Saab Turbo-X: What a difference 20hp makes

Over at Saab Central, I posted an entry in response to some questions about the Turbo-X. In that entry I mentioned the fact that it will be a car with an output of 280hp, which was still news to some over there and drew the following reaction:

And it successfully makes saab look pathetic in relation to the competition, at least as far as hard numbers are concerned.

The IS350, G37, and BMW 335i all make over 300 horsepower, and they are merely regular-edition volume production models. Meanwhile saab’s hyped “turbo X” model with a boy-racer name and a flashy bodykit only makes 280 horsepower. There’s something really wrong with that picture, and it makes saab look like a pathetic also-ran trying to play with the big boys.

There’s more, but I think you get the picture….

As has been discussed here since the 280hp revelation, the output of the car isn’t the primary factor that Saab will be selling it on. Power is nothing without control, and the bigger-than-currently-realised feature of the Turbo-X will be the full-complement XWD system with the optional eLSD included.

It’s this full XWD system that will give the Turbo-X such outstanding handling as proven in their own testing. I’ll be working on some video on that tonight to bring that point into focus just a little more.

And being Saab nuts, we should also know that power alone doesn’t make for an exhilarating drive and the anticipated 400+Nm of torque should make life fun for Turbo-X owners.

But despite all this, there’s little question now that Saab may well regret not adding those 20 extra horses just to quiet the hordes that are ravaging Saab in various forums for not having that magic “3” at the front.

This engine is well and truly capable of 300hp and I’m sure that Hirsch will prove this in short order. So why not set the mark on that right from the get-go?

Perhaps there’s a few possible answers to this question. I’m only theorising here and please feel free to add your own in comments.

1) Don’t get too far ahead of the 9-5.

The Turbo-X will be, in effect, Saab’s flagship vehicle when it’s released. The most output and the best equipped in terms of performance and safety. It’ll also look the best out of any current Saab.

So how far, exactly, should they let it get ahead of the 9-5? And what pressure will it put on the new 9-5 if the Turbo-X is released as a 320+hp beast?

2) Allow room for the aftermarket

I’m sure this would actually be of little consequence, but Saab does have a contract with Hirsch as an official tuner of the vehicles. If they are going to provide a tune for the Turbo-X and keep it under Saab’s warranty then there needs to be some upward potential untapped. A thought, but a minor one, I’m sure.

3) Highlight the XWD system performance

What better way is there to highlight the benefits of the XWD system than to take a car with lower power output and push it through a handling course quicker and safer than cars with much higher performance specs.

Remember, this is the launch vehicle for the XWD system, worldwide. Initially, eyes will be on the standard items like HP etc, but Saab will be banking on the motoring press picking up on the superb handling and the car winning them over from that standpoint.

4) Protect the XWD system

Remember, this is the launch vehicle for the XWD system, worldwide. I’m sure they’ve tested this system to the point of exhaustion, but nothing tests a vehicle like putting in the hands of thousands of motorists, all of whom drive under different conditions.

The last thing Saab or GM need is a new XWD system being disproven due to needlessly overpowering it.

5) Safety

When I drove the XWD-equipped Sportcombi back in June, I had the product manager for the 9-3 in the car with me. He mentioned that this car was something they debated within Saab. One of the primary questions was “can we do this car and do it safely?” The video is here is you want to see more of what he had to say.

Safety is a primary concern at Saab and always should be. Perhaps they came to a decision that 280hp was the safe mass-market limitation for this car?


With all that being said, however, the Turbo-X is going to be Saab’s halo vehicle for some time and right now there’s enough mud being thrown just in forums etc that some of it’s going to stick.

Whether this will be repeated in the motoring press will be an interesting thing to watch. Saab did a very smart thing in giving the press a chance to drive cars with XWD fitted at the 9-3 launch back in June. This means the press have got a taste of what’s to come and shouldn’t give the same kneejerk reaction as what many enthusiasts have.

