Shedding New Light on Interior Design
The cockpit of the Saab Aero X reflects the aircraft metaphor of its exterior, blending Scandinavian design traditions with an uncompromising interpretation of how the interior of a high performance car from Saab should look.
• Pillar-less windshield for optimum vision
• ‘Clear zone’ fascia design replaces stylized detailing
• Innovative 3-D instrument and information displays
• Illumination techniques inspired by Scandinavian glass industry
• Aircraft cockpit ambience with exposed interior surfaces
• Surprising practicality with rear twin stowage facility
For the Saab Aero X, principle interior designer Erik Rokke has created a cabin like no other, taking the opportunity to extend the limits of design in new directions. They focused on producing a new expression of form and functionality.
"As a concept, we are creating an interior for the fuselage of a jet aircraft, rather than the body of car," explains Rokke. "You could almost say this is an interior without styling. We wanted to convey the beauty of functionality, balancing an element of rawness with decent comfort.
"Overall, the cabin is designed to look very clean and sleek, without fussy detailing or distracting features. The use of smooth, glass-like surfaces on the fascia and central console is an important means of achieving this. The simplicity of this approach is also very much part of the Scandinavian design tradition."
In form, the interior features the elimination of windshield A-pillars and even doors. In functionality, it breaks away from having conventional panels of dials, buttons and information displays that commonly adorn the interior of a high performance car. There are no ‘cut-outs’ for recessed dials or any protruding buttons and switches. Instead, smooth, glass-like translucent surfaces cover the main driver display, front fascia and central console. These ‘clear zones’ are used as screens through which information is projected in an innovative way with LED detailing, using surface treatment techniques derived from Scandinavian glass and precision instrument making.
The overall effect is a most-modern expression of technical design. You would not, for example, find wood veneer, chrome trim or even carpeting inside the cockpit of a jet, and that’s why these conventional trim items are absent in such a performance-focused car as the Aero X.
The view outside from the ‘pilot’s’ seat of the Aero X is also remarkably clear. The deep windshield sweeps round uninterrupted from B-pillar to B-pillar. And the view overhead, through the panoramic glass roof, is also unobstructed, just as you would expect to find seated at the controls of a jet. The screen has a water-repellent ‘hydrophobic’ coating, making windshield wipers unnecessary, and the canopy glass also absorbs UV rays. The light, airy ambience overcomes any claustrophobic feelings of being hemmed in, which may be experienced in conventional two-seater cabin.
Both occupants sit low down in deeply bolstered, leather sports positioned well back in the cabin, adjacent to the B-pillars where the three-point seatbelts are located. With the canopy in place, there is generous headroom and drivers up to 195cm tall can be comfortably accommodated
Below the Aero X’s canopy, all main interior surfaces are black. Apart from the acrylic ‘clear zone’ panels for the main driver display and center console, they are either left bare in carbon fiber or covered in leather, such as the top of the front fascia and the lower canopy sides. The only exceptions are the white leather seat squabs and backrests, complete with Saab Active Head Restraints (SAHR), which echo the exterior color.
There is no attempt to disguise materials with fake finishes or to introduce unnecessary decoration and detailing. This strategy extends to the movement of the canopy. When open, its articulated linkages are fully exposed, and a section of the top of the fascia even lifts off to provide a better view of the mechanisms. The gas struts and pistons that control the canopy sides are also clearly visible during deployment.
Instead of carpeting, the floor of the Saab Aero X is clad with anti-slip rubber inserts; there are no panels with conventional buttons and knobs; no defined outlets for fresh air or audio speakers and, when the ignition is switched off, there are no visible dials. "It was very important to keep the interior consistent with the exterior character of the car," adds Rokke. "We have eliminated any frills or traditional luxury features because it is not part of our Scandinavian design tradition."
This celebration of functionality is clearly expressed by the aluminum handle for operating the canopy, mounted on the central console above the car’s deep transmission tunnel. It mimics the type of control lever you would see in an aircraft cockpit and its movement is choreographed to replicate a ‘mechanical’ action, rising and falling in unison with the deployment of the canopy. A simple one-touch button could have been adopted, but the team allowed themselves this design flourish in order to reinforce the interior’s functional character.
The canopy lever is, in fact, part of a three-way ‘start’ function located between the seats as a very modern interpretation of Saab’s traditional, centrally-mounted ignition key. In its flat, ‘down’ position’, the lever doubles as a transmission selector, allowing the driver to access automatic drive or sequential gear changing via the steering wheel paddles. A green starter button nestles in the center of this lever/selector unit.
Using a passive, keyless entry and exit system, the car is brought to life as soon as the driver thumbs this button. The previously hidden displays in front of the driver and in the central console are activated, the illuminated dials and icons appearing to ‘float in space’. They are pin-sharp in definition and have a layered, 3-D quality, resembling holograms. Their design is one of the highlights of the interior, inspired by aviation practice and techniques used in Scandinavian glass-making.
Three stratified layers of acrylic make up the ‘clear zones’ of the front fascia and central console. Laser-etched images are embedded within these surfaces, which are each sandblasted and polished to varying degrees. When illuminated by LED from the back or side, the surfaces act like prisms so that different embedded images are picked out and projected as required.
The main driver display consists of a striking 3-D analogue face, combining a central speedometer with turbo boost and tachometer indicators either side. Superimposed above this is a vertical scale showing speed in 10 kph increments. This beautiful image has an obvious aeronautical character, while communicating the visual appeal of a precision-made instrument. Subsidiary water temperature, oil pressure and fuel gauges are presented in a similar way in the center of the fascia. As this is a BioPower car, the fuel gauge also indicates the ratio of E100 and gasoline held in the tank.
In the central console, displays for infotainment, satellite navigation and air conditioning are selected by two toggle buttons alongside the canopy lever. The driver then chooses options and settings via eight flush-mounted buttons in the center of the main fascia, each identified by a different icon according to the mode selected. Again, these images appear to be suspended in space, as if trapped inside a sheet of glass.
"We chose green instrument illumination because this is used in aircraft and on Saab cars. It gives the best, easiest to read image," says Rokke. "Everything is focused on providing the driver with clear information, avoiding any distraction or potential confusion. We looked at the techniques used by Scandinavian companies to give glass different properties in reflecting and refracting light. With this car, we were really able to exploit the potential of these techniques for the first time."
The design team chose to avoid using ‘touch screen’ functionality. "We wanted to preserve the positive, tactile feel of using a button," explains Rokke. "In a sporty car such as this, the driver should have a direct interaction with the controls. This is where buttons are better than using zones in a touch screen. As we see in the movement of the canopy lever, there should appear to be some kind of mechanical action or connection, even though we are using electronics."
The slim, leather-trimmed steering wheel carries gear selector paddles and remote control buttons on its two spokes. The center boss is backlit by LED to illuminate the Saab logo.
To underline the car’s performance focus, all driving control surfaces, apart from the black steering wheel, are highlighted in a brushed aluminum finish. These include the steering wheel paddles, indicator stalks, the cockpit canopy lever and the accelerator and brake pedals, which also have black, anti-slip inserts.
A final design flourish is to be found at the rear of the Saab Aero X, giving it an element of surprising practicality, as you would expect from a Saab car. Concealed under the opening rear hatch window is a twin stowage facility. Beneath the main cargo floor is an extending drawer, operated by remote control, which on the show car provides stowage for Soul Flyer* gear from Salomon, the leading supplier of freedom action sports equipment. It could also be used to separate potentially mucky outdoor gear from the rest of the luggage.