Vital Stats

Engine:
2.8L V6 Turbo
Power:
300 HP / 295 lb-ft
Transmission:
6-Speed Auto
0-60 Time:
7.7 sec
Top Speed:
145 mph
Drivetrain:
All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
4,650 lbs
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
29.2 cu-ft
MPG:
17 City / 23 Hwy
Against The Odds, Saab's First Crossover Comes Good

2011 Saab 9-4X – Click above for high-res image gallery

As we assembled media and executives sat down to dinner in Washington, D.C. the night before driving the 2011 Saab 9-4X, a waiter leaned over my shoulder with a bottle of sparkling water and poured it into a waiting rocks glass filled with ice and a lemon. He paused, staring intently at my glass. Clearly flummoxed, the dinner service ground to a halt. "May I, sir?" As I had no earthly idea what was troubling him, I nodded. "Certainly." He picked up the glass, reached into its mouth and fished out the lemon only to squeeze it with much theater. The wedge yielded but a drop or two of juice. "Dry!" he pronounced with a mixture of pride and embarrassment. Perhaps reading the confusion on my face, he followed this proclamation by saying "You can 'ell becooze.... it was... ah.... reluctant to float." He then disappeared into the back of the restaurant for what seemed like minutes, reemerging with a new glass filled with ice and a noticeably plumper wedge of citrus riding atop the rim of the glass.

You just never know what's going to hold up a car launch.

Stick around in this business for a while, and you'll see how labor unrest, cash crunches, bad mergers and natural disasters can wreak havoc on a new automobile's gestation and production schedule. We thought we'd seen it all, but the poor folks at Saab are surely trying for some kind of record with the number of calamities threatening to scrap not just the launch of this 9-4X, but the Swedish brand altogether. In fact, this handsome looking crossover is already late to the party – it was originally slated to launch in 2009 alongside its General Motors' platform-mate, the Cadillac SRX.

Given the strong initial sales of the SRX, you might think that Saab's ownership expects big volume out of its first proper crossover (the late and not lamented 9-7X was an SUV and the 9-3X is little more than a wagon on stilts). But based on our conversations with company officials, not so much – they're looking to shift just 10,000 units globally in 2011 – a seemingly trifling sum until one looks at Saab's miserable sales figures worldwide. Continue reading...

Based on looks alone, and despite its tortured birthing and ill health of its parent company, the 9-4X deserves a chance. At once crisp and organic, this Saab looks nothing like its more angular Ramos Arizpe, Mexico-built cousin. From its cantilevered roof to its sweeping "hockey stick" greenhouse, ice-block blue headlamps and full-width LED taillamp band that echoes that of the 9-5 sedan, Saab has done a remarkable job imbuing brand hallmarks old and new into this simple two-box form. That's partially because Saab, which long functioned as an engineering nerve center for GM, was responsible for a large percentage of the development of both the 9-4X and the SRX.

The 9-4X's interior is similarly utterly unlike that of the Cadillac. The major bits – the three gauge binnacle with the multi-function display, as well as most of the switchgear, green backlighting, egg crate vents and the optional navigation system – will be familiar to owners of the new 9-5 sedan. Observed fit and finish on our charcoal-cabined prototype was very good, though the 9-4X suffers from the same poor 'Night Panel' switchgear placement (exactly where most people expect to find a start button) and somewhat somber character. Seating is firmer and more supportive than the Caddy, but remains typically Saab comfortable. The range-topping 9-4X Aero comes standard with rather unconvincing carbon fiber effect trim, but we were unable to see the woodgrain trim on lower models – hopefully it's better looking than the unfortunate stuff used in the 9-5.

2011 Saab 9-4X side view2011 Saab 9-4X front view2011 Saab 9-4X rear view

We're similarly happy to report that the driving experience offered by the 9-4X is totally different from that of its Wreath and Crest factory-mate. We fell in love with the first-generation SRX's rear-wheel-drive, tall wagon dynamics, and came away rather disappointed when the second-generation model nixed its sporting character in favor of middle-of-the-road crossover dynamics. Proving once again that automakers should never build a car for journalists, the new model has been outselling the old SRX by leaps and bounds (what do we know?). Thus, we fully expected the 9-4X to follow suit with competent but uninspiring handling – not much in the fun-to-drive department, in other words.

