Black Turbo – my thoughts

In the last 24 hours or so we’ve had the news on the Black Turbo, and then the back story on the Black Turbo. In comments to those pieces many people have passed their opinions on the news. Some are welcoming the car regardless and others think it’s a backward step, almost treacherous.

I guess it’s time I passed my opinion as well.

There’s two genuine thought paths here and though people have been debating them with some vigour in comments, I think they’re both quite valid and needn’t be thought of as mutually exclusive. So I’ll try and deal with those, as they’re pretty much a spot-on representation of my thoughts about this car.

And with all that in mind – be nice to each other, OK?

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Thought 1 – This car’s going to be an asskicker.

Those of you who are calling Saab out on the lack of a ‘3’ in front of the horsepower number for this car ought to keep in mind that horsepower ain’t the issue here. The issue is the debut of a new XWD system. Saab may be coming to this party later than some others, but they’re making one heck of an entrance.

The XWD system on this new car is brand new and it is quite revolutionary. To concentrate on an output figure so much is really selling this system short. I’d invite you to watch this video once again if you need a reminder of the capability this new car will have in terms of handling. For those that can’t be bothered with the terrible sound quality (I really need to try these again now that I’m back home), the XWD system gives the car incredible stability on all surfaces.

The ability to shift the torque around from front to back and side to side (in the back) in concert with all the predictive technology propelled this car through some handling tests quicker that a bunch of competitors cars. And just to test it to the limits, they also threw it through their test course quicker – and with greater control – that a Porsche 911 turbo.

It may only be 280hp, but the “only” in that phrase covers up a multitude of benefits that are being overlooked by many people.

And I, for one, won’t be accused of writing the aesthetic appeal of this car off, either. How many people go and spend a bunch of money on wheels and skirts and stuff to make their car look like the model above it? You might say it’s superficial, but I’m glad my Viggen looks the way it does.

The best way to get a performance version of a car is to get it that way from the factory. If you’ve got some good contacts at the SDCC (hello Tim!) then maybe you’ll get away with going the long way round. But I’ll take a factory package AND an enhanced package over the standard issue any day of the week. It’s just my thing and I’ve always been that way.

In addition to the looks, don’t forget that this car is apparently going to get the full XWD package as standard. The big ticket item there is the eLSD, which will be an option on the XWD Aero later on (read more here). Without the eLSD, you still get the front/rear split. The eLSD is the magic unit that splits torque in the rear wheels from side to side. The icing on the cake, as Saab puts it. Only the Turbo-X is going to have this as standard, hence the limited nature of the release.

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Thought 2 – They could have done more.

As mentioned, I really do think this car’s going to be brilliant and I’m content now with the idea of putting the numbers to one side and checking out the Turbo-X for what it is.

But I can certainly empathise with those who believe that Saab could have done more.

The big knock on front wheel drive is that it’s hard to get heaps of power going through the front wheels when those wheels are also responsible for steering and the majority of braking. The introduction of XWD is supposed to provide a solution to that issue. I’m not the only one who thought that Saab would benefit from a true halo car that’s capable of something in the order of 300plus.

ctm’s argued pretty well that horsepower has never been a priority for Saab. And I agree. When they developed turbocharging technology, the emphasis was more on safety in overtaking and the achievement of 6-cylinder power from a four cylinder engine. The fun factor was a natural by-product. These are the company’s roots and they DO carry through to today. I remember my own test drive of the XWD SportCombi – I was in the car with the product manager for the new 9-3 and he specifically said that they thought long and hard about whether developing this car with 280hp was a responsible move.

But still, one can’t help but think that with an XWD system so good, Saab could have pushed the envelope a little more. Not for the regular Saabnuts, who know and love the adequate torque provided by a good turbocharged four. But as a conquest vehicle, as an attention getter.

I couldn’t give a rodent’s derrière about your average Bimmer-hoon, but for the genuine considerate purchaser who wants something to appreciate – Saab had a great chance to provide a big hook here and I think that perhaps they’ve missed it a little.

This is probably a point that’s more suited to the US market. It seems to me that shoppers there will form a lasting initial impression quite quickly. The market moves rapidly and people will sum up a situation as they see it with similar alacrity. Let the ‘M’ guy have his Bimmer. I really couldn’t care. But the one who’s looking for something genuinely different to appreciate…..well, perhaps Saab will have to try a little harder in their advertising to get him in the door.

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In conclusion, the Turbo-X is defnitely going to be something to look out for. The base numbers that we’re all used to looking at in road tests aren’t going to tell the whole story on this car and I think anyone who concentrates on that alone will be doing themselves and the car a disservice.

The tuners will find a way to reach their horsey goals, and hopefully in a safe manner (haven’t I gone all conservative now with the Viggen out of commission???).

This really is going to be a great car. If you want to write it off, then go ahead. There will only be 2,000 of them and they’re all going to sell quite rapidly regardless of what you think or what I write here.

Would I like to have seen more? My honest answer is a resounding “yes”. But I’m not going to let that tarnish or govern my thoughts about what will be a great release for Saab in the new year.