But you can’t help but think that engineering another 20hp into this car would have satisfied 95% of the enthusiasts and would make it much easier to focus purely on the outstanding handling and safety characteristics of this car.

I can fully understand the reactions like the one noted above as I had the same reaction initially as well. But when I reflected on everything I saw and drove at the launch, and took into account the opinions of people I’ve heard from who’ve seen the car – well – I’m still very excited about the Turbo-X and confident that it’s going to set quite a standard.

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  1. If you ask a lot of Eurocar enthusiasts, Saab has always been “a pathetic also-ran” :p

    Personally, I don’t care about that extra 20 hp. If I could afford this car, I’d buy it in a heartbeat and then just smile when people make fun of it for not being as powerful as some of its contemporaries. I know why us Saab drivers always have that smile on their faces, and it ain’t horsepower.

  2. I highly doubt that the 2nd scenario would be the reasoning… Mainly because in several markets, especially here in the US, Hirsch isn’t available and not apart of the warranty (as far as I know)….

    If anything I’d say it would have to do with a combination of reliability, safety and the fact that it more than meets the competition with the lesser amount of hp and a higher mpg??

  3. I remember reading in comments to a post here a while back that the transmission in the 9³ is only capable of handling 400 Nm (295 ft-lbs) max. The 280 bhp Aero is already at that mark as is the TTiD. So if the Turbo-X were to up the horsepower to 300, they’d have to find a way to keep the torque flat and not increase it. And what’s the fun in that?

    SAAB can’t really afford to develop a beefier transmission for a limited-edition run of cars, can they?

  4. Again I’ll ask the question; what are the mechanical differences between the 250 and 280HP 2.6Ts?

    Given that Hirsch only offers a 275HP upgrade for the current model is there the hardware to allow for tuning, or would substantial pipework mods need to made?

    Likewise BSR only allows for a 285HP (albeit with 480Nm) upgrade without forking out big bikkies for new exhaust, turbo and injectors as well, almost 3500Euros all up.

    I don’t think anybody outside of Saab knows where the extra 30HP/50Nm comes from in the Turbo-X. Given that we can’t really say what the aftermarket can do with it.

  5. How bout you go have a mugacino of Harden the $*&% up yourself Swade. I’m not friggin sorry OK, I’m bloody happy I only have the 1.8t. Who needs another &@(ing litre anyway, bloody pussies.

  6. How can the Evo and WRX be limited to 276 and be the shiznit, but Saab is “slow” at 280?

    Cars with back seats shouldn’t have that much power anyway.

  7. Guys,

    It also has to be remembered that while the base 9-3 linear sport is only 129kw (eg: Honda Euro 140Kw), it gets a more-then-respectable 260NM torque (as opposed to 220NM in Honda).

    Despite this, i will be looking to up this to the 150-53 KW via enhancement. I really wish Hirsch had a presence here in Aust. I have been told by SAAB Aust that they are trying to bring this about.

  8. As I mentioned before: according to my informations (it comes from a mechanic of hungarian Saab HQ and from a Saab tuning company, too) pulling the power over 280 HP could cause overheating problems.
    Look at Hirsch, their have a good reason why they offer a 275 HP upgrade only for the current 9-3 Aero and 300 HP for the 9-5 Aero.
    Look at Nordic, Maptun, Abbott, they don’t even offer upgrade for 2.8V6.

  9. I don’t think Saab is about performance. I believe that the idea of Saab is to make safe, practical and fun-to-drive cars. Saab 99 Turbo, Viggen, Turbo-X.
    Maybe the people buying the “monster cars” from BMW, Audi, etc just isn’t Saab’s target group.

  10. Arild, i believe performance is a factor in fun-to-drive (unless by performance you refer only to brute HP).

    As prev mentioned, brute HP isn’t the be-all of this and other factors of perfomance come into play with the driving experience. Areas like handling, braking, steering response and communication are extremely important in enjoying driving.

  11. I think you’re absolutely right, Arild. The hardcore of those alternative brands aren’t Saab’s market group. But there’s some on the fringes there who could be reached and I guess there’s some thought that that magic 300 number could have piqued thei interest a little more.

