On Saab 9-4x road tests

We’ve had a pretty good run with Saab 9-4x road tests. The 9-4x is an outstanding entry into the crossover segment for Saab and early 9-4x road tests confirmed what we thought about our new vehicle.

There have been a couple of reports in the last week, however, that are a cause for concern. The one that I’d like to respond to here is a short test from Car and Driver, which popped up on my feeds earlier today.

So how does a motoring journalist raise the hairs on the back of my neck and inspire a response article with as little as his first eleven words?

What Is It?

It’s a Cadillac SRX crossover in Swedish clothing

I’m not here to pick a fight with Car & Driver, but this opening is so formulaic and it doesn’t do justice to what’s supposed to be a review by one of America’s premier sources of automotive information.

More than that, though, it’s just plain inaccurate.

The Saab 9-4x and the Cadillac with which it shares a basic common architecture formed a project that was led by Peter Dörrich – a Swede and an employee here at Saab Automobile. Yes, he led the project whilst being based in the US, but he’s always been a Saab employee and the Saab 9-4x was built as a Saab from the ground up.

I’m playing with some educated guesswork here, but the Cadillac SRX hit the market first for two likely reasons – 1) it was GM’s preferred launch pattern, and 2) because Cadillac was never placed in “sale mode” like Saab was back in 2009. If the 9-4x had been launched first, would we be reading such an opening?

I’m loathe do to it, but if sibling comparisons have to be made, maybe the Cadillac could rightly be referred to as a Saab in Wayfarers.

A few more alternative opinions I’d like to offer:

While the interior has quality materials and soft surfaces, its sea of black plastics is much too drab for the luxury set

We sell Saabs and that implies a level of design and ergonomics that goes beyond a simple “make it look opulent” philosophy. Our basic dashboard layout has existed for over 25 years, appearing first in the Saab 9000, and we continue to refine it rather than replace it, because it works. And our customers tend to appreciate it.

We do like the multifunction display in the gauge cluster, though, especially the altimeter-like redundant speed display.

I’m glad you liked it. It works extremely well. But I’d take some issue with the ‘redundant’ descriptor used for the altimeter display. Ask anyone who owns a new Saab 9-5 or a Saab 9-4x and I think you’ll find that the altimeter speedo is the one that’s used the most. It’s the traditional ring-type speedo that becomes redundant.

I’ve now done two long-haul trips in the 9-4x of over than 1,000kms each and I can tell you that I used the altimeter the whole time. The only time I used the ring-type speedo is when the altimeter display area was being used for other trip computer functions (e.g. fuel economy readings, etc).

This top-level 9-4X Aero XWD starts at a substantial $48,835. That’s more than…..

I’d personally have been more pleased if you’d gone on to mention the fact that the 9-4x Aero has extremely generous levels of standard equipment compared to whatever is perceived to be the competition. I’ve done the comparisons for you – Saab 9-4x equipment and pricing compared to competition from BMW, Audi, Volvo.

The Saab 9-4x only has three options in Aero spec – power moonroof (a weighty item that will add to your fuel usage, but also gives one hell of a view), rear seat package (handy for the kiddies) and a compact spare tire. Everything else – heated and ventilated seats, Drivesense, navigation, XWD with eLSD (still the most modern and best AWD safety system in the world, designed right here in Sweden (and available on the Caddy)) etc etc, is all standard in the US market. Three options. Other brands have three pages of options!

Comments are also made about the steering, braking and engine performance. I’ll withhold my response on those because people should drive the Saab 9-4x and make up their own minds.

The 9-4x has Saab suspension rather than Cadillac suspension. It’s differences like the suspension settings that get overlooked when writers simply resort to talking about common architectures. Yes, the ride will be firmer with European-sourced suspension settings but the 9-4x is not a bumpy vehicle by any standard. It’s very solid and hunkered down on the road and the ability to switch between comfort and sport modes using Drivesense gives ample adaptability.

…..we noted a supple ride in both Comfort and Sport suspension settings, but the Saab felt overly firm on the roads surrounding our Michigan HQ.

Those who don’t live next to C&D’s headquarters in Michigan should be fine 🙂

——

As I said at the beginning, I’m not writing this to pick a fight with Car and Driver. I’m glad they got a chance to drive the vehicle and write about it. We appreciate that.

A Saab is a Saab for a reason and our buyers tend to know that. The 9-4x is not perfect, but then no vehicle is perfect. Every automobile involves a compromise in one area or another: weight, comfort, equipment, price. The one thing we don’t compromise is safety and the Saab 9-4x being named as a Top Safety Pick confirms its credentials. The challenge is to come up with the package that has the best balance, a mixture that represents your company properly. The Saab 9-4x does that for us.

We’re proud of the 9-4x and personally speaking, I’ll stand up for it when I see something that simply doesn’t do it justice. A deadpan reference to the SRX is just such a thing. It sells the Saab short and it sells C&D short as well. I really hope they press for an opportunity to speak with Peter Dörrich prior to any longer Saab 9-4x test they do in the future, and learn more about the 9-4x’s beginnings and what’s gone into the vehicle.

The bottom line – people should always do their own road tests in addition to reading the reviews of others. You are the best judge of a cars suitability for your tastes and adaptability for your own needs. Drive and judge the car on its merits.

