

      • Not only Europe… At the moment, I am bewildered because not only is the Canadian SAAB site finally online, it says the new 119g/km diesel in the 9-3 and 9-3x is available, HERE, in Canada. Can anyone confirm this very surprising information?

        • No 9,
          it looks like the English Canadian version is a fast copy of the US site and the French Canadian site is a fast copy of the French site, nobody noticed that there will be no Diesel in Canada. 🙁

          • Indeed, I’m afraid your right. Too bad; with ridiculous pricing and no leasing program, SAAB is dead in the water in Canada…

    • Because it’s as powerful as the 2.8L turbo, cheaper to produce, gives better fuel economy, and uses cheaper fuel. Win-win-win-win. Why Saab has publicly stated they don’t want it is confusing to me (I’m guessing it’s purely financial, which I still don’t understand).

  12. Also, for argument’s sake, if you buy a diesel, you are paying a $2k – $17k difference more for a comparable gasoline fueled vehicle. If you take overall cost of ownership into effect, the 9-4x may make more sense (economically). It would take years to break even on overall cost, including price paid for each respective fuel.

    There is a different argument for long term reliability and resale (which diesel are the better option), but this being focused on economics, it’s important to consider.

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