The Saab 9-3X project team was led by the Head of Advanced Design, Anthony Lo. His task was to ensure that the unusual application of a coupe format did not conflict with the ‘real world’ requirements for such a vehicle. “The car had to look desirable as a sporty coupe for the road,” he says. “But this is not a cosmetic exercise – the looks had to be backed up with true functionality. That is the Saab way.”
That Saab signature, wraparound windscreen; the high, wedge-shaped waistline and strong, curving C-pillar instantly identify the 9-3X’s lineage. The disguised A-pillars, the clean, smooth lines and bold frontal styling are also characteristic of the 9X concept.
“We wanted to create a look that clearly links the two concepts,” adds Lo. “The lines of the 9-3X are extremely clean and uncluttered and, despite the relatively high ride height required for this type of vehicle, we wanted to disguise the higher stance. Having a relatively long 270-cm wheelbase helped.”
Conventional features denoting a vehicle’s all-terrain credentials would have no place in the design language of the Saab 9-3X. Three pre-requisites were therefore essential for the Saab 9-3X to achieve its exterior styling goals. There would be no roof bars or bumper appendages of any sort, no extra cladding down its flanks and no unsightly wheel-arch clearances.
The higher ‘command view’ stance of an off-roader is also effectively disguised by the adoption of sporty, 20-inch alloy wheels shod with relatively low-profile tires. The increased wheel movement required for off-road work is accommodated by the carefully shaped, flared wheel-arches. These are body-colored and defined only by a satin paint finish.
The front of the car is dominated by a bold interpretation of the traditional Saab grille. As with the 9X concept, the headlamps are located within the two outer openings. Powerful gas-discharge lamps are preferred this time to fiber optics. The robust sump shield is neatly integrated within the color-keyed front bumper assembly.
At the rear, the coupe silhouette is accentuated by a steeply raked rear screen and ‘C’ pillar profile. The rear light clusters are mounted high for good visibility and appear to merge seamlessly into the smoked-glass rear screen. The close-coupled roof spoiler effectively stretches the lines of the car even further.
“This car is intended for people with active outdoor interests, so the interior is designed to reflect this by being versatile, roomy and light, giving the cabin an airy feel,” explains Lo.
There is ample seating for four adults and the feeling of spaciousness is amplified by the twin glass panels that extend the entire length of the roof. The airy feel is complemented by the choice of pale green leather upholstery for the sports seating and interior trim, contrasting with the dark seat inserts and upper surfaces of the fascia and doors.
Ventilation and soft interior lighting are provided through narrow openings in the front fascia and door trims, a theme first seen on the 9X concept. This contributes to the clean interior layout, dispensing with the need for separate air-vent mountings and light fittings.
Stepping inside the 9-3X via its keyless entry, the driver immediately notices there are few visible knobs or buttons, because one of the design team’s priorities was to eliminate ‘visual clutter’ from the interior, echoing the clean lines of the exterior styling.
The dashboard breaks from Saab tradition by dispensing with a wraparound, integrated center console. The twin-dial instrument display is set in a gently curving, relatively narrow fascia panel flanked only a by a rotary lights switch and the main display screen. The speedometer and rev-counter dials, illuminated in light blue, are digital but use an analogue-style presentation. A small oval display for warning information also sits atop the fascia, close to the natural eye-line.
The elegant aluminum and leather-trimmed steering wheel carries buttons on its twin spokes, controlling the entertainment system, phone and gear changing via the semi-automatic transmission.
A long console over the transmission tunnel accommodates a starter button set in the side of a small ‘pop up’ tower and the selector lever for the transmission. The four electric window controls are located immediately aft of the starter button between what appear to be two grab handles. The one nearest the driver is, in fact, an electrically powered handbrake with a disguised button. A second display screen, for rear-seat passengers, is located at the back of the console.
The advanced ‘infotainment’ functions of the 9-3X are based on an extremely powerful electronics network using fiber-optic technology with a capacity of
25 Mbits per second. In terms of multiplicity, this system already leads the automotive industry and will serve as a platform for use in the next generation of Saab cars.
A large, three-position knob – an ‘automotive mouse’ – is positioned alongside the gear selector and provides access, via the main display screen, to the entire ‘infotainment’ system.
The menu for the first position covers settings for all in-car comfort features, such as the automatic climate control, front seat and interior illumination. The second position activates ‘media’ functions, including satellite navigation, radio, CD, TV and DVD systems. The third position governs ‘office’ functions, such as e-mail, internet and WAP facilities.
A large storage box at the rear of the console includes a socket to connect a hand-held PC, allowing the driver to access information, such as diary dates and appointments, via the main screen.
A small, drawer-like panel can be pulled out from the lower fascia to allow extensive ‘customization’ by programming a number of default settings for the automatic climate control, anti-theft alarm, rain sensing, clock/radio and other information displays.
The Saab 9-3X fulfils its mission as a platform for pursuing a variety of outdoor interests and sports by offering an adaptable load-carrying ability, as well as a number of useful storage facilities. “This car should become part of its owner’s lifestyle, so we have tried to provide really useful features, not just gimmicks,” explains Lo.
An innovative refinement is the ability to store and charge up a mini camcorder and batteries in a customized pack mounted in the driver’s door pocket. 9-3X users would not need to get home first to view the day’s activities on screen! The Saab 9-3X includes an instant playback facility through both front and rear screens.
To give full scope for the enjoyment of outdoor activities, the Saab 9-3X also features further developments of the sliding floor and cargo-securing tracks, first seen on the Saab 9-5 Wagon.
Both front and rear seatbacks fold down into the seat cushions, giving flat, level surfaces for easy load-carrying. In addition to four cargo-securing tracks running longitudinally down the rear floor, all four seatbacks are also equipped with a pair of tracks each. Apart from increasing the means of securing loads safely when the seats are down, this allows a custom-designed rucksack, for example, to be easily mounted for additional stowage when the seats are up.
The floor-mounted door of the split tailgate features a neat, mechanical linkage which automatically extends the rear floor when it is lowered. This facilitates loading bulky items and the floor is easily pushed back into position before the tailgate is closed.
As an alternative to unsightly roof bars, the Saab 9-3X further extends the use of cargo-securing tracks. A pair of tracks is mounted in the central roof spine between the two glass sections so that custom-designed roof boxes, ski holders or cycle carriers can be securely located as and when required.
Continue reading: Saab 9-3x – Part IV