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29 Comments

  1. Swade, just look at the current 9-5 Aero models and compare it with the first generation of 9-5 Aero.
    The first one has 230 HP and the current one has 260 using the same L4 engine.
    Maybe the 2.8 V6 can be pulled up more later… or there will be a BioPower version obviously with more horses…

  2. Making a car that apparently handles as well as the 9-3 does with XWD is nothing but good news and Swade is right – that must be acknowledged.

    For those who want more power I still say reduce weight – seats, doors, bonnet, boot window glass before doing anything. It is not just about speed – lower weight = more fun.

    If you want to market it then advertise BHP/Tonne in the old Saab Vs Style to show how it would beat the competition.

  3. i agree with you on all points, Swade. however i can’t help but think they will realize 3-4 years from now that they were late to the 300HP party, in the same exact way they are only now showing up with XWD. granted, they are bringing with one heck of a drivetrain, but late none the less.

    also, just a thought — a 320HP 9-3 would certainly cut in to the new 9-5’s sales. maybe we should instead be lobbying for a Black Turbo of the 9-5 variety…

  4. Not sure how a high-performance edition of the 9-3 model would cave 9-5’s almost non-existent sales. I don’t see the M3 caving into the 5-series’ sales, nor the S4 into A6’s.

    This was a good opportunity for Saab to show the younger crowd they’re supposedly after, even if only in the United States and Canada, that they can pull through a one-off performance version. Just like the Viggen was respected even by people who would generally not even consider Saabs several years ago.

    I still consider the Black Turbo a missed opportunity.

  5. I agree with Jeff K that the 300hp party should be a given these days. We all know the true enthusiast won’t be afraid to put some extra juice into it though. I have one question that i do not think has been asked- like the viggen, will the black turbo only be offered in manual?

  6. I pray that it is….. I understand that here is a need for automatics, but I just don’t see how a driving “enthusiast” would want one.

    It must be me, but I’ve always seen that as a blaring contradiction to the Beemer commercials when they use their slogan “Ultimate” and yet it’s an automatic.

  7. hmmm.. a 260hp FWD 9-5 vs. a 280hp XWD 9-3 on the freeway. For some reason I think it’s gona a be pretty close race… drivetrain loss! that’s all i think about when i see this xwd. and wit the sophistication and such, id expect to be more than other xwd.

    280hp is not bad at all, but it’s gonna get eaten up by all them gears! plus the xwd system must’ve added a fair bit of weight. Is it really helping the car become faster? From a stoplight, maybe… from anything 30+, maybe not :(. That’s my 2 cents.

    The handling should be amazing, id be looking forward to it :). Also, you might be a bit safer with the XWD and computer systems. Don’t get too cocky though :).

  8. Swade (and others),

    I really don’t doubt this car. To me, the horsepower doesn’t make to much of a difference. I’d like it, but I could live without it. That said, I’m a Saab fan. I know how they drive and I think they’re great cars. What Saab needs is a car that can get the attention of people who aren’t already Saab nuts like all of us are. The car only having 280 hp might not make a difference to a Saab nut, but it will make all the difference in the world to the average sport sedan buyer who is presented with many 300+ hp offerings.

  9. I agree with the above…

    in the 300hp ‘sport sedan’ category, i can already think of a few… lexus is350 and bmw 335…

  10. Talonderiel – as much as I’d love to have a stickshift in my car, I also am very very happy with my automatic when I’m not driving on the highway.

    A while ago, someone sent in a big ol essay about their “perfect Saab” (I think it was 1985 Gripen, but I could be wrong), and he said that his ideal tranny would be, not an automatic with a manual mode like on many cars, but the reverse, a manual with an automatic mode. Personally, I think that would be the way to go.

  11. Saabboy,
    According to the information we can find on the net, the Haldex XWD adds only 30 kg more weights.
    However, it was not clear that is it only the device on the rear axle, or does it include the Power Take-off Unit and the propeller shaft from the front to the rear…

  12. NOW THAT is a PERFECT Idea. Saab, so famous for new things and all, would generate so much positive press if that is implemented, a Manual automatic transmission. How COOL would that be. I agree with Jeff, that I appreciate my Automatic on city streets, but also like the stick shift on the Highway.
    Also, 2 questions,
    1. Does the 9-3 (03-07) have a Boost, or Sport Mode Button?
    2. And can XWD be placed onto the current 9-5 platform, or are their limitations? Not that Saab would by any chance because its so late in the model cycle, but just curious… It would seem so wierd for Saab to have XWD on a lesser model but not on the upper. Honestly, I think this will be the final blow for the 9-5, and sales will ultimately cave in. You get so much more for your money by getting a loaded Aero for the price of a 9-5 it seems nowadays…(despite a more luxurious and, well, nicer interior in the 9-5

  13. 1. No, but the 08s will, and my 96 does.
    2. Isn’t the 9-5 also on the Epsilon platform? If that’s the case, then it probably could be for the next revision, because Epsilon II will probably be more XWD friendly (ie, no execs initially saying that the platform can’t handle AWD systems).

