Saab has had a rough two years. During the near-collapse of the American automotive industry, then GM-owned Saab faced an uncertain future. Would the brand receive the axe like Saturn, Hummer and Pontiac, or would someone come to the rescue and save the brand? Several twists and turns later, Spyker, a Swedish automaker known for its exotic super cars, bought Saab up for what most would consider a steal.
Resurrected, Saab scrambled to launch its all-new 9-5 luxury sedan, but sales have been lackluster, and the company reported another massive loss for 2010. Only a few weeks ago, a supplier strike threatened to bankrupt the company, and Spyker sold 30 percent of Saab to a Chinese company to cover its debts. So to say it's been a long, tumultuous road for Saab is putting things lightly.
But there is some glimmer of hope. While its reputation is built on fun-to-drive turbocharged sedans, wagons and convertibles, Saab is launching its first entry into the popular crossover segment: the 2012 9-4X.
The 9-4X shares its platform with the competent Cadillac SRX, and will likely be the last Saab to utilize GM hardware. The midsize crossover's exterior is conservative, but modern in a truly Scandinavian way. Its three-port grill and "ice-block" headlights are consistent with the new 9-5 sedan. Black pillars around the windshield and behind the front doors give the glass a neat wrap-around effect, as if it extends all the way around the car. 18-inch wheels fill the wells nicely, but 20-inch "turbine" wheels are available on Aero models. The "ice-block" lighting theme also continues at the back of the car, where the taillights appear to stretch across the full width of the hatch.
The interior features Saab's famous cockpit-inspired design. Air vents controlled by joysticks, an altimeter-style speedometer and a center-mounted start/stop button all harkens back to the brand's heritage in aviation. The leather trim, dashboard and buttons all have a high-quality feel, and the use of hard plastics is limited. The 9-4X comfortably seats four adults, though five will fit for short trips. To help manage cargo, Saab also equips the 9-4X with a sliding aluminum cargo divider to hold your things in place behind the rear seats. It sounds like a small accessory, but we found it tremendously useful during our short drive. Fully loaded, the 9-4X comes with all the modern amenities: rear seat DVD, panoramic sunroof, navigation, premium audio system, keyless start and more.
Two V6 engine options are available. The base engine is a 265-horsepower 3.0-liter V6, but you can upgrade to a zippy 300-hp 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 on Aero models. Fuel economy for the 9-4X is rated at 20 miles per gallon (combined city/highway) with the 3.0-liter V6, and 18 mpg with the 2.8-liter turbo, which is only offered with all-wheel drive. Both engines are mated to a six speed automatic transmission.
On the road, the 9-4X feels solid and planted. We had the opportunity to drive the range-topping Aero model with the turbo V6, all-wheel drive and active steering. Acceleration is strong, steering is precise and the suspension is relaxed on the highway, but competent on twisty back roads. The car is easy and enjoyable to drive, and one of the most fun options available in its class.
The 2013 Saab 9-3 will likely be the first 100% Swedish Saab to make its way back to the American market, but don't let that deter you from the 9-4X. It's a safe, luxurious, spirited car that still carries most of the quirks that Saab owners find endearing. And, with an entry price around $35,000, it's a competitive choice in the wildly popular crossover segment. While Spyker works to raise Saab from the ashes, the 9-4X is a fantastic parting gift from General Motors.