Through My Eyes


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.

Jason Castriota Saab 9-3 PhoenixSo 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.


Jeff34notchSecond, 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).


Jeff34frontpropellerdarkAfter 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.

32 thoughts on “Through My Eyes”

  1. So wait (sorry if I’m stupid), Jason’s LED strips are at the bottom of the bumper or in the headlamp (as per the first photo all the way at the top) or both?

      • gotcha!

        I loved the exercise. And I believe your LED headlamps would have looked better, but certainly no deal breaker for the average buyer.

        • Thanks. I don’t necessarily think they look better or worse really. Just trying to better understand how the design came to be and why it deviates from established norms. In the next installment I explain how he got elements of the tail lights so right.

          • I like your LEDs much better, but I worry about the DRLs interfering with the regular head lamps. They need to be up higher than where JC has them – it looks too much like Mercedes.

            • It’s amazing how rapidly each automaker is claiming their LED graphic. Mercedes has actually shifted almost completely with their 2014+ models to an arc above each light, and away from the bumper mounted strips.

              • Agree, so why not go with yours without interfering with the head lamps. The bottom area should be for fog lamps, although I see Volvo is going away from fog lights and placing their new LEDs in that location as well. A proper Saab has fog lamps.

          • You’re too humble. They’re much better the way you did it. I’d like to see you slim down the front wheel arch. It’s terrible like this, way too massive!

  2. As an owner of a 2010 NG9-5 XWD Aero, I would have happily traded it in to drive this beauty. Well done Jason – these photos are so much better than what was on the web a month ago. The car looks different from 90% of whats currently on the road. And I like the way you pulled in cues from the old 900, the Phoenix, and the NG 9-5.

    What could have been…NG 9-5, NG 9-5 SC, All new 9-4X, and the NG 9-3!

    • You mean they “spoilled” the design back then, and therefore, they have to repeat their failure with every generation? 😉

  3. just one question: when are we building this beauty ?!

    if nevs doesn’t, maybe victor and jason team up again and do it ! a SPYKER-SAAB !

  4. fantastic work! It also shows the difficulties of design. I really could not tell which one I’d prefer, even though I find the idea with the light strips over the main lights ingenious! But, allas, probably not certifiable under some regulation(s)…

    • I’m pretty sure that other auto manufacturers are going even further out on a limb with their LED daytime running lights, especially with the all LED units (the PhoeniX concept had a set of gorgeous ones). If Acura (Honda) can make it standard equipment, and considering LEDs use less energy than their HID counterparts, I’m sure it would be an attractive option.

  5. Brilliant Jeff! Just Brilliant.
    I want this to be part of the design that NEVS adopt-I hope they come here and look at it.
    Now Clamshell the bonnet (only joking…but..y’know)

    • I actually like the hood now. If you look at the 9-X air you’ll see how they tapered the lines into the middle of the lights where the secondary grills meet the lenses. It received few complaints from anyone as far as I could tell, and the NG 9-5’s hood/bonnet does the same thing, and isn’t nearly as sophisticated. I’ll try to show what happens when you do that with this car.

      Speaking of the 9-5 (and 9-4x), I’ll be going into the reasons why I’m so impressed by how Jason pulled off the back and saved Saab rear end design from the end of the GM era.

  6. Great job! I think I like the parallelogram over the notch to match the classic shape of the outside grilles. I think the match goes with his design of the outer grilles but doesn’t match the past parallelogram outer grilles. It is amazing how the slightest shape adjustment makes a world of a difference.

    Your new headlight design is amazing although to pass regulations, it might need to be done with just a beam that lights up a cylinder in the plastic lens of the headlight instead of actual LEDs in front of the HID. You might could even start the light outside the first part of the outer grilles and leave the satin-chrome (hopefully not shiny chrome) bar from the center grille to continue out to the inner part of the outer grille (if that wasn’t confusing enough). Also, it would need to be more of a glowing LED like the newest AUDIs and not spot rope light LED like the old ones.

    Can’t wait to see your adjustments to the side and back. I’d be okay with them just making the last version of the 9-3 into a hatchback because I loved that front end but love my OG 9-3 hatch.

    • Exactly what I was thinking in terms of articulation, spgeorge. I’m curious to hear what Jason says about it too, even if he slaps me for messing with his child. 😛

    • At the very soonest you won’t be seeing this car for another 2-3 years on the streets. By that time, expect further refinements if Jason is given the go ahead. Which is one of the reasons why playing with the design is actually worthwhile.

      • It is so over-stylized that in two or three years it will be out of date. Hopefully Jason will be thinking more about what to delete than what to add when he considers his refinements.

  7. Am I the only person who thinks its a mess? Its a design thats a decade behind the current batch of German and even Korean cars. What Saab needed was a total remake much like what has happened at Jaguar.

    • Other than the last generation of the XF, what has happened to design at Jaguar is a travesty IMO. Obviously, sales are up for them, so not everyone agrees with me. 🙂

  8. These quality pictures reveal a totally different look of the car than the previous ones. I like it much, much better now. The lighting is brilliant! Gotta say that I would have bought this one. Yep.

  9. Just for all those wondering how this 9-3 looks with an NG 9-5’s face planted on it:

    It’s amazing what a little familiarity does :-/

  10. Why not just extend the DRL’s but not across the headlight. Something like this:


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