The Saab Sport Hatch concept – a 9-4x precedent?

It’s now widely believed that Saab will take the covers off a conceptual version of the 9-4x SUV in Detroit next January. Production and sales of the 9-4x are believed to be scheduled for MY2009, though exactly when during that model year is still a mystery.

Of course, car companies show concepts all the time. The increasing trend is for companies to show concepts that are close to their production siblings. The Chevy Camaro, for instance, should also make it to market around 2009 and it should bear a pretty good resemblance to the initial concept. Practicalities of production, safety and affordability have to take precedence over some of the pure design elements of some concept cars, but this concept-to-reality trend is definitely on the rise.

So it’ll be interesting to view the 9-4x concept in January with a view to it being a strong indicator of what the final product might be. The Detroit show is now less than two months away (but who’s counting 😉 ) so it won’t be long before we get to see it.

With that in mind, I thought it might be worthwhile to have a look back at Saab’s most recent concept-to-reality vehicle: the Saab Sport Hatch Concept.

The Sport Hatch Concept made it’s public debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 2003. As you’ll see in the photo below, the exterior design was a direct pointer to the 9-3 SportCombi that was to follow 18 months later. Unfortunately the interior design wasn’t adopted, with Saab sticking to the interior design of the 9-3 tht was in use at the time. It’s a pity, really, as the SportHatch interior would have been a great adoption for the 9-3 range if it were viable.

A few photos follow, plus the press release from the 2003 Frankfurt Show.

Saab SportHatchConcept

Saab 9-3 SportCombi

Saab SHC interior

Frankfurt IAA 2003, Saab News:

Style and sporty performance take center stage on the Saab stand at Frankfurt this year with a world premiere of the Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept car and a new look for the top-of-the-line Saab 9-5 Aero.

Other product news for the new model year includes the introduction of additional engine options in the 9-3 Sport Sedan and 9-5 ranges, together with a number of specification improvements.

Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept
Saab declares its intention to enter a new market segment with its Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept , which challenges the traditional distinction between hatchback and wagon bodystyles.

The distinctive, five-door, four-seater format, including a 250 bhp, 2.0-liter turbo engine, offers sporty, driver-focused performance and innovative load-carrying features.

It is intended to take Saab into the mid-size wagon segment for the first time by offering a distinctive alternative choice, with hatchback-like proportions reflecting the shape of its classic Saab 900 forebears.

Features include:

    * Bold styling cues from Saab 9-3X ‘cross-over coupe’ concept

    * Compact, sporty stance

    * Four-seater layout with central ‘clear zone’ motif in front and rear

    * Glass roof and recessed load fixing points to eliminate roof bars

    * Powered tailgate with innovative, integrated bike-carrying function

    * Information displays on demand via touch-screen functionality

    * Extra storage floor below cargo deck

“Just as our 9-3X Crossover Coupé concept occupies a position where coupé meets off-roader, this car represents a cross-over point between hatchback and wagon,” says Michael Mauer, Saab’s Head of Design.


From SaabUSA

The Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept challenges automotive convention by eroding the traditional distinction between hatchback and wagon formats. In shifting such boundary lines, it gives further expression to design chief Michael Mauer’s vision of the future of Saab design.

Just like the previous 9X and 9-3X, the 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept is testimony to Mauer’s belief in the emergence of a new automotive order; one where orthodox classifications are no longer relevant to demanding owners who require one vehicle to fulfill different functions.

It also represents a logical progression towards a near production-ready car. The multi-dimensional Saab 9X imaginatively combined the characteristic features of a coupe, roadster, wagon and pick-up within a single vehicle. The 9-3X then introduced an off-road capability by creating a unique ‘cross-over coupe’ concept. Now the Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept carries forward much of the 9-3X’s design language in presenting a sporty, versatile vehicle for the road that is a fusion between hatchback and wagon.

Styling cues from the 9-3X include most of the rear-end treatment: the relatively short rear overhang, the steeply raked rear window and light assemblies and the uninterrupted shape of the side windows with disguised door pillars. Despite the addition of two rear doors, the essential compact proportions of a hatchback have been retained.

The Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept is also clearly an evolution of the current 9-3 Sport Sedan architecture although, in adopting the stance and packaging of a five-door hatchback, it closely follows the tradition of its classic Saab 900 forebears. It re-affirms Saab’s commitment to a distinctive, versatile format that is sportier in appearance than a typical wagon.

“Just as the 9-3X occupies a position where coupe meets off-roader, this car represents a cross-over point between hatchback and wagon,” explains Mauer. “It is the sort of product that should come from Saab and our customers will be able to buy a car very much like this.

“In using the Sport Sedan chassis, we have been able to ensure that this car offers the kind of sporty, driver-focused performance that is an essential requirement for all Saab models,” adds Mauer. “We have now added more functionality with some interesting design features that ensure this car has its own clear and separate identity.”

