The new 2011 9-4x is more of a Saab than the rebadged 9-7x SUV, but it remains to be seen how distinguishable the compact luxury crossover will be from the model on which it's based, the Cadillac SRX.
Certainly the 9-4x, which will make its debut at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show, has an elegant design, but it takes more than just quality styling and an ignition switch located between the front seats to make a Saab. Whether engineers were successful in making the driving experience significantly different from the Cadillac SRX will be crucial to the 9-4x's identity and consumer reception.
As is the case with its platform, the 9-4x's engines are shared with GM's Cadillac SRX. A 265-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 is the standard engine, offered with a six-speed automatic and a choice of front-wheel drive or Saab's XWD all-wheel-drive system. The system, sourced from Haldex, varies torque between the front and rear axles as needed. The electronically controlled rear limited-slip differential can also transfer up to 50 percent of rear torque between the rear wheels to help maintain grip.
Step up to the 9-4x Aero model, and you'll find both standard all-wheel drive and a 300-horsepower, 2.8-liter turbocharged V-6. Saab estimates 0-60 mph acceleration times of 7.7 seconds, just a bit quicker than the all-wheel-drive 3.0-liter model, which does the same sprint in 8.4 seconds.
Although the EPA has yet to officially certify the 9-4x's fuel economy, expect the finalized MPG figures to resemble those of its Cadillac cousin. A base SRX gets 18/25 mpg city/highway, while an all-wheel-drive model with the normally-aspirated V-6 is rated at 17/23 mpg. The top-end turbocharged all-wheel drive SRX achieves a 15/22 mpg rating.
On base 9-4x crossovers, 18-inch six-spoke alloy wheels are standard. Aero models wear 20-inch "turbine-style" wheels, similar to those used on the new 9-5 sedan. The Aero model also includes bi-xenon cornering headlights and black mesh inserts in the front grille. Saab DriveSense is a technology exclusive to the Aero model. Real-time damping control helps the vehicle react to the driving style and current road conditions. Moving from the Comfort to Sport setting will provide a sharper pedal response and raised gear shifting points. The Eco mode essentially does the opposite to increase fuel economy.
All Saab 9-4x crossovers come standard with styling you won't confuse for an Acura, Audi, BMW, or any other player in the upscale SUV segments. The 9-4x matches the 9-5 sedan with blackened A-pillars and a forward-leaning body-colored pillar in the back. The Saab's profile is more rounded and subtle than the bolde, angular SRX, which is Cadillac's best-selling vehicle through the first nine months of 2010.
Inside, the cockpit appears to echo Saab's design cues, with a center stack angled towards the driver and mesh-like air vents. Buyers will have their choice of wood or faux carbon fiber trim accents. As with the SRX, the lack of third row seats means the 9-4x's second row should be accommodating. Total cargo volume on the 9-4x is 61.2 cubic-feet, up marginally from the SRX's 61.1 cubic-feet of space.
Spend enough money, and you can add a Bose sound system with 5.1 surround sound, an 8-inch touchscreen navigation system with 10 GB for your music, and two 8-inch screens in the rear of the front seatbacks for on-the-go movie screenings. The 9-4x will also be available with General Motors' powered hatch, which can be programmed to open to specific heights for garages with low ceilings.
The 9-4x actually goes on sale in the U.S. before Europe, perhaps pointing to the promise of the luxury crossover market here. Saab enthusiasts can get their 9-4x crossovers when they hit showrooms next May. Pricing hasn't been announced.
No amount of toys can make a luxury crossover into a Saab, though, and we're still interested in determining whether the 9-4x is more SRX than Saab. Regardless, the mere presence of the 9-4x crossover in remaining Saab dealerships should lift the company's spirits. To fill out the Saab lineup beyond two sedans and the variants, the 9-4x SUV might finally be a credible answer in a way the 9-7x never was.