Slapping a 9-3-style grille and mounting the ignition key on the floor of a GMC Envoy made an SUV that Saab dealers could sell as a stopgap measure against the Volvo XC90. Now, General Motors has learned how to better delineate various brands' models through an "architecture," and in roughly a year and a half will launch a new SUV whose Saab-ness goes beyond front-end styling and ignition key location. The 2010 9-4x will be much more of a Saab than the 9-7x simply because it's baked into the crossover's design, not added on after the fact.

The 9-4x will be built on a new version of an existing platform called "Premium Theta." Regular Theta underpins the Chevy Equinox, Pontiac Torrent, Suzuki XL-7, Saturn Vue, and Opel Antara. Saab will share Premium Theta with the 2010 Cadillac BRX, and both will be two-row-only crossovers. It gives Saab an SUV it can sell against BMW X3, Infiniti EX35 and others of that ilk, including Volvo's upcoming XC60.

The Saab Premium Theta will stand out for its Aero X concept-inspired three-hole grille and sculptured hood, wraparound windshield, fuselage side surfacing, and signature Saab 900-inspired C-pillar. It also features a ski-equipment storage system designed with partner Salomon and, of course, the ignition key on the floor. Saab stylists referenced ice sculpture and Swedish design icon Hasselblad cameras for the 9-4x.

While the Caddy BRX is likely to come with the new direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6, Saab showed the 9-4x concept at Detroit with an E85 "Biopower" version of the 9-3's turbo 2.0-liter, variable valve timing four with direct gas injection added. Saab claims a stout 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet running on E85 (which becomes 245/353 on gasoline) and a respectable 7.9-second 0-to-60-mph sprint. The Saab gets a new Haldex XWD, or "cross-wheel-drive" system, that routes up to 40 percent of torque to the rear wheels.

We'll have to wait a few years to find out whether the 9-4x, more right-sized for a Saab SUV, can boost the division's sales without diminishing the brand's quirky appeal. For now, we can report that compared with the 9-7x, it looks like a real Saab.


2010 Saab 9-4x
Base price $31,500 (MT est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-doors SUV
Engine 2.0L/245-300-hp/295-353-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve l-4
Transmissions 6-speed automatic
Curb weight N/A
Wheelbase 110.8 in
Length x width x height 188.0 x 81.9 x 66.3 in
0-60 mph 7.9 sec (mfr)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 24.9 mpg/combined (mfr)
On sale Summer or fall 2009