2011 Saab 9-4X: Winner in the middle
Until now, Saab aficionados have had to make a tough choice: squeeze into the small-but-sprightly 9-3X sport wagon, or step up to the larger-than-ever 9-5 sedan and lose the utility of a hatchback. (There is another choice that few would likely consider: purchase a late-model version of the full-sized, trucky 9-7X SUV which, at the present, is taking a hiatus.)
This Swedish automaker is entering a new segment of the market with the introduction of the 2011 Saab 9-4X; it’s a midsized premium crossover utility vehicle (CUV) with a jaunty look, a sporty driving feel, oodles of cool technology features, as well as impressive stowage capacity. Plus, it takes flight with the vigor of up to 300 turbocharged horses motivating its course. It is available in both front-wheel-drive (FWD) and all-wheel-drive (XWD) versions, and comes in three trims: base, Premium, and a top-of-the-line Aero model, with standard XWD. Saab calls its all-wheel drive “cross-wheel drive” (XWD).
The timing is right for the 2011 Saab 9-4X; gas prices are high, but American drivers are still hungry for sporty, comfy cars that offer technology gadgets and room enough for weekend excursions--with your sweetie, the gang or the “fam”- plus the flexibility to stow a gaggle of lifestyle gear.
The newest Saab shares the platform of the luxury-laden and highly-acclaimed Cadillac SRX, as a result of Saab’s recent tenure in the General Motors portfolio. However, don’t think it’s your Daddy’s Caddy! During our recent day-long test drive over a course of some 200 miles in D.C. and northern Virginia, we discovered this Saab doesn’t share any of the same sheet metal as the SRX, plus has a distinct personality and very different driving characteristics. Saab is now owned by Dutch luxury sports car manufacturer Spyker and Chinese automaker Pa Dang.
A big, sturdy Swede
Wide shoulders and a broad rear, punctuated with ice-block design cues for the tail lights, give the 2011 9-4X a linebacker’s look; the back end is capped by a contrast-color bumper. The CUV’s windshield features a Saab wrap-around above a hood that’s beset with slinky, rectangular headlamps in a prominent, three-part grille. Blacked-out glass creates a smooth line along the sides, where Saab’s traditional hockey-stick design feature runs from the C-pillar along the base of the rear passenger window to the front. The wheel wells are big enough to make room for standard 18” tires and six-spoke alloys; 20” tires and nine-spoke alloy, turbine-styled wheels ride along on the Aero package.
The Saab jet-pack
You’ll find two engine choices under the hood of the new 2011 Saab 9-4X; a 3.0-liter V-6 makes 265 hp. and 223 lb.-ft. of torque, while a turbocharged, 2.8-liter V-6 with 300 hp. and 295 lb.-ft. of torque is standard on the top-flight Aero model. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, with manual shift mode; XWD can be ordered without upgrading to the Aero. Horsepower and torque on Aero models bests the Mercedes GLK350, the Audi Q5 3.2-liter, and matches the BMW X3’s horsepower, but has slightly less torque than the ‘Bimmer’.
On all models, front MacPherson struts and independent rear suspension helps create a hug-the-road feel. Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes are standard, as is ABS.
We drove a prototype version of the 9-4X Aero. Think German: it corners precisely with a heavily-weighted steering feel, plus slows and stops with a tap on the short, firm brake pedal. If desired, paddles allow shifts from the steering wheel, or manual shifting can be selected, using the automatic gear shift’s manu-mode . Turbo-charged power is on tap at all speeds by simply nudging the throttle. To our delight, a sport performance exhaust note entices, when the 9-4X is driven aggressively.
Saab customizes the 2011 9-4X ride experience even further for those upgrading to the Aero trim. DriveSense lets you select Comfort, Eco or Sport settings that alter the crossover’s responsiveness and feedback from the road. Comfort is the standard setting; Sport brings a tighter, more controlled performance feel; whereas Eco is calibrated for long hauls, when fuel economy is a priority. DriveSense also brings Variable Effort Steering (VES), which adapts the level of power assistance to speed, road and driving conditions.
