Fact: Jason Castriota’s 9-3 replacement is sensational. The more you’re allowed to see, the more you get to see how all the details come together to create a design that has Saab DNA to its core.
Like many others upon viewing the first images, there were a few details that jumped out at me that took some adjustment to like. Chief among those was what I’d refer to as its eyes– the headlights– which for me are probably the most important design detail to get right. I remember first meeting Jason two years ago at the New York show when he told me they just finished wrapping up the design of the headlight cluster, and how excited he was about them. We were standing in front of his PhoeniX concept, which he assured me captured the spirit of the front of the new 9-3. I loved every inch of the front of the concept, and so naturally I assumed I’d instantly fall in love with the front of the production model.
The first clear images of the 9-3 were of the clay model without any clear headlight design. Overall, the form of the light cluster was much taller than the concept, which I’m sure was not only an aesthetic choice but for obvious reasons including bulb dimensions. Second, the taller form, coupled with the pinch at the inside tip of the lights, and the metal gap between the grill and the light threw me off.
So when Tim privately sent me the first close up images of the production model’s lights, I was instantly relieved that the proportions within them, the way their components line up with panel gaps, their connection to the PhoeniX concept, and their jewelry like articulation were all so right. And then I saw them on the front again and I was back to square one: my head couldn’t wrap around that notch where the light points into the grill.
So like any bored Saab blogger with access to Photoshop and too much caffeine, a few weeks ago I decided to explore some ideas with the headlights to make them mesh with what my stubborn Saab brain knew to be Saab headlights. In the process, I think ended up confusing myself even more. Ultimately I came to the realization that Jason’s own creative process in designing the 9-3’s face had to be incredibly thought out, deliberate and require a lot of bravery to deviate from established norms.
So, with absolute respect for Jason’s design and out of pure curiosity, let’s play with his baby.
The first step was to see what happened when I restored the classic shape of the outside grill vents. In reality, even though the lens of the PhoeniX concept had the new notch, the way the secondary grills met the primary grill (if you need a history of Saab grills, read Ryan’s excellent post) kept the overall sweep and spirit of Saab’s face in tact. By restoring these, I suddenly recognized the instant connection from the production model to the concept.
Second, I couldn’t help myself but restoring the classic parallelogram shape to the Saab headlight lens, and kill the notch. At first I loved it, but looking back I’m actually pretty ambivalent towards the notch vs. parallelogram lens and can see why Jason was playing with it. Regardless, now that I’d done it, it was starting to look very, very Saab.
Then I turned my attention to the bugaboo of car lighting design, the LED daytime running lights. On the 9-3 replacement, they’re placed in the lower air dam on the outside corners. I can think of a few reasons why Jason would put them there, besides giving the car a planted stance, they could easily be adapted to other car bumpers in the Saab range in their model refreshes with minimal cost. But out of curiosity, I wanted to see what would happen if they were moved into the headlight proper, like in Jason’s PhoeniX concept in line with the trim “wing” mid-line that cuts across the middle of the light. The first step was simply to light up the existing portion of that line I could find integrated into the light. That resulted in a partial LED light bar which gave the Saab grill light wings. I liked it right away.
Then I wanted to see what it would look like if I turned off the lights. Not as cool.
Then it hit me: The way the mid-line was designed, along with the placement of the HID bulbs looked like an exact diagram of the Saab propeller logo that was prominently featured on the PhoeniX concept. So I decided to extend it to emphasize the line as much as possible, which pointed out something staring me right in the face: the panel gap that Jason designed for the bumper flows perfectly into the line, just as the hood line flows perfectly into the edge of the lens (which has already grown on me a lot at this point of the exercise). You can see this on the rendering of the headlight from the side above clearer, but until I went through the analysis, I hadn’t seen how well Jason had tied it all together.
Turning off the lights you can see the Saab propeller logo right away (unaltered image at top of post).
After all of this, I’m was pretty satisfied with the traditionalist version of the Saab face with the propeller LEDs, but in the process I grew not only to appreciate Jason’s design but to really admire it. After walking away from the two for a few days (and after the images leaked, not sure with whose permission?), I think I actually like the version with the notch but with the revised secondary grills. I’m not sure if I like the subtle styled approach Jason takes or a more diagrammatic traditional Saab face. In any event, I decided to post them and let you guys at least see if it changes your opinion about the face, or helps inform you of the intricacies of design that Jason grappled with in redesigning the 9-3. If not, we’ll have more opportunities in the near future to get our questions answered, as I’ll be interviewing Jason next week.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask him, feel free to pose questions in comments. If you want me to play with more parts of the car, don’t worry, the profile and back view exercises I’ve done are coming in a new post later this weekend. Once we have permission from Jason to post more of the car, you’ll see whatever we can.