Thankfully, we were wrong – the 9-4X clearly skews toward the sportier end of the luxury crossover arena, eschewing leather-lined kinschleppers like the Lexus RX and Volvo XC60 in favor of chasing sportier entries like the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK, and BMW X3. This focus is telegraphed immediately, from the heavier-than-expected steering feel to the hugely firm, short-travel brake pedal – the latter of which feels like it hails from Stuttgart. We spent a couple of days in a range-topping 9-4X Aero with Saab's XWD system (pronounced "Cross-Wheel Drive") on undulating country roads outside of greater Washington D.C., and we found it to be an agreeable dance partner when the traffic cleared – even when the rain picked up.

2011 Saab 9-4X interior2011 Saab 9-4X front seats2011 Saab 9-4X gauges2011 Saab 9-4X instrument panel

Power in the uplevel Aero comes courtesy of the same 2.8-liter twin-scroll turbocharged engine that Cadillac recently discontinued on the SRX due to low consumer interest. Here it produces an even 300 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque from 2,000-5,000 rpm – figures that best that of the Q5 3.2-liter (270 hp and 243 lb-ft.) and the GLK350 (265 and 258, respectively). The Aero matches the new X3's horsepower, but falls short by five torques. That power is routed through a standard six-speed automatic, reaching the road through all four of the Aero's attractive turbine-style 20-inch alloys (lesser models make do with 18-inchers). This GM-owned, Saab-developed powertrain puts up good marks, though with over 4,400 pounds to lug around (a good bit more than its competition), the resulting CUV is smooth and quiet, but not exactly a sprinter. The 9-4X's well-behaved Aisin-Warner gearbox is down a cog or two on its smaller and lighter German compatriots, so acceleration is fine but not stirring, reaching 60 mph in 7.7 seconds and pushing on to a top speed of 145 mph.

Non-Aero 9-4X models will make do with a 3.0-liter, normally aspirated V6 offering 265 horsepower (at a sky-high 6,950 rpm) and 223 pound-feet of torque (at a dizzying 5,100 rpm), available in either front- or all-wheel-drive guise. Sadly, only fully optioned 2.8-liter models were on-hand during the launch event, so we'll have to wait to return our verdict on the standard 9-4X. Given that the 2.8-liter feels on the healthy side of adequate, we're guessing the standard model won't make many enthusiasts' shopping lists.

2011 Saab 9-4X engine

Aero models make further overtures to enthusiasts with their DriveSense variable-effort steering and damping settings. Utilizing the touchscreen, drivers can choose 'Comfort' (default), 'Sport' (quicker throttle response and shift schedule, stiffer dampers and firmer steering), or 'Eco' (tardier throttle responses, quicker upshifts). There are also paddle shifters available for added control and interaction, but unfortunately they don't work in Drive, the gear lever must be bumped over to its +/– detent, a less than ideal arrangement.

Thanks to the 9-4X's stout chassis, our drive time revealed that Trollhättan's tuners have been able to bake-in good ride compliance without sacrificing body control. And while XWD defaults to a safe-as-houses 90/10 front-to-rear power split, the system can reverse those figures, and the electronically supervised torque-vectoring limited-slip differential is unobtrusive in its jockeying of power from side-to-side, allowing for more entertaining handling and turn-in with real conviction.

2011 Saab 9-4X headlight2011 Saab 9-4X wheel2011 Saab 9-4X taillight2011 Saab 9-4X taillights

It all adds up to a surprisingly engaging drive experience – one that suggests a 9-4X high-performance model with another 100 or so horsepower wouldn't be just a hoot, but a handler as well. We do wish, however, that we could individually alter the various parameters in DriveSense, a functionality that Saab officials assure is coming after the short 2011 model year.

On the efficiency front, fuel economy for the 9-4X Aero chimes in at 15 city and 22 mpg highway (base front-wheel-drive models tally 18/25 ratings), which trails class leaders a bit – no doubt due to the Saab's larger footprint and heftier weight, but at least it's possible to haul around more stuff.

2011 Saab 9-4X rear 3/4 view

Speaking of more stuff – there's no shortage of standard equipment in the top-level Aero trim. Everything from navigation and Bose 5.1 surround sound with XM Satellite Radio to heated and cooled leather seats, park assist and bi-xenon cornering headlamps comes standard, which helps blunt the $48,835 as-delivered starting price – a figure that sounds steep until you start optioning rivals up to comparable levels. Base, front-wheel-drive 9-4X models start at a much more modest $34,205, meaning that no matter how you slice it, the Swedish offering is cheaper than its less dynamic peer from General Motors.