Driver or pilot? Slipping inside the 2011 Saab 9-4X, you’ll find the instrument panel, center stack and console reflect Saab’s aircraft heritage and have been patterned in a true cockpit-like feel. Clever features include a rolling ‘aircraft altitude’ meter as a speed read-out and a 'Night Panel' that allows the driver to go into stealth mode by switching off all illumination except the speedometer.
Keeping with authentic Saab styling cues, the ignition is a stop/start button located between the front seats; mesh-style air vents feature “joystick” adjusters; and infotainment and climate controls sit in the center stack, with easy accessibility for the driver or passenger. Saab says its designers crafted the controls to resemble Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, a reference to the marriage of scientific discovery and human experience.
Sit back and enjoy the ride
The 9-4X makes it easy to settle in at cruising speeds. Drivers have an eight-way electronic adjustable seat; front and rear passengers can adjust their seats manually; uplevel models add electric front passenger adjustments.
Technology features abound, including two audio options: a seven-speaker, AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3/USB stereo, or 10-speaker Bose system with surround. The 8-in. touchscreen navigation system is a bird’s-eye map view and there is hard disk drive storage for map data and music. Rear passengers have a dedicated unit in the back of the center console and two 8-inch screens which fold out, laptop style, from the front seatbacks. Wireless headphones provide sound.
OnStar navigation/communication with hands-free Bluetooth phone connectivity also is available, and comes standard on the Aero trim.
No need for caution with overhead bins
Stowage abounds in the 2011 9-4X, with room for gadgets, gear and cargo. Up front is a two-tier cooled glovebox; double-decked storage pockets are in all doors. The center console is crafted for storage within the lift-top, an adjustable armrest, adjustable twin cup holders, and a deep bin, with a 12-volt power outlet, USB and AUX outlets. The trunk makes room for a respectable 17.1 cu.ft., with the rear seatbacks up – and 61 cu. ft. with the back seat folded.
A nice touch is the standard, detachable, retracting cargo cover, which pulls out from the top of the seatbacks to conceal stowed items, but keeps the cargo deck open for easy access, without the need to fully retract the cover.
The tailgate is available with remotely controlled, hydraulically powered operation. It can be opened, programmed, and closed via a rotary switch on the inside of the driver’s door, the key fob or controls on the tailgate itself.
Base interior can be selected in dark grey, beige or jet black faux leather, with a wood-effect finish. Aero or Premium cabins features a choice of perforated leather in dark grey or jet black, up-level ambience lighting and, on Aero models, a carbon-fiber look for the instrument panel and door handles.
Upgrade to first-class?
The new 2011 Saab 9-4X is available in three trim levels: base, Premium and Aero. Base-level standard equipment includes 18” alloy wheels, power windows and door mirrors, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, steering wheel-mounted audio/phone controls, 7-speaker Saab Infotainment CD with AUX, USB and OnStar/Bluetooth phone connectivity, roof rails with matte aluminum finish and a rear cargo cover.
Premium models can ordered with upgrades to the sound system, the addition of XWD (Saab’s cross-wheel drive) and various technology features.
Aero models add 20-inch turbine alloy wheels, fog lamps, bi-xenon cornering headlights with wipers and automatic leveling, Sentronic steering wheel controls for automatic transmission, DriveSense, parking assist, perforated leather seats, rain sensing wipers, Saab Infotainment Navigation, BOSE sound system, remote start, universal home remote, power liftgate, adjustable pedals and rear view camera.
2011 Saab 9-4X: Why, Why Not?
There’s a lot to like in the new Saab 9-4X, especially for Saab aficionados and others looking for a premium sports CUV. While we have faith in the brand, the mechanicals and quality of this new model based on the SRX platform, some are waiting for the dust to settle with Saab’s finances and new Chinese partner.
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