Stretching the Envelope
In exterior design, the Aero X fulfils its mission as the first car from Saab to focus on communicating the brand’s unique aviation heritage. And, as you would expect from Saab, it does so in an intelligent, typically ‘Saabish’ manner.
• Body shape to resemble jet aircraft fuselage
• Glass canopy opening eliminates doors and A-pillars
• Easier access to low-slung cabin
• Prominent jet aircraft-style front air intakes
• All LED exterior lighting
• Further evolution of Saab three-port grille
• ‘Turbofan’ wheel design for brake cooling
In concept, the entire form of the Saab Aero X’s curvaceous, low-slung bodywork is a dramatic evocation of the Svenska Aeroplan AB’s roots in aircraft design. Its innovative cockpit canopy and aviation motifs at the front and rear are designed to come together as a metaphor for the fuselage of a jet. It is, in essence, an ‘aircraft for the road’…and jets don’t have doors!
Principle exterior designer Alex Daniel explains: "This is what a high-end sports car from Saab could look like and, as a pure driver’s car, it is intended to create a strong emotional response. It was also important to keep a clear Saab identity, so the shape of the wrap-around screen and elements of the front and rear styling are designed to echo aspects of previous and current Saab models."
Stretching the design envelope opens up the prospect of full 180-degree vision for the occupants of the Aero X, as well as better access to its low-slung cabin. In doing so, the car presents aircraft-inspired solutions that question conventional design orthodoxy.
The tautly drawn shape of the Aero X gives it the appearance of being poised ready for take-off. With a roof height of just 1276 mm (50 inches), the coupe’s cabin sits exceptionally low to the ground. The flowing contours of the carbon fiber bodywork around the long hood and steeply raked rear pillars are interrupted only by muscular blisters to accommodate massive ‘turbofan’ wheels (22 inch front/ 23 inch rear). Short front and rear overhangs combine to give the coupé a body language and attitude that promise exceptional performance.
An exterior tour would normally start at the front of the car or, in the case of the Aero X, the nose of its ‘fuselage’, but that would ignore its most innovative and striking feature, the cockpit ‘canopy’.
To gain entry, the Saab Aero X pilot and passenger do not use doors. Instead, the car’s canopy swings open, just as you would see on a jet aircraft. This assembly comprises three sections: the panoramic glass roof and wraparound windshield, the side windows and side body panels, and the top section of the interior fascia. Operated from the outside by remote control, the canopy’s movement is pivoted from the front and choreographed to simultaneously move upwards and forwards, revealing the two-seater cabin underneath.
The sense of theater this brings to the Aero X is underpinned by practical driver benefits. The canopy’s wrap-around screen allows Saab to completely eliminate the A-pillars, opening up an uninterrupted field of vision for the driver through 180 degrees, or as far the head can turn. This makes a significant contribution to real-life safety, allowing the driver to see more clearly, particularly in moving traffic conditions when the presence of the A-pillar can be obtrusive. In combination with the panoramic glass roof above, the occupants of the Aero X enjoy unrivalled visibility and the illusion of sitting in an open car.
Another practical benefit of this design is more convenient entry and exit because there is no low roof to duck under. It is also easier for the driver or passenger to step across the car’s substantial chassis sill, which is deep and wide for structural stiffness. As a further benefit, the Aero X can be parked in relatively tight spaces. There no need to allow room for opening the doors, which are traditionally very wide in this type of car to make entry and exit easier.
The frame of the canopy assembly and the two connected side panels are made from carbon fiber for high strength and lightness. The complete canopy movement – on opening, the side panels are first pushed out, then pulled back in alongside the rising windshield/side window/ roof section – is achieved by using articulated hinge mechanisms.
The vertical clearance required for opening the canopy has been minimized to just 1.8 meters and a series of anti-pinch sensors ensure the closing operation stops automatically in an emergency. The canopy is tightly located in seating channels along the cabin sides, ensuring there is a completely weatherproof seal.
The nose of the Aero X is also focused on reinforcing the jet aircraft metaphor. Apart from the central grille, two deep and wide air ducts are the most graphic feature. These are intended to symbolize the prominent air intakes for the engines of a jet. However, as this is a Saab design, their purpose is more than cosmetic and they are designed to feed air to the turbo intercoolers either side of the Aero X’s V6 powerplant. LED driving lights are also neatly located in the outboard, forward facing edge of each duct.
The grille treatment is a further evolution of the traditional three-port ‘face’ of Saab cars. The Aero X presentation stretches variations already seen on the 9X concept and current 9-5 models even further. The main grille in brushed aluminum is now deeper, with a bolder horizontal central element, or bar, symbolizing the wings and fuselage of an aircraft.
The headlamp units are mounted in the residual outer elements of the former three-port grille design. They feature as a development of LED technology by using extremely powerful, slightly larger bulbs, with just two required for main beam and one for dipped in each lamp unit. Echoing the optical effects to be found in the interior, they appear to contain deep precision-made, chamfered glass projector lenses.
The bottom of each headlamp unit appears to run, or ‘melt’ like ice, towards the center of the nose. During daylight running, the units are also softly down-lit by small invisible LEDs in a green hue, the same color as used in the interior.
The use of compact LED technology has allowed the design team to keep the front bodywork tight to the wheel-arches, reducing the length of the car’s front overhang.
Moving rearwards down the long hood, the complete absence of any shut lines is immediately apparent. This is because the entire front section of the car, including the hood and front fenders, pivots up from the nose giving excellent access to the engine compartment and front suspension. This feature, together with the elimination of doors and exterior handles, contributes to the clean flow of the bodywork, giving it a cohesive quality, further resembling the look of an aircraft fuselage.
The design of the slender side mirrors – there are no doors – is probably the only concession to function not dictating form. They feature an aluminum-finished bottom section, a playful visual reference to the vestigial wings of an aircraft. In contrast, the form of the huge aluminum wheels is intended to help cool the brakes. The 11 asymmetrically-shaped spokes are aligned to extract air from around the brakes when the car is in motion, while also visually referencing the blades of a turbofan jet engine.
The pearlescent white bodywork sweeps up at rear, framing a deep, black ‘cut-out’ section in exposed carbon fiber, which culminates in an almost flat line below the rear window. Continuing the Aero X design metaphor, this ‘black zone’ is intended to represent the exhaust and afterburner chamber of a jet aircraft, within which the twin exhaust is located. The line of the zone is also a subtle visual reference to the cut-out shape of the rear lights in classic Saab 900 models.
There are, in fact, no obvious tail-lights at all on the Aero X. This is because an opaque white bar, resembling the body color, runs across the back of the car at the top of the ‘black zone’. It accommodates LEDs for all rear light functions. When a light illuminates, it is diffused and softened, appearing to have a free form without a pinpoint light source.
The short tail incorporates an opening rear hatch window and an element of surprising practicality, as you would expect to find in a car from Saab. The innovative twin stowage facility features a pullout, storage drawer – operated by remote control – under the cargo deck which is accessed separately through the opening rear window. The face of this drawer is effectively hidden within the ‘black zone’.
"Looking at the exterior as a whole, we wanted to create a flowing, curvaceous shape that is interesting to look at from different angles," adds Daniel. "It was important to avoid any hard edges or corners so we could maintain the impression of a smooth aircraft fuselage. We chose to ignore obvious gimmicks, such as wings or spoilers, because that would not be faithful to Saab design principles."