Typical of the design team’s unconventional approach is the adoption of a distinctive glass roof, the elimination of roof bars – a common feature of traditional wagon design – and the provision of twin folding rear sports seats. Innovative load-carrying functions are included without compromising the car’s essentially sporty appearance and driver-focused character.

The presentation of the Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show signifies Saab’s intention to appeal to customers who want the functionality of a premium, mid-size wagon but seek fresher, more exciting looks and a sporty driving experience to match.

“Saab customers are predominantly professional people with independent tastes and views,” adds Mauer. “This car reflects and respects their desire for bold, alternative solutions.”

You may also like


  1. About the interior of the 9-3 SportHatch concept… It would be indeed great to see some “saabish” interiors in the future, but unfortunately I’m afraid that within few years all that Saab has it’s own inside the car will be the ignition key in the center console. Rest will be something that they’ll dig up from the GM parts bin, or something that they’ll get cheap from subcontractor.

    Take a look at the the 9-3 MY07-08 radio which is a perfect example of what’s coming. It uses FujitsuTen’s horrible radio, which can be also found from Chevrolet Malibu and from Korean made Chevrolet Epica ( No doubt same radio can be found from other car’s as well.

    So while they may design nice looking concepts at the end of the day designer’s hands are pretty much tied up. It’s bit like playing with Legos. It would truly such to be interior designer for Saab…

    Actully to be honest, finding my Saab’s radio from a cheap korean made Epica really saddened me. What the point of paying premium if you get second class equipment for it? Would a move to Audi or BMW help?

  2. I think it´s strange that some of the features on the concept never came in production.. The glass roof.. You can have it on the Opel Zafira but not on the 9-3.. Powered tailgate.. Why not? Now even Volvo´s got that feature on the new V70.. Why not Saab?

  3. Why do you need a powered tailgate? Is it to heavy to open? All this unnecessary electrical “comfort” equipment in to days cars is what drives the weigth of todays cars sky high and you get a fuel consumtion there after.

    And by the way are’nt SAAB suposed to make sporty driver focused cars, not a sofa on wheels that will do everything for you except pointing the car in the direction you want to go. I think thats why GM has the cadliac brand in their portfolio.

  4. I believe that some of these things should be on the options list. Some people see things like the powered tailgate as “premium” and why should Saab miss out on a sale because of something like that? It´s also a feature that is practical.. Thats just what Saab is.. Sporty and practical

  5. Mmmh, that wasn’t a bad concept, either.

    But where did those wheels go ?…and the ‘chrome’ side window trim, sporty side mirrors and restyled (non-Vectra) door handles ?

    Well, we got the bakelite steering wheel instead…

  6. Yes riku

    loving that chrome – it took until the 07 MY to finally offer chrome side trim, but it is so thin and weak – compare with A4 where the chrome looks so good.

    Isn’t it funny too that it took until the MY08 to get rid of the rubbing strips and add twin exhausts?

    I do like those handles…..and those alloys must be at least 20′

  7. I sat in the vehicle when it was at a Saabdealer in Stockholm. I previously worked there so thats why they let me have a sit. The interior is outstanding! The seats are incredible and that dash is amazing when it lights up!

  8. Second photo is not the concept, but I assume that it is so purposely.

    When Sport Hatch concept was released 2003 I went totally nuts with it. I loved every detail in it! I remember that I printed few pictures of it and covered a wall at work with those pics. I also told my wife that should Saab ever make that into production, I´ll get one myself immediately. Well, actually three years later we bought 9-3 Sport Combi, which is pretty darn close, at least what comes to exterior.

    Now, the new 08 9-3 SC is even closer. No bumper strips and cleaner lines on bumpers. Also the grille on front is now more like that of 9-3 SH, though lights are not alike.

    Some of those features should´ve been an option, like:

    * Four-seater layout with central ‘clear zone’ motif in front and rear

    * Glass roof and recessed load fixing points to eliminate roof bars

    * Powered tailgate with innovative, integrated bike-carrying function

    Bike carrying function is pretty impressive, and looks very good too. I would´ve had some use for that.

  9. I’m still somewhat confused as to the rumored debut of the 9-4X (or its concept) at the 2009 NAIAS in Detroit with supposed launch time in 2009, while other reports suggest a launch date of 2010 (as a 2011 model).

    Is it still possible that what we may see at NAIAS is in fact a 9-3SC XWD “cross country” that would go into production, as a smaller brother to the 9-4X ?

  10. I would love for Saab to bring back the “stealthy” hatch of the pre ’03 9-3 & 9k lines. I’m not fond of the station wagon design.

