Read part 1 of this review – Saab 9-4x Intro, styling and interior
Performance and Handling
The Saab 9-4x Aero with its 2.8 Turbo engine produces 300hp (221kW) of power and 295 ft lb (400Nm) of torque. Believe me when I tell you that that’s more than enough to make this big momma get up and dance. This car goes and when pressed, it goes quick.
Saab’s Drivesense system is standard on the Aero and Premium models. This offers a two-stage map, the options being comfort and sport. Sport mode tightens up the suspension, steering and throttle response and offers quicker gear changes. Comfort mode, as the name suggests, provides a more comfortable drive.
2012 models will get a third option – ‘Intelligent’ mode – which will read your driving style in any given situation and change the parameters on the fly when it is safe to do so. If you’re wondering whether the lack of an intelligent mode in the 2011 model is a detraction, then fear not. I found that I enjoyed making the decision for myself and switching modes manually rather than leaving it on the ‘Intelligent’ setting as I might have otherwise done. In fact, switching manually is most likely how I’d personally treat a Drivesense-equipped car with all three modes (like the Saab 9-5) anyway.
Sport mode reveals the real Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Saab 9-4x Aero. Even in comfort mode, the car will easily overtake another vehicle at highway speeds. In sport mode, it’ll do it before the other car even realises you’re not there any more. The acceleration and responsiveness of the Aero in sport mode reminded me of what it was like to drive a Saab Turbo for the first time, but without the lag or torque steer.
The art of designing and engineering vehicles really has come a long way in the last 20 years. Just the difference in engine refinement between my 1991 Saab 900 and any Saab thereafter is amazing. The fact that Saab (and others) can get a vehicle with the height and weight of an SUV to handle like a car is downright astounding.
The Saab 9-4x can’t completely hide its size, but it does a darn good job of it. Here in Sweden, we have a lot of highway exits that involve very tight 270-degree loops to change to a different highway. The 9-4x handled these with aplomb, even if you could notice the weight transfer a little by the time you got to the final 90-degrees of the turn. It’s not a Mazda MX-5 in the cornering department, but for the amenity it delivers as a larger vehicle, it’s damn good (the MX-5 is no 9-4x in the load-lugging or comfort department – it’s all about suitability for purpose, which I’ll talk about more, below).
We spent the vast majority of our drive on the highway, but there was also a good portion of time on what you might call ‘B-roads’ heading to a rally stage outside of Västerås. The 9-4x showed its worth on this drive, covering the 200km+ drive that included some winding backroads with ease.
It should be understood that anyone buying a Saab 9-4x is someone who most likely doesn’t consider themselves to be a hardcore treehugger. The 9-4x is a larger-than-average vehicle here in Sweden and amongst all the regular sedans and wagons here, it certainly did feel like a big vehicle. Depending on specification, the 9-4x weighs in between 4,200 and 4,700 pounds. Whilst it behaves with extraordinary manners on the road, it’s still a hefty beast and requires a deft touch to eek out some good fuel economy for its size.
My journey involved a lot of highway mileage and I drove (generally) to the posted speed limits, which varied between 90 and 120 km/h. I wasn’t kicking it. It also involved a bit of ‘city’ driving in Västerås as well as some city cruising around the streets of Stockholm looking for photo opportunities.
Over the course of those 1,140kms, I averaged what I thought was a quite reasonable 10.5 litres of fuel per 100kms. That’s 22.4mpg in the US and 26.9mpg in the UK. The US is the only country with stated consumption figures for the 2011 model and those official figures state 22mpg highway, so getting 22.4mpg on combined driving (city/hwy) was pretty impressive for a vehicle of this size and power.
A word for the wise, though……. If you sink the boots in and make use of the ample acceleration and higher speeds that the Aero is capable of, you will notice it at the pump. Other 9-4x’s being driven by staffers here in Trollhattan – driven with a little more gusto, that is – are reporting consumption around 12l/100km (that’s 19.6mpg (US) or 23.5mpg (UK)). The good news is that you’ll cover the distance to the pump a lot quicker. The bad news is that you’ll need to.
It’s all about suitability for purpose. People looking for a 9-4x are looking for a bigger vehicle with a bigger engine and the driving experience that such a car delivers. People looking at the price point of the 9-4x should take into account the running costs and their driving style and do the math. Driving this car sensibly will deliver good fuel economy for the size of the vehicle. Driving this vehicle close to the limits of its capability will require a bigger fuel budget (and remember to use premium fuel, as recommended, and factor that cost in. Don’t spend the money on getting the right car and then skimp by using the wrong fuel).