The 9-4x

I thought it’d be a good time to tie up all the various reports that have been fluttering in over the last 5 months that include a reference to the 9-4x. There’s been a little bit of confusion over this proposed smaller SUV, so now’s as good a time as any to try and figure it out. As a matter of fact, it’s even more interesting now that the 9-6x has been taken out of Saab’s equation.

The first mention of it was in June 2005, via The Car Connection:

As to the next crossover, it has not gotten an official name yet, though it would appear likely to be dubbed 9-4X. It will be smaller than the 9-6X, based off the Premium Global Epsilon all-wheel drive platform, Spenchian revealed, and shared with a new Cadillac crossover. Production should begin in 2009.

The Globe and Mail then made mention of it in a report about the 9-7x. July 2005:

And toward the end of this decade, Saab will very likely add a smaller CUV to the lineup, a vehicle Saab insiders are calling the 9-4X.

Despite the earlier reference to the Epsilon platform, Jay Spenchian muddied the waters when he answered this question in an Edmunds interview, without providing any correction. July 2005:

Will the 9-4X crossover that’s supposed to come off the Theta platform have more SUV cues, like the Chevy Equinox or will it be more of a tall wagon like the Saturn Vue?
Ours has an aggressive look. It would be competing head-to-head with the X3. It would be an aggressive wagon, but a little bit lower than a normal SUV. But it would have an SUV-like look. It would be like the Equinox, but sportier-looking.

All subsequent reports have pretty much mentioned the Epsilon platform as the basis for the 9-4x, though in a confused state, I did run with the Theta idea for a while on this site. The Theta platform is the one that underpins GM’s unibody SUV’s such as the Saturn Vue and Opel Antara. You may remember that a ‘9-5x’ was mentioned briefly earlier this year, to be made in Korea (dubbed Swedish Seoul).

In August, I received several cameraphone photos from a Saab insider that I’ve nicknamed Djup Strupe. These were of a 3-door crossover vehicle that was accepted as being a 3-door concept of the 9-6x, owing to the taillights that were very similar to the Tribeca. Djup did note in his comments though, that this vehicle was in very similar in proportions to the 9-3 and therefore, possibly made on an Epsilon platform. Could this have actually been the 9-4x prototype all along?

front.jpg rear.jpg

The German car forum, Speedheads, reported a very similar looking vehicle as being a 9-4x early in September 2005.

In September 2005, Jan Ake Johnsson did an interview with Aftonbladet:

AB: Talking about SUV’s, what’s your opinion on the 9-7X?
JAJ: It’s completely right from a short term point of view. We need more models quickly and the 9-7X cost almost nothing to develop. Same thing with the 9-6X which is based on the Fuji Heavy Industries Subaru Tribeca. But of course, a big frame-built truck that consumes a lot of fuel is not the future. I drove the 9-7X very gently from Gothenburg to Stockholm, with a consumption of 15 liters/100 km. That’s obviously not good. The coming 9-4X will be a completely different car, a crossover with car-like qualities. It will also be sold in Europe.

AB: A couple of years ago you had an almost finished four-wheel-drive version of the 9-3 SportCombi in Trollhattan. Wouldn’t it have been better to finish that, rather than go for alternatives like the 9-2X and 9-7X?
JAJ: In 2002, Saab was making enormous losses. Detroit demanded that we put an end to that and sort out our finances. That was completely right. We had to take a time out. And developing the 9-3X would have been much more expensive than the 9-2X and 9-7X. Moreover, we had to get new models out quickly.

The big daddy of articles appeared in the Dutch publication, AutoTelegraf, in October 2005:

Saab will get a Crossover. The Swedish design department have worked for some time at this model, in which they have tried to make a car with Saab values from the beginning, so says an employee of the fabric to AutoTelegraaf.nl. The car, a cross between a hatchback, combi and an SUV, has been developed the last months, parallel with the Crossover based on the Subaru crossover (Tribeca). Saab will start sales late 2007, at the earliest.
“We will never join a running project again when developing a new Saab,” says the employee. The sevenperson Crossover based on the Subaru B9 Tribeca seemed to become a Subaru with a Saab badge. According to reports, it was very difficult to turn the car into a real Saab. “We mustn’t forget that we cannot fool our customers. The are highly educated and have high demands. They won’t accept a Saab that doesn’t reflect Saab values for the full 100%. For the new Crossover, we started with an empty piece of paper. That’s the only way we can make a real Saab, with the hockeystick shape of the rear windows and the ignition lock between the front seats. This Cross-over will be a real Saab.” It isn’t based on another model, however Saab will use components of her sister-companies. Furthermore will the by Saab developed techniques under the skin, be used by other makes in the GM-concern.

Limitations

Saab has got high expectations of this creation. “The Crossover based on the Subaru had it’s limitations. For example, in the original design, they hadn’t considered a diesel engine. In Europe the success of a car is set by the availability of diesel engines. The new type will be available with potent diesel engines from the start.” The car will be offered for sale all over the world. Where the production will be isn’t known. It is too early in the developement process to know that.

Around the same time, the following appeared:

In an interview Wednesday from Sweden, Saab spokesman Jan-Willem Vester said the company is developing a premium crossover, smaller than the 9-6X and developed by a team within GM that’s developing a similar vehicle for other brands. He declined to provide a timetable for production of the new vehicle, but said Saab will sharpen its focus on developing products with its parent company.

Once again, Edmunds got their pants twisted, quoting the Theta platform again in an October article:

Saab is working on a new, smaller SUV-wagon instead of the Subaru Tribeca-based 9-6X crossover, which was canceled in the wake of General Motors’ pullout from a Subaru alliance.

The new crossover will be called 9-4X, and it will be positioned between the 9-3 and 9-5 models, according to the U.K. Web site 4Car. The 9-4X is to be based on the Theta platform, along with the Cadillac BRX sport-utility, and both likely will be built in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.

Edmunds referred to an article on the UK 4Car website:

At the launch of the revised 9-5 saloon and estate this week, a Saab spokesman confirmed to 4Car that this project was under way and hinted that its name would be 9-4X, denoting its positioning in the Saab line-up between the 9-3 and 9-5 ranges.

Although he could not reveal details, it’s a safe bet that this car will share its underpinnings and powertrains with the upcoming Cadillac BRX, much as the Cadillac BLS, which will be launched next spring, shares its platform with the Saab 9-3. Both 9-4X and BRX will be developed from the 9-3/BLS platform, also used for the Vauxhall/Opel Vectra, Signum and other related models in the GM family.

The exciting news to come from those final articles is the fact that whilst originally slated for production as far off as 2009, the 9-4x might actually make a conceptual debut as early as March 2006 at Geneva. Again, from the UK 4Car site:

Jonsson added that we could expect to see some surprises, probably in the form of concept vehicles, at the Geneva Motor Show next spring; we think these are likely to be the long-rumoured Saab roadster, the “new Sonett”, on the GM ‘Kappa’ platform (Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky, Vauxhall Lightning) and a preview of the 9-4X.

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My thoughts: whack some 9-3 SportCombi style tail lights onto those photos above and you’ve got a decent looking SUV. Maybe, just maybe, this 9-4x thing could turn out more like the 9-3x than I’d imagined.

Naaaaaaah

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