This is a tough one. How do you go about writing a review of car made by the company that employs you to write? I’ve said it here before: enthusiast first, employee second – but I understand that some may (and probably should) take this article with a grain of salt. Still, I hope you find it informative and enjoyable.
Last weekend I had the good fortune to pilot a Saab 9-4x for three days, covering 1,140kms from Trollhattan to Västerås for the Midnight Sun Rally, and then on to Stockholm for one night before returning to home base in Trollywood.
This was my first time driving a Saab 9-4x. I’m not what you’d call an SUV traditionalist. In fact, I’m the exact opposite, preferring smaller cars with efficient use of space and some sort of fun factor – that the 1999 Saab 9-3, a Mazda MX-5 and an Alfa Romeo 33 have all made appearances in my garage in the past should bear this out.
Still, this is a vehicle designed from the ground up as a Saab by a team led by Swedish engineer, Peter Dörrich. This is a vehicle we’ve been anticipating since we first saw the concept car in early 2008. To say I was excited about the opportunity would be an understatement of considerable proportions.
Do I need to add anything to the two photos, above? Styling is always subjective, but I think the Saab 9-4x looks absolutely fantastic.
It’s very contemporary without being flashy and stands out in traffic as much for its clean lines as it does for anything else. The proportions of the vehicle look strong and solid but when you park it amongst other modern vehicles, you realise that it stands out not because of its size – it really isn’t that much taller or longer than many modern vehicles – but the way the Saab have styled and formed its size into a very handsome package.
The Aero model comes with all the exterior trim but even the non-Aero model still looks very smart (see the Aero vs 3.0 section, tomorrow). When you’ve done a good job on the basics, the add-ons can only compliment what is already a fantastic piece of work. And when I consider the looks of the competition, there’s very little that comes close (seriously. really.)
On the inside
Reviewers have raved about the seats in the new Saab 9-5 Aero. For me, with a slightly larger build than the average bear, the seats in the 9-4x are even better. I find that a flatter seat squab suits me better for longer journeys and the 9-4x seats were perfect for my trip over the weekend.
The side bolsters aren’t as intrusive for someone of my build on these seats, but they still provide appropriate support and hug you into place nicely. And get this – on the Aero model that I drove and the Premium 3.0 model – you get electrically adjustable seats, with memory (incl pedals and mirrors) AND seat ventilation as standard equipment. Outstanding. Mrs Swade made particular mention of the height adjustment, which had her small frame sitting quite nicely once she figured out that she could adjust it.
The legroom is generous in the front. Rear seat passengers will generally be quite OK as well, though adults of my size might find the rear a little challenging over a long journey if someone of similar size is sitting in front. We had four guys over 6-feet tall in a 9-4x yesterday and it was OK for the journey that we took, but let’s just say that I wouldn’t have wanted to do my 1,100km+ weekend trip that way. Kids will have great fun in the back, especially if the car has the rear-seat DVD system. The sound is outstanding.
There’s so much to like about the interior of this car. The sound insulation is first class. The materials used in the cabin are first class. The Aero features some “graphite fibre-effect” trim around the console and dashboard, as well as in the doors, and it really is tastefully done. The Premium model features wood-effect in the same places and it combines with the dark interior to good effect.
As with the new Saab 9-5, the dashboard in the 9-4x has a layout that will be familiar to anyone who’s driven a Saab right back to the Saab 9000 of the 1980’s. The cockpit style layout and curvature of the dashboard makes for easy visibility of the gauges as well as operation of the climate and infotainment systems in the center stack.
Safety is a priority with every Saab we build, though it seems that safety now means extremely thick A- and B-pillars that come a long way inwards from the windows they surround. I reckon you could fit four A-pillars from my 1991 Saab 900 inside one A-pillar housing from the 9-4x. These pillars used to just be structural pillars in 1991 but today they house airbags and enough structural steel to help the 9-4x gain a Top Safety Pick award in the US. The trade-off is visibility, which is effected to a small degree looking forwards and moreso looking back. To help with rearward visibililty, the Saab 9-4x I drove was fitted with a rear-facing camera (standard on Aero) that employed some fancy graphics when you turn the steering wheel.
Trunk space is a competitive 827 litres and the Saab U-rail system is standard on the Aero model to help keep your luggage under control.
There’s also a powered tailgate, another feature that Mrs Swade found to be remarkably convenient (gotta keep the ladies busy hauling those bags, ya know….)
I’ll be back tomorrow looking a little deeper into performance and fuel economy. I’ve also got a short comparison between the 3.0 Premium version, which I got a quick chance to drive on Monday morning.