    The hardcore Bimmer fans, let ’em have what they want.

    And Ivan, that issue was indeed overlooked and should be noted. but that engine SHOULD be capable of more.

  12. So this overheating problem is a limitation of the engine, then?

    Well, look at it this way: The next-gen 9-3 might have a brand new hi-po engine that can take 300 ponies or more. Personally, I’d rather not have Saab offer an awesome hi-po version of the current car if they’re going to get rid of it when the next one comes around. They should introduce a totally kickass M3 fighter a year after the next-gen 9-3 comes around, and then work from there.

    Or, they could go the 9-7x Aero route and just offer a Corvette engine as an option :p (obviously, I’m joking…but an LS7-powered Saab would be a total soggy dream for me).

    I read somewhere that Saab was thinking of using a V8 in the 99 at one point, but decided to turbocharge it instead. This makes me want to find a 99 and put a V8 in it for comic effect.

  13. Saab is in a no win situation to begin with,sadly. Let’s say it had 320hp. The headlines would then be “Great Power let down by weak chassis or sub par interior” or any combination there of. As Saab fans we should be happy this vehicle is happening in the first place. Or if it was reversed the headline would be “great new awd let down by subpar engine” So as this vehicle truly ushers in a new era for Saab, don’t listen to the naysayers – they would find criticism with the Aero X if it had been a production car. And who’s to say down the road the numbers couldn’t change. With all of the product coming within the next 18 months, let’s welcome the Turbo X. As for it overshadowing the 9-5 that is not the issue. Saab realizes the 9-5 is in its twilight years in its current bodystyle.Plus saab is not going to arbitrarily raise the power just because the Turbo X is 20 more HP. People that buy the 9-5 will respect the TurboX but are not necessarily the target market for the Turbo X anyway! And even if it had 300 hp that’s not a guarantee for anything. This is a limited production vehicle. The Viggen sold and was truly outdated before it went on sale. So imagine a truly modern,safe,awesome looking,technologically advanced,awd,elsd,etc, will do for saab. Saab will never be a bmw m3. But what it will be is a true Saab sports car that Saab loyalists will love and pull non Saab people to at least consider the brand.

  14. I will keep saying this but Saab need to allow for development of this engine. You just do not bump it up to the maximum limit straight away. It took about 6 years to get the 1.9VW diesel from 90bhp to 150bhp and 4 fro BM to go from 136 to 163 with their diesel. They have gone from 250 to 280 the next step is 300+ but be patient. You go to 300 now then whaere do you go?

  15. Why should Saab compete with BMW in their own game? They never done it before, so why now? Saab is not about bhp. Never has been. There is the Swedish thing we all talk about. Heritage and so on. And we all say Saab need to take care of it’s heritage. So why this outcry for bhp? Move Saab to Germany and let them make Saab that way then, and forget all about Swedish heritage. Volvo tried it for ten years, but stopped it now. Why? Didn’t do the brand any good. Everyboy can put a huge engine in a car. All the Japanese brands do. But not everybody can make good-looking cars, extremely safe cars, environmentally friendly cars. Let’s stick to what Saab do best.

  16. I am trying to find out if Turbo-X will be available both as sedan and SportCombi? I am talking to an IDS representative in Scandinavia where I would like to buy the car for export to Japan where I live. They say only the sedan has been confirmed. I personally would strongly prefer the more useable (and in my opinion better looking) SportCombi. Seeking to replace my fully Abbott Racing tuned 1993/1994 Black Saab 9000 Aero.

    Stig in Tokyo

  17. Ok, folks, my informations about overheating are not official and approved. It comes from sources who have some good overview about the 2.8V6 models, but it was their personal OPINION only. I can’t say, that it’s a fact, but perhaps there is a good chance to take in consideration when we talk about the limitations of power.
    So, the engine surely capable to produce much higher output but possibly in the current configuration (size of the engine bay, arrangment of the equipement, place for the cooling system, etc.) to avoid the long term problems it could be better to keep it as is…
    Maybe I’m wrong, time will show!

  18. I must agree with many of the sentiments expressed above. Power isn’t everything! I have receently ordered the MY 08 9-3 TiD and can’t wait to get my hands on it! My current vehicle is a Holden Monaro V8 (260kw) and I must say that whilst it has enourmous power on tap, the few days I I enjoyed test driving the current model 1.9Tid really opened my eyes to what a spirited & fun drive the turbo diesel (in manual guise) could be. People talk about torque (no pun intended!) bit it’s not until you get behind the wheel of the 9-3 Tid, that you truly understand it’s benefits (it literally ‘pulls like a train’) I would happily (& have!) swapped outright KW for old fashioned fun & driver appeal. I’m a convert, bring it on!

  19. While the overheating may be the case with the pre-2008 9-3’s (with 2.8 v6), it would surprise me (or maybe not) that they hadn’t taken care of that while redesigning the 2008 front ?

    Also, the possible 400 Nm torque limit of the gearbox doesn’t mean the power can’t be increased either. Surely it can be done by keeping that (400 Nm) torque up at higher rpm levels ?

    Well, at least Saab have left room for future power increases – factory or aftermarket.

  20. I don’t buy this business that an extra 80 hooves (20 horses) would have made that big an impact, except for magazine racers and “hp at the brochure” watercooler racers.

    I just drove the 9-3 SS this past weekend, and it’s an astounding car. It was responsive, tight and tremendously quick. The salesman (who also sells Hummers) and I both kept thinking it was an Aero until we got out of the car and looked at the trunklid; it was the 2.0t!!!

    I know people have a hard time mentioning BMW and Saab in the same sentence, but the one place I can safely say they share a commonality is that the cars DEFINITELY are faster than their numbers would indicate.

  21. Isn’t the 9-3 due for a complete top-to-bottom redesign (Epsilon 2) in a year or so? If so then it makes sense to beef the sport model up as much as is practical on the current hardware but to save anything beyond that for new and improved hardware which can better handle the higher outputs. Since it’s a complete redesign sourcing a stronger gearbox for 300HP+ won’t be as big an issue. GM certainly has them available.

  22. can “safety” play a significant role in a 300+ horsepower car?–other than to become a “red herring” (a distraction from the original objective)?

    the competition (audi, bmw, benz, etc.) doesn’t seem to have safety qualms about its high-performance offerings.

    saab needs to clarify its philosophy and stop trying to have it both ways. either:

    1. continue to make “safety” a core feature and state, explicitly, that, that’s the reason not to produce anything more powerful than 280 horsepower;

    2. drop the “born from jets” theme. instead, develop something kinder and gentler like what would tie in to taking the kids to soccer practice, transporting a cello, etc.; and

    3. stop trying to dabble in the “premium luxury” market, as those players, with their unabashed offerings a) apparently approach safety differently; and, thus b) look like they have more technical or engineering prowess. frankly, get out of the “premium luxury” market. try to steal sales from the likes of subaru, honda, volkswagon, chevy, toyota, hundai, etc; or

    4. get with the program. acknowledge safety as goal in the low-end product, but don’t let it prohibit you from being seriously competitive.

  23. I’m 100% with saab9x. None of those reasons sway me. I think this all just brings us back to the rhetorical question of What Is Saab? and I’m not seeing a _coherent_ answer out of Trollhattan or Detroit.

  24. Adam, I think that is something that GM is still trying to workout.

    I think the General is still trying to decide if Saab is GM’s truly global brand; if it’s GM’s euro-premium brand; GM’s techno-safety-savvy brand; if it’s just a niche brand like Hummer; or if it’s the ying to a global Cadillac’s yang… IMHO, it’s the answer to the latter ideology. I think the two can live and thrive comfortably together and GM is prolly starting to realize this

  25. GM has had more than half my lifetime to figure that out.

    Even if I don’t like the answer I want _an_ answer.

    I do agree with you on the ying/yang with Caddy.

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