General Motors infamously announced it would kill the Oldsmobile brand as journalists attended the launch of the 2002 Bravada. GM is not quite so involved this time, though history may be repeating itself. The new 9-4x crossover is the only Saab built outside of Sweden. Assembled in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, alongside the Cadillac SRX, it's going on sale just as Victor Muller struggles to save Saab from liquidation.
The Caddy version of this Epsilon II/Theta-based, transverse-engine, all-wheel-drive crossover has been on the market a year, enough time for GM to spend some cash on much-needed chassis upgrades and a new engine. For 2012, the SRX comes only with the 308-horsepower, 3.6-liter direct injection V-6, replacing the 3.0-liter. The underdeveloped, Australian-sourced 2.8-liter turbo V-6 found its way into only a handful of '11 SRX models before Cadillac dropped the engine.
The 9-4x, which doesn't need any more problems on top of its brand's struggle for financial survival, isn't so fortunate. The Saab enters the market -- maybe -- with Caddy's rejected engines. The direct-injection 3.0-liter is standard and the turbo V-6 is optional.
Small turbo engines have been part of Saab's heritage for about half the company's life, and our test model came with the 2.8, which MT tech director Frank Markus says "feels a bit more linear than that of the early SRX turbos, but nowhere nearly as smooth as the new (for the SRX) 3.6."
Though the 9-4x starts at a reasonable sub-$35k price, that's for the front-drive, naturally aspirated 3.0i. To get that quintessential turbo Saab feel, you must move past Premium trim levels and to the XWD- (all-wheel-drive) only Aero. The '11 9-4x Aero's base price is just $825 short of the top-of-the-range 3.6-liter '12 SRX.
Quintessentially Saab turbo lag reared its breathless head on a long trip southbound along steep uphill sections of I-405 north of Los Angeles, where the six-speed automatic couldn't downshift quickly enough. The turbo Saab stumbled and wheezed for power.
"The moribund 9-7x was a Chevy TrailBlazer with a key between the seats," senior editor Jonny Lieberman recalls. "However, the Saab 9-7x used the good engine," its optional 5.3-liter V-8. "In the case of the 9-4x, Saab went with an engine so bad that Cadillac stopped using it. I get the all-turbo thing, but why bad turbo?"
Like all good Saabs, the 9-4x has the ignition switch between the seats. In the modern idiom, it's a keyless button, turning Saab's tradition of placing the ignition there for safety (because the keys can't jab you in the chest in case of accidents) into a branding gimmick. But perhaps the dwindling numbers of Saab-o-philes would avoid the new crossover if the ignition button weren't there (see Saab 9000). In place of the SRX's ignition button high up on the dash is Saab's Night Panel button, which turns off all interior lights except the speedometer.
This is still an alluring feature, made all the more so by the 9-4x's "barrel"-style LED speedometer. This is all within the confines of GM gear. You'll recognize the instrument panel, if not its details, from such Epsilon II models as the SRX, Buicks Regal and LaCrosse, and the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu. The cockpit-style dash has the swept look more familiar to Saab aficionados than Epsilon II aficionados. As sport/utility interior and exterior design goes, the 9-4x is as distinctive as unibody CUVs on shared platforms can get. It's easily more a Saab than the 9-7x and Saabaru 9-2x were, and arguably as much a Saab as the 9000 -- co-developed with Fiat, Lancia, and Alfa--ever was.
Ride and handling are more like the 2011 SRX than the '12 SRX, with moderate body roll and plenty of ride harshness -- the worst of both worlds.
Saab's contribution back to Cadillac is the Haldex XWD "cross-wheel drive," which makes it a decent off-roader for a CUV, but more impressive as an all-weather vehicle.
"Handles OK, not great," associate editor Scott Evans says. "Moderate roll, and there's a noticeable improvement in the Sport mode."
"Good steering feel and nice weight," associate editor Michael Febbo adds. "Feels much more like a sedan than most other crossover SUVs." He likes that you sit in it, not on it. Assertively tall driving positions are not part of Saab's modus operandi.
Great post-modernist Swedish styling is, and here, the 9-4x excels. Befitting its very questionable production future, it comes in only two blacks, a white, silver, and bronze paint. Even without Saab ice blue, a color found only in the cover of the Bi-Xenon headlamps, the 9-4x is possibly the best-looking vehicle extant to wear the sport/utility descriptor. It looks sleek and sporty, low to the ground for a CUV.
Several 9-4xs have been running around metro Detroit and northern Michigan in various forms of pre-production since the days the brand still belonged to GM, creating hope Saab would stick around just long enough to get this model on the road. If you can still find a Saab dealer, it looks like it just made it.
| 2011 Saab 9-4X Aero |
| BASE PRICE || $48,835 |
| PRICE AS TESTED || $50,285 |
| VEHICLE LAYOUT || front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV |
| ENGINE || 2.8L/300-hp/295-lb-ft turbocharged 24-valve V-6 |
| TRANSMISSION || 6-speed automatic |
| CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) || 4592 lb (58/42%) |
| WHEELBASE || 110.5 in |
| LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT || 190.1 x 75.0 x 66.1 in |
| 0-60 MPH || 7.7 sec |
| QUARTER MILE || 15.9 sec @ 91.3 mph |
| BRAKING, 60-0 MPH || 132 ft |
| LATERAL ACCELERATION || 0.81 g (avg) |
| MT FIGURE EIGHT || 27.6 sec @ 0.64 g (avg) |
| EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON || 15/22 mpg |
| ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY || 225/153 kW-hrs/100 miles |
| CO2 EMISSIONS || 1.11 lb/mile |