    Also, Ron, remember that it was Gripen’s (I think, does anyone remember for sure?) idea about the manual automatic, so you agree with him (don’t want to steal credit 🙂 )

  14. Jeff, the 9-5 isn’t on Epsilon, though I think the next one will be on an extended version of it.

    Re: forums (from another comment) – not a chance. That’s what Saab Central and others are for. I don’t have the time.

  15. wat a pos diesel… imo…

    reminds me of the truckers heading up a big hill and not having that fuel cut feature that keeps the leftover diesel fuel from blowing out uselessly…

  16. That was a Duramax diesel that was shoved into that GNX. Personally, I wish they had used a regualar Grand National, as there were less than 500 GNX’s made, and now that one is irrevocably changed, but whatever. The point is, that engine was made for giant trucks, so of course it’s going to act like a truck engine :p

    Swade – Theoretically, you wouldn’t need to do anything, but I see your point, there are giant Saab forums that most people here probably frequent already.

  17. Forgot to say two things: First, that Duramax actually is a turbodiesel, if I’m looking at the picture right.

    Second, whenever I tried to look up the platform the 9-5 runs on, I got “Saab 9-5” as the answer. I never grasped the idea that it had it’s own platform (which makes total sense, I’m dense). Anyway, then, XWD will almost certainly be on the next 9-5, Saab and GM would literally be insane not to use it…or some other, better (somehow) AWD system.

  18. Ron / Jeff, The clutchless manual is available in many cars in Europe including some GM product if I am not mistaken. They simply remove the pedal and get a robot system to operate the clutch and can be used as “stick” or auto. The DSG is really the same system but with sequential shifting. Clutchless manual has not proved massively successful as it is not as nice to drive as you would think – it still makes gear changing a bit remote. Even DSG is not fully accepetd by all. Still as I always say – give us the option.

  19. I still feel that Saab needs something to be able to run with the big boys (S4, M3, AMG) The longer the wait for such a model, the wrose off th ecompany will be.

    The availability of the top of th eline performance versions gives a car company a good reputation and it helps fuel sales throughout the model range, but it has to be done right.

    Volvo’s R range was a failure in that respect and was eventually canceled because it was a half hearted attempt, only barely able to compete with the previous generation S4.

    The company needs 9-3’s and 9-5’s that run side by side M3’s and M5’s. End of story.

    I – for one – am not buying another Saab until I can get one with 0-60 times of 5 or below, handling prowess up there with the greats (which may have been acheived with XWD) an 1/4 mile times at 13 seconds or below.

    If the cars can’t be made as sporting as their other european brethren, then the whole “Sport sedan” naming is little more than a joke, and people will (and do) laugh at the brand.

  20. Jon – I didn’t really mead a clutchless manual or a double clutch system. I like the double clutch, and I think Saab really needs a version of it, because it’s the kind of thing that I think would fit in well with Saab’s philosophy. As far as clutchless manual, I was thinking that it would still have a clutch, because, yes, clutchless manuals are sluggish (like paddle shifters). In my mind, with this system that doesn’t exist yet, you would have a stick and a clutch, and it would behave like a regular manual, unless you shifted into the “A” position, or hit a button on the shifter, whatever, and then the car would act like a regular automatic until you shifted back into a gear or hit the button again or whatever. Of course, there would be a lot of kinks to work out, but I’m sure a bunch of engineers can figure it out.

  21. mattlach – If you’re looking for 5-second 0 – 60 times, why are you looking at Saab in the first place? Go buy an M or an old Corvette ZR-1 or something.

  22. Jeff, I like the way you are thinking with the clutched manual system with option of automatic!!

    I’ve driven all the manu-matics, dsgs and paddle shifters… and I can’t stand any of them. It’s just an automatic system that gives you a slight option of playing with the shift points. DSG is closer and a little more fun, but it’s still not a real manual. Maybe it’s because all my cars, save my current college P.O.S. 98 LeSabre, have been manual but I cannot imagine driving an automatic…… It’s just soo boring.

    Everyone’s argument is that a manual is a pain in traffic… But I’ve always found it the opposite. I can play around with the clutch in traffic or the shifter instead of just sitting there staring at a sub-5 mph speedo.

  23. Do not underestimate 280 Hp and 400 Nm in Black Turbo. Compared to example an Audi S4 V8 344 Hp engine that do not reach 280 Hp until in the range of 5500 rpm. In other words the Saab engine has more horsepower from idle up to 5500 rpm. Black Turbo will in evereday use feel stronger and quicker. Because you just do not drive around in second gear and 6000 rpm to be prepared to race. I am sure that the 0-60 will be in favour for BT. Just because of the same reason as above. We just have to vait and see the test reports….

  24. I agree with most of the comments presented here, Saab could have done more. With an all new 9-3 a couple of years away, 300+ hp is not out of the question, especially considering that the 2.8 is based on GM’s high feature V-6 (which is in short supply as it is being phased into Cadillac and other products). I think the move may have been motivated by the desire not to completely eclipse the aging 9-5 (which I own and love) with the 9-3 before they can update it. From what I read on various sites, they are looking at 350+ and XWD for the next gen 9-5, can’t wait!

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