Aside from being a SaabsUnited Crew Member by night: my day-job consists of writing software. It is for this reason that you would be right in thinking that is rather odd for a Software Engineer to discuss an artistic topic such as automotive visual design. But, the fact of the matter is: just as there is a heavy artistic component to visual design, there is a lot of interesting science at play as well. What us Saab fans refer to as “design language” is really just a set of special rules that Saab designers follow when they are making changes to a current model vehicle to give it a more updated, fresh and modern look. Of course, there is no denying the artistic component to this work (which from my drawings below is sorely lacking), but when all of the embellishments are eliminated we arrive to a fundamental core that is decidedly linear and dare I say: elegant.
And to the right, my friends would be the fundamental Saab grill. It really is quite simple: a vertically bisected trapezoid with two slanted “bands” on the left and right. Saabs of the 1970’s and 1980’s sport this grill in its most simplest form as we see in the picture shown below, to the left.
The bar that is bisecting the Trapezoid typically has the “SAAB” word-mark on it. And the headlights reside beside these left and right “bands”. On the image shown to the right, we see essentially the same grill, with the main difference being that the trapezoid is actually wider. This is a well-known differentiating characteristic between the Saab 900 (or the 9-3) and the 9000 (also the 9-5). All of the Saabs of the time leading up to this day has a grill that follows these patterns, and this is one of the many design elements that makes Saab truly unique. The grill is a highly expressive component that gives the car an opportunity for a common thread of design, yet plenty of latitude for future direction. In fact, take a look at a grill of a 9-3 from the mid-90’s (which would be the same as you would find on my 2007 9-3). It really is the same basic grill with some corners rounded and the left/right bands spaced out from the trapezoid just a bit. It looks stunning, if I might say so. And to be honest, I actually preferred this look, with the squared off headlights, over the latest 9-3 when I was car shopping. But, seeing more late model 9-3’s on the road, I’ve found the more modern curvy headlights growing on me to the point where I am happy with the look on both generations of the 9-3. Take a look at the next picture on the right and you will see what I mean. Another interesting change in the current 9-3 is the taller trapezoid and the larger left and right bands with the non-rounded corners. It definitely increases the edginess of the styling and gives it a fresh new look over the previous 9-3. The heightening of the trapezoid is a evolutionary move that would be continue on through the NG 9-5 (more on that later). Needless to say, the Saab grill’s increasing size has posed a very interesting design predicament that I can imagine has left designers thinking: “with the 9-3 grill being so big now, how do we make the 9-5 grill bigger but still have room on the front for those left and right bands?” For the solution, take a look at the next picture to the left. Yep, that’s it! In the 9-5, the left and right bands have effectively “merged” with the headlights! Unfortunately, however, I think that this design change has led to the left and right bands increasingly loosing their significance in the Saab design language. According to the latest 9-5 the latest Saab grill template should look like this. That is there exists a trapezoid that is taller than the left and right bands. However, if you observe the very latest 9-5 grill, the left and right bands, while they are still present, they are actually quite a bit smaller than even the previous generation 9-5. Don’t get me wrong: this is an absolutely gorgeous look on Saab. I just worry that the and right bands may actually be phased out completely, and what was a three-piece grill will turn into a one-piece grill. Some of the latest mock-ups of the 9-3 replacement actually show the left and right bands “merged” with the headlights, as shown in the NG 9-5. Perhaps if the designers at Saab want to keep consistent with past models, we will see the bands appear as separate from the headlights. But, time will tell. All of this being said, the future direction of Saab’s look is continuing to evolve and I’ve been seeing a lot of exciting designs coming out of Trollhättan. So, I have no doubt that the look of future Saabs is in good hands. And the Saab grill is a very special part of the look that makes these cars so distinctive and so beautiful. In fact, we might even see the Retro Saab logo (shown below) make its appearance as part of the grill.