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16 Comments

  1.  Thanks for this post Swade. Car & Driver has put very little thought into Saab reviews in recent years and this seems to be a conditioned response for them. I’d like to ask Car & Driver to publish an accurate Saab review for once without resorting to such closed-minded cynicism. Saabs deserve much better, and Saab itself deserves credit for its development work on the 9-4X!

  2. They complained about the 3.0 and 2.8 Turbo engines also, and talked about the SRX as if it was a failure with them. Not to worry, the SRX with those engines was a runaway best seller in its segment, more than doubling the 2010 sales of the 2nd place Audi Q5 (small luxury SUV). Even if you throw in the midsize luxury SUV class, the SRX held a healthy 2nd place, only being beaten by the Lexus RX which owns that class. The 9-4X will sell well. You can view the sales charts here: http://www.goodcarbadcar.net/2011/01/small-luxury-suv-sales-and-midsize_10.html

    1. Indeed, Ted.  That was the other side to this.  Despite their concerns and protestations about the engines, esp what they (and others) referred to as an anaemic 3.0, the car sold like crazy (and most of them had the 3.0).

    2. But you also have to take into consideration that the Saab has a much more original- and  way better – design then the SRX, which – unfortunately – not necessarily makes better sales-numbers in a mainstream and “lowest-common-factor-market” …. 😉
      The same with the suspension: The Saab is a little harder, as I understand what I have been reading – which most Saab-fans will see as an advantage – in contradiction to the main-stream, I presume…
      So all in all : I don’t see any proportionality between real quality and sales-numbers at all – unfortunately.

  3. I’ve recently watched Consumer Report’s review on the 9-5 and the 9-4x and its makes me so irritated!  Thank you for responding to this report that came out – Its good to know someone out there still understands Swedish design 🙂

  4. This is precisely why Saab needs to start advertising again – to dispel the inaccuracies of the reviews.  What I find interesting is that the positive 9-4X reviews came from the Washington D.C. press launch where the drivers spent over 150 miles in the car in a wide variety of road and traffic conditions.  The negative Consumer Reports review came from drives on a very short test track which doesn’t give the driver the full sense of the car.  I’m not sure how many miles the Car and Driver testers put on the vehicle but it could not have been too many. Unfortunately, these magazines hold a lot of weight with the American consumer. 

  5. They called it a “Short Take Road Test” but it was more like short shrift.  Quite an outlier review compared to most of the others.  But did they really have to add insult to injury with their closing comments about checking out the competition first?  I hope that doesn’t dissuade interested folks to check out the 9-4X.  Hopefully, those folks will see the other reviews too!

  6. Saab needs to drop a 4 cylinder turbo in this SUV. The Audi Q5 with the 2.0T has been flying off the shelves, and it can’t be that much lighter than the 9-4X. Besides, we all know Saab’s 4 cylinder turbos have no equal. 

    1. SAAB also needs a diesel engine for the Eeuropean market. I can imagine a lot of potential buyers in Europe are shying away from the 9-4x due to no diesel engien being available.

  7. You’re right about the altimeter – as a NG 9-5 Aero owner, its the center display that I use most often; however, I find the HUD the most convenient way to monitor speed.  Saab’s HUD needs a little refining but its my favorite feature on the NG 9-5!

  8. I tweeted a response to C & D’s review, referencing Peter Dorrich’s role (the best I could with a generous 38 characters).  I should be used to auto-journo’s ‘kick a brand when it’s down’ behavior by now but the lack of relevant, accurate (and very important) information from the highest level of auto-journalism amazes me.  I won’t belabor the points that Steven has so eloquently made. I will simply say, ‘I agree’.

    My point in writing is to share a story relevant to the entry:

    My first point: 
    Tonight we had a couple in looking at new Saabs.  They own a new Cadillac SRX.  They came to the store surprised that Saab still existed…Admittedly they fell prey to the media’s coverage of ‘GM’s shedding of brands’ ending when Saturn, Hummer, Pontiac and Saab were announced as the brands they’ll extract from their portfolio (another story). 

    They loved the ‘new’ Saab styling i.e. NG 9-5, 9-4x, and 9-3 sedan.  They even gushed over the styling of the 9-4x.  Particularly when I told them it shared architecture with their SRX.  He admitted he liked Saab’s styling better…said the lines were more ‘natural’…as he pointed to his tail lights. 🙂
     
    They left pleasantly surprised at what Saab had to offer.  They were equally as baffled by why the message wasn’t being communicated (more effectively) that we’re not dead and that our product portfolio is so impressive (these folks were comparing us with the cream of the Euro crop: Merc, BMW, Audi, etc). 

    My second point: 
    We’re seeing increasing interest in the 9-4x.  Sales are starting off far better than the new 9-5 did.  The challenge is inventory…we have just 2 in Dayton and only one in Cincinnati.  We’re having to buy from other dealers.
    Despite all the forces pulling us down, people are still buying Saabs. And not just bargain-basement, giveaway-priced Saabs, either.  9-4s are selling at little discount off sticker which is a product of ‘right-pricing’, the Aero 9-5 is the best selling 9-5 in our store and the 9-5 is outselling the 9-3 combi, convertible and sedan…combined.

    A good sign, right? 

    So, simply (<–tongue-in-cheek) get the news going in the right direction, re-start production, get us the inventory of 9-4's, and I assure you the North American dealers will get this train back on track.

    AJ Murphy
    Just Saab

  9. Hi Swade. How has sales been of the 9-4x in the US the first couple of months? I guess production has not been affected by the problems with the factory in Sweden?

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