Despite leaping into the heart of one of the market's fastest-growing segments with a good-looking package that's better and cheaper than its gangbusters popular Caddy sibling, we still can't help but be worried for this vehicle's fortunes. In recent months, supplier revolt, work stoppages, on-again and off-again partnerships, indecisive governments, a revolving door of executives, investors of shadowy reputation, a crippled dealer network, a tight advertising budget, subterranean residuals and a general lack of consumer awareness have all conspired in one way or another to keep the 9-4X from coming to market. A cocktail of one or two of these factors would've been enough to kill lesser vehicles – hell, lesser brands – but the plucky Griffin has refused to lie down and expire. And perhaps with good reason. The 9-4X may be late to the party, but it shows that Saab still knows how to make some fine tasting lemonade when seemingly everyone – even a waiter fixated on the buoyancy properties of citrus – is busy handing the company lemons.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 104 Comments
      Tone
      • 3 Years Ago
      Kudos to SAAB for the exterior styling direction and powertrain (which will be just as lackluster in the SAAB as it was in the Cadillac), but you'd be surprised AB how much of that credit you gave at the end of your article should go to GM as well. This thing was pieced together and validated right in the heart of Warren, MI (and Milford). I personally have a lot of pride in it, and actually preferred it to the SRX when it was still in development. And yes, that engine compartment was every bit of the bitch to package as it looks. All that said, I sure as potpies hope it hits the road at some point. A lot of effort, on both sides of the pond, went into making this vehicle beautiful.
      Kurta
      • 3 Years Ago
      I saw 2 white ones on the beltway a couple weeks ago. I sped up to see what they were. They definitely jumped out of the sea of sameness that saturates the morning rush hour. Awesome looking vehicle!!! One of the Saab enthusiast sites - Saabsunited.com- had write up about Hirsche doing a performance upgrade for it as well. There is Paukert's extra HP to make this one bad a$$ CUV!!!
      Johan Knape
      • 3 Years Ago
      It sure looks great! Want one..
      Kurta
      • 3 Years Ago
      In reply to the 9-4X vs X3 bantering: I have a fair amount of experience driving a number of Saabs and BMWs over the years and recently. I do like both brands. In every day driving, I have always had more fun driving my Saabs. I think BMW does a great job designing cars that track test better and post great stats in the auto mags like C&D and R&D etc. The generally untested mid-range driving stats is where Saab excels - real life driving conditions. Saab will not likely beat (ever) BMW in a side by side Car and Driver or Road and Track comparison. That is not Saab's domain. In the real world it's a very different story. If you notice, the result of the current 9-4X media test drives, which were conducted in town and out in the country, were almost unanimously extremely positive; because they were not tested in a controlled track environment but on real roads and in the real world. This is the exact conclusion that Top Gear came to when they tested the old 9-5 a few years back. The 9-4X is a great looking CUV and def worth a serious look - based on reviews and prior Saab history, it should also be very fun to drive!
        simianspeedster
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Kurta
        So, are you saying the X3 is no good in the real world? If so, you're going against the grain. the new X3 and X1 are getting very strong reviews.
      Steve C.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Autoblog's and many of the other independent reviews paint a very positive picture of the Saab 9-4X. Thinking about those reviews and some of the more spirited commentary here, I have to conclude that Saab has produced another vehicle that lives up to it's brand promise. I'm not just talking about the visual design continuities of the brand in this CUV, I'm referring to how Saab integrates an appealing balance of many attributes in a great looking design. When you look at all the comparative dimensions of the 9-4X with larger and smaller CUV/SUVs it could complete with, the value for the money factor is really incredible. Sure, another vehicle could be better in a particular dimension but the total package for the money is a real draw. Some of the spirited commentary makes it apparent that you have to normalize the comparative dimensions to really understand what you get with a 9-4X. For example, the greater weight of a larger vehicle can produce slower 0-60 times and poorer EPA fuel mileage. Despite problems with how well EPA drive-cycle test number represent real-world fuel mileage, a prospective buyer can certainly figure out if fuel mileage and acceleration is consistent with other brands of similar dimensions. A test drive can certainly provide a good impression of several dynamic dimensions! I recall reading in a review that if someone wants pure performance over everything else, they will buy the BMW. If they are looking for a blend of a number of dimensions, they will pick the best fit, especially if there are many appeals. As to comments about the risk of buying a 9-4X given the risk of Saab's survival, there is a built-in contingency. While I believe Saab will survive and soon thrive, just remember that this vehicle will be supported over many years regardless of Saab's survival. And, even a Cadillac dealer will be able to service the vehicle in the long-run if it came to that. So, if you are in the market for a CUV, do your homework and take a test drive. You'll probably be convinced if what Saab is offering is what you are looking for. It is your choice.