  11. J – interestingly Mazda makes the 6 in three flavours: sedan, hatchback and wagon. Too bad there’s no Mazdaspeed versions of the hatch and wagon 🙁

  12. SaabKen: i took a look at the Mazda USA site
    (for the first time) and was stunned on how well they put that 6 Hatch together!
    It’s time for Saab to step up to the plate
    and dominate this class again!
    Here’s some text from the Mazda site:

    Excitement Has Never Been So Practical
    The MAZDA6 5-Door introduces a new way to view the midsize sedan: versatile, refined and a pleasure to drive.
    Innovative design combines rear-hatch functionality with sleek outer style.
    With advanced suspension and sport-steering features, the MAZDA6 is “…more agile and holds the road better than other mid-size sedans,” according to

  13. Ken, I’ve had one Djup Strupe basically confirm that that’s what we’ll see in Detroit. Also, just the fact that Saab Sweden have offered for me to go there as a guest would suggest that it’s something new and big. I don’t think the 9-3x would cut it in that department – though I fully believe that we may see that one there as well.

    In that Mazda6 is good value. The office I work in is looking for a new lease vehicle and that was on the list, albeit briefly.

  14. Ken,

    9-3’s dear sister, Opel Vectra, has ‘always’ been built as 4-door sedan and a 5-door hatch.

    Moreover, the current Vectra lineup has a looong wheelbase wagon (the Caravan) and
    yet another hatch, the Signum (aka Malibu Max, I think).

    So, why not, Saab ?

    A three-door hatch for me, please mr General, sir.

  15. Remember (for those that listened to him) Jan-Ake said there will be a couple of surprises at Detroit. On top of which at Frankfurt he mentioned about alot of new stuff this coming year.

    We love our Sportcombi.

  16. Swade,

    I sure hope the 9-4X concept that you indicate will be seen in Detroit at 2008 NAIAS will be for sale by 2009 globally and North America, and NOT 2010 or later. Personally I couldn’t see how it would take *that* much longer to get from test mule phase to showrooms !!

    Wasn’t there some more recent “reports” of a second, larger brethren to the 9-4X that will be launched at the end of the decade ?

  17. Stop the Mazda 6 blessings! I´ve sold them, driven them alot.. and there is nothing.. Nothing I tell you that would have me trade a Saab over a Mazda 6… Looking to the Ricer side of things I would much more likely get a Subaru Legacy..The Mazda is noicy.. The 2008 9-3 or the Legacy are not. The interiors in the 9-3 and Legacy is superiour to the M6 in every aspect. Mazda.. Good car.. But not even close to Saabs, Subarus or german cars…

  18. The “launching” of a new car via a clverly placed concept is being utilised by quite a few companies now. I can’t list them all but at the recent Australian International Motor Show there were a lot of “concepts” that were basically the new car in final prototype form. the ones I was paying attention to were the Mazda Cx9 and the BMW X6. These were shown alongside genuine concepts and so the difference was pretty clear – and fairly confidently confirmed by the staff on hand.

    I would be very surprised if Saab showed another pure concept with no commercial follow-up. There would be a LOT of criticism if this was done, particularly when recent past has been all show and no go. If Saab don’t know that now is the time to deliver real cars that real people can buy – then things are as screwed as they look.

  19. SAABKen. I’m pretty sure there will be a larger brethren to what everybody calls the 9-4x. The 9-4X is simply too small for USA. It will not be seen as a replacement for the 9-7X, unless it’s as large as BMWX5, Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7. Reports so far and the looks of the mule (smaller wheelbase than the 9-7X) indicates that it will be more like the X3 in size. Maybe good enough for Europe, but not for USA. So if the 9-4X is successful, I would expect that a new 9-7X, called 9-8X would follow.
    I’m not entirely sure that the first Crossover to be shown in Detroit in January will be called 9-4X, I vote for 9-6X. Pricewise it will probably be placed above the current 9-5, so logically it will be 9-6X. Then again, the next gen. 9-5 will definately be larger and more expensive than the curent one. Logic is not SAABs best side, so we will have to wait and see. I have a feeling that the “names” 9-1, 9-3, 9-5 (and perhaps 9-7) will be sedan/sports hatches in the future. 9-2, 9-4, 9-6 (and perhaps 9-8) will be reserved for Crossovers or at least some special models, some with XWD. Next new production SAAB is the 9-3X (or whatever it will be called).

  20. Progolf – I totally think the same. The 1, 3 and 5 designations will likely be reserved for “traditional” sedans/cvts/wagons while the 2, 4, 6 .. etc. will be SUV/CUV/special models.

  21. Hey Tompa: don’t have to worry about me trading my Saab dreams for another Mazda. I used to drive a Mazda 626. It was a piece of tin shite that i don’t miss very much at all. I’m more than ready to go Euro after driving Japanese cars for most of my life.

  22. This goes off, but there was talking about that “poor” ´07-08 radio. Yes, it´s saddening to find same radio in a Korean car, agreed. But it´s still far more superior to it´s predesessor found in

  23. Now even the the next generation Opel Agila (Spring 2008) will have a powered tailgate with touchpad… That´s a small car with an extremely light tailgate…
    Sorry if I´m stuck on this, but it seems so cheap not to have a similar feature on the 9-3SC


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *