Working in conjunction with XWD is ELSD, an Electronic Limited Slip Differential in the rear axle. Both systems direct power to the wheels that can utilize it best. Under most conditions, the system is completely transparent. Only during hard cornering on muddy roads or extra-exuberant freeway interchanging did it make itself known.

Saab DriveSense allows drivers to select from cushy, cruising Comfort Mode to stiff, stable Sport Mode via a center console-mounted switch. Not only does the system control damping rates, throttle, and transmission mapping, but also steering assist. Even in comfort mode, the steering effort is heavy by crossover standards, but most Saab customers will appreciate the sport-sedan level of heft and accompanying feel. The brake pedal requires even greater effort. The action is as immediate as mounting the brake pads directly tothe sole of your shoe. The pedal barely moves, and brake bite is instantaneous. Stopping power is a direct result of pressure, not travel, which is the case in most cars. While racers will jump in and feel right at home, the average driver will need a little bit of time to learn to modulate. Saab salesman are probably going to experience a few tense moments on test drives.

In stark contrast to the heavy controls is the level of luxury Saab has built into the 9-4x. Saab is shooting for big players like Audi and BMW, so there was no room to compromise. From the very top, designers started with a large panoramic roof. Even under dark, rainy D.C. skies, the interior feels light and open. Even if customers don't opt for the giant roof, Saab's traditional wraparound cockpit greenhouse allows for plenty of outward visibility.

In crowded beltway traffic, lane changes are never an issue and blind spots don't seem nearly as bad as in some of the more swooping-roofed competition. That higher roofline means even adults have plenty of headroom in back. Our towering marketing engineer couldn't complain about leg- or headroom in back for his day of journalistic-driven terror. It was so roomy, we even let him in the front passenger seat so we could experience life from behind the DVD monitor-equipped headrests.