        simianspeedster
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Steve C.
        Oh, and when Saab bites the big one, what do you think your resale value is going to look like? If you dare buy a Saab when they're in such a tenuous financial position, you'd better factor that into the cost of owning the car.
          CarSnaab
          • 3 Years Ago
          @simianspeedster
          I generally buy something because I like it, and want to keep it till it stops working. Talk of resale may be important to those who flip cars every 3 years, but if this is your method of operation, you always lose money on any car.
        simianspeedster
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Steve C.
        Sure, take a test drive...if you can find a dealer.
      avatar-ds
      • 3 Years Ago
      Not a fan of SUVs, but this one looks far better than its Cadillac cousin.
      AJ Murphy
      • 3 Years Ago
      Excellent write-up, as usual. Great read, Chris.
      oddgerhard
      • 3 Years Ago
      My next car will be a Saab 9-4X
      thofstee
      • 3 Years Ago
      Unfortunately this car will costs big bucks in Europe, but it's one nice looking car!
      Zoom
      • 3 Years Ago
      I would have to say this will be the vehicle that saves SAAB in the US. It will easily outsell (probably combined) all of their other products within a couple of months. It looks good, and that's what matters to folks buying this type of vehicle. It's unique enough to set it apart and get people to turn heads. Anything that gets some cash flowing into SAABs coffers so that it can speed development of more traditional Swedish hatchbacks is a sacrifice we should all be willing to accept.
        simianspeedster
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Zoom
        It wouldn't take many sales to outsell the rest of Saab's line-up in America, but this car won't save Saab and it won't result in the return of the classic Saab hatchback because there are not enough nostalgic buyers around who care about old Saabs and most Americans don't like hatchbacks. This car looks great, but the drivetrains are outdated and the fuel economy is poor. Saab drivers are used to better fuel economy and this GM-based ute can't deliver the goods. We'll miss you, Saab, but this has been coming for over a decade.
          cor
          • 3 Years Ago
          @simianspeedster
          Every Saab enthusiast I know longs for a classic Saab hatchback. Most have moved along and bought other car brands. Say what you will about the current 9-3, I think the new 9-5, dollar for dollar, compares favorably to BMWs and Audis. And I think the 9-4X will do surprisingly well in showrooms, particularly when a few of them are sold and car buyers begin seeing them here and there. Odds are that Saab will return to its classic hatchback styling with the new 9-3.
          hobbesfanmaster
          • 3 Years Ago
          @simianspeedster
          Simian, you have no idea... There are TONS of people who a.) like hatches and b.) are nostalgic for Saabs. If you perhaps got out and about, or actually listened to people before criticizing them, as I'm sure you will with me, then you'd realize that.
          CarSnaab
          • 3 Years Ago
          @simianspeedster
          Why so much hate to fill the comments with vicious attacks about an inanimate object? Did you get run over by a Saab in your past? This just isn't healthy. Who cares if any car maker makes the most popular vehicle in the class? The majority prefer beige and bland. As long as a car is worth driving, that is what matters. And while the 9-4x may or may not match up to your beloved X3, that doesn't make it a terrible vehicle.
        CarSnaab
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Zoom
        I too think Saab's survival, should production start up again, hinges upon this model. Besides its good looks, I personally find this vehicle illogical and impractical. Why would I want to haul around all that weight while returning such low MPGs? Unfortunate for the environment/economy, people don't really think about these things. It's going to be those people who save the company because frankly the car looks good. Those in the know and those who come around to the logical side of things will discover the plenty good 9-3 SportCombi and the upcoming 9-5 SportCombi.
      Marian Kulasik
      • 3 Years Ago
      There is too much GM parts on this SAAB, exterior looks nice but the interior looks boring to me
        cor
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Marian Kulasik
        You probably need to see it in person, as I have. It looks good!
      cliff
      • 3 Years Ago
      Looks like a rebaged leftover GM model and what's up with the passenger side dashboard vent?
        thofstee
        • 3 Years Ago
        @cliff
        Did you know the man in charge for both the Cadillac SRX and the Saab 9-4X was working at Saab?
          cor
          • 3 Years Ago
          @thofstee
          Also, he tuned the Saab 9-4X to be a performance vehicle.
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