Saab’s new soft-roader option
Matt Joy gets an early drive of Saab's new 9-4X sport utility vehicle.
Saab is a combination of Swedish origins and a reluctance to follow the crowd – products that don't slavishly follow the fickle finger of fashion hold a certain appeal.
Not that Saab is a company that ignores customers. The recently updated 9-5 received some detailed tweaks in response to their feedback, and now there's a new car that meets a need – Saab is going soft-roading with the 9-4X which has four-wheel drive and off-road capability. It's more of a crossover, a tag Saab is happy for it to wear and in doing so it takes on a host of premium rivals.
Unlike some rivals the 9-4X successfully transplants the family DNA on to the sport utility vehicle template. It shares many styling cues with the 9-5 saloon, including the ice-block headlights, three-piece grille and full-width rear reflector. It also has the 'floating roof' design, created by having a wide rear pillar and blacked-out front pillars. For a class of car often regarded as a little unsubtle or ostentatious the 9-4X manages to look suitably tough without inviting invective from other road users.
A modest climb into the cabin reveals a layout that follows a sound mix of prac`icality and style. Anyone familiar with the inside of a 9-5 will be at home – the 9-4X carries over much of the dashboard's design and function. That's no bad thing as Saabs have always had a firm eye on the need for good ergonomics.
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Space is not in short supply. Those up front enjoy the traditional high-riding SUV seating position, but even in the back the view out is very good. Heads and legs will be able to stretch out, and because the 9-4X is a five-seater only, luggage space is not a problem. The boot is one of many places that show clever, practical design, using an underfloor storage compartment to stow the metal boot divider – another smart feature. There are stacks of cubbyholes, double door bins, a huge glovebox and a cup-holder with two levels to suit different sizes of cup – clearly there's been plenty of forethought.
In terms of its mechanical make-up, the 9-4X shows its focus on the American market. Saab's XWD system is fitted as standard putting drive to all four wheels, while under the bonnet there is the 2.8-litre twin turbo V6 already seen in the 9-5 mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.WiIth just the one engine option at present, diesel fans will have to look elsewhere although there are a number of diesel powerplants in other Saabs that would do just fine.
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In the meantime however, the V6 turbo gives the kind of performance expected of a 300bhp powerplant. With the Drive Sense system set in Eco mode, the 9-4X maximises economy by reducing the sharpness of the throttle response and makes the gearbox shift into high gears early. It's fine at lower speeds but on the open road Comfort or Sport modes demonstrate the full performance.
There's a good balance between comfort and handling, helped by the Drive Sense system which electronically adjusts damper settings to the driver's needs. The 20in wheels contribute to a ride that is a fraction firmer than most, but few buyers would find fault with comfort. On the flip side the 9-4X is happy to be hustled through a series of bends, giving little indication of its size and weight.
The 9-4X has few downsides – inevitably the petrol engine is relatively thirsty compared to diesel rivals, but to a degree this is offset by the very generous standard specification. Just one model in the range comes complete with satellite navigation, Bose audio system with 10GB hard drive and DAB radio, electric front seats with heating and cooling, keyless entry and a rear-view camera all as standard. With prices likely to put it between premium rivals and more mainstream offerings, the Saab 9-4X will meet the needs of many while also appealing to those with a streak of individuality. The introduction of a powerful diesel option would offer a real threat to the best in the class.
Engine: 2.8-litre, 296bhp V6 twin turbo petrol
Transmission: Six-speed automatic driving all four wheels
Performance: 0-62mph 8.3 seconds; top speed 142mph
Economy: 23mpg combined (estimate)
Emissions: 280g/km C02 (estimate)