My time in the Saab 9-4x (part 1)

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.

Styling

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….)

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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.

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22 Comments

  1. With your history as an independent Saab blogger, you have so much more credibility than any other social media expert hired by a company and promoting their products.

    On a side note, do you know how many 9-4X have been made for MY11 and are any of those for sale in Europe?  Or is MY12 the first year there?

  2. Did I hear you say “ventilated seats” like the recent Aero 9-5? I was hoping Saab didn’t kill that feature. Not only does Saab have the industry’s best seats (I have a 2005 Aero 9-5 combi) in the entire industry, but the ventilated seats are so nice I run mine all summer long here in New England. Definitely helps you stay cooler (great for sticky days!). 

  3. I just wanted to add that I am thrilled with what I am hearing in the press about both the 9-4x and the new 9-5 models. As a two-Saab owner and a lover of my 9-5 Aero wagon, the one thing I have always thought could be improved with Saab’s build quality is better sound insulation and dampening. What I am reading in the press (and you mention it here too) is that these latest babies are very quiet. I test drove the new 9-5 months ago and I felt the same way too…boy! the new Saabs are as quiet as a Mercedes or 5 series BMW. Excellent job guys!!

  4. Thanks Swade!  I’m loving this car.  I’ve been following every 9-4x for the past year.  I’m looking forward to your comparison between the Aero and the 3.0, but I wish there was a comparison between the 3.0 base and premium.  Hopefully it’s in the works.  I did my own comparison based on the spec sheet, but a picture is worth a thousand words.

  5. Swade, I have just one final post (my lunch hour is nearly over!). My deepest gut feeling about the 9-4X for months now is that Saab just needs to get this car moving in the US and its financial problems will vanish very soon. I absolutely believe that. I think the 9-4X is your savior in the US market. 

    If I was Victor I would do an all out Blitz marketing campaign in the US Northeast from Boston to Washington DC with a possibly smaller blitz in San Fran and LA. I think New Englander’s are going to take to the new Saab 9-4x like bees to honey (or is that Pooh?). And I would be willing to bet that my views are echoed by the folks at Charles River Saab here in Boston Metro. 

  6. Swade, excellent story. My question is about the SAAB- Salomon sport functionality for the 9-4X with space for skies and boots beneath the baggage-room. Could you post some pictures about this functionality?

  7. Could you fit two medium sized dogs (55-65lbs) in the cargo area?

    I WANT the 9-5 Aero, but with two dogs, practicality might win out and I end up with a 9-4x. Looks great!

    1. I’d have to get two dogs of that size to try it out and give a definitive answer.  What about if I can fit one 110kg Swade in the cargo area on hands and knees – would that suffice as a point of reference?  🙂

      With the seats folded it’d be no problem at all. The only potential issue I see with the seats in normal position is the slope of the rear door.

  8. Thank you for a very good report – and excellent photos! It will be very nice to read your comparison with the Premium model (which I belive will be a Vector in Sweden – and Base a Linear?). Especially the performance of the 3.0i engine will be interesting to hear about. 🙂

    By the way, do you know why the 9-3 SportSedan and SportCombi are missing on the Saab Sweden website (saabsverige.com)? Maybe some system administrator clicked a wrong link in the back office? It surely looks strange with only the 9-3 Convertible, 9-3X and 9-5 Sedan as it is now…

    1. It’s an intermittent hardware problem with our server, causing those models to disappear when viewed from some locations.  We’re aware of it and are working on it.

  9. Even if i think the exterior of this car is a bit to conservative and i wish it was a bit more daring as the 9-5, in the right angles, especially from the rear it looks surprisingly Saab’ish. I’m really looking forward to see one in the flesh. The interior on the other hand i think is maybe better looking than the one in the 9-5. That single kinda oversized air vent on the passenger side (which you missed in your pics 😉 ) is something extremely cool. I choose to take your liking of the “wood effect” with a grain of salt.

  10. I have a hard time grasping the size of this car. Is it pretty big compared to the Audi Q5 or the Volvo XC60 or is it not? It does not look very hefty when in the real world like in your parking lot picture with a olden audi to the left and a olden benz to the right.

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