If you’re an enthusiast you’d have to have been living in a cave for the last month or so to have not seen the latest 9-5 spyshots (try here, here and here). There are several aspects to these shots that have caused some concern in Saab circles. The lack of daring in the design (although it’s only a ‘facelift’). The Camry-ness of the rear lights (although they’re unfinished, in red only in the clearest shot).
I have to temper this post right now, and say that these ‘spyshots’ could end up being way off the mark – it wouldn’t be the first time. But supposing they are reasonably accurate, I’ve got to say that the one thing that’s really bugging me is the loss of the 3-port grille.
To my knowledge, the 3-port started in the early 1970’s with the Sonett III and the 99. The grilles were black with the “superman” shaped centre section being the smallish centre ‘port’ and the outside sections forming the outer ‘ports’.
This theme was developed over the years as the 99 evolved into the 900, which had many subtle evolutions itself. The grill developed an enlarged centre port and thinner side ports, got chrome edging, got adopted into the 9000 range and then got taller. Along came the NG900 and the newer shape 9000 and the 3-port was still there, albeit a lot flatter, but the DNA was still the same and traceable right back to Sixten Sason’s earliest 99 drawings (heck, even Caterina’s got a noted central intake and flanks).
The 3-port grille has been refined over and over to fit the character of the car and the design cues of the generation. In 2005 the 3 port is punched out of a color-coded front and looks every bit as smart as it always has. It’s now as much a part of classic Saab DNA as the swept windscreen, the CombiCoupe and the central ignition.
Now, I know that things change and that evolution has a way of forging ahead regardless of sentiment. I know that in the fullness of time design philosphies are prone to change and that one day I might look back and say “remember that old 3-port grille? Those were the days, huh?” as I climb into my combi-cabrio 9-15q.
The problem is that I’m not ready for that change, and i’m not sure that the Saab-buying public is ready for it either. Especially when the change is a half-baked facelift that, in all honesty, does look a bit like every other brand as per the limited and flawed spyshots seen so far. (Can I emphasise that bit enough?)
Note the big, fat centre section, possibly flanked by subtle outer ports housed with the headlights. The main impression is of a one-holed front. Now, how many other makers have a similar setup? A very quick and short survey (it’s 12.30 a.m. here):
One of the great things about owning a Saab is that you don’t see your own car everywhere you go. This is partly due to low volumes, but mostly due to uniqueness of design. The Saab bodyshape and those quintissential design cues are easily recognised by those of us with the antenna tuned into the Sason frequency.
I guess that what I’m really hoping for is a maintenance of faith in the elements of Saab design that make them the unique cars that they are. Part of that is functionality and another part is aesthetics. I’d hate for either of these to be sacrificed at the alter of evolution just because someone felt that fundamental change was necessary merely for the sake of it.