It is the best of times and the worst of times for struggling Swedish automaker Saab. Ongoing financial problems have led to a supplier boycott of Saab’s headquarters plant in Trollhattan – a major disappointment considering the maker is in the midst of launching the broadest product offensive in its six-decade history.
But production continues at General Motors’ plant in Mexico where one of Saab’s key new offerings, the 9-4X, is assembled.
The last major project developed under GM’s ownership, Saab’s first proper crossover vehicle replaces the unlamented 9-7X SUV, which was itself a weak clone of a large Chevrolet 4x4. True, the 9-4X also shares its basic underpinnings, but in this case with the latest-generation Cadillac SRX, not a bad starting point.
An attractive basic exterior design features Saab’s familar rounded front-end and angular grille, as well as a sloping, swept-back roofline that mirrors that of the maker’s 9-5. The interior is equally true to Saab’s roots, down to the green-on-black gauges in the five-passenger interior.
There’s even a starter button located where you’d expect it in a Saab, between the front seats. The two front buckets, incidentally, are technically shared with the Caddy crossover, but you’d have to rip them apart to discern it. The shared frame is fitted with unique foam and bolsters, and Saab’s trademark active headrests.
During typical use, the 9-4X’s cabin is incredibly quiet, but there are two points worth quibbling about. Almost identical to that of the 9-5, the instrument panel of the new crossover is functional to the point of looking plain and dull. We also found the 9-4X’s driving position trying; it was difficult to get comfortable irrespective of where we positioned the adjustable steering column.
Saab’s 9-4X range will open up in North America with an entry-level normally aspirated 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine that produces 262bhp and 223lb ft of torque. Higher up in the range is the turbocharged 2.8-litre V6 Aero version, which we drove – and which will be the only version of the car offered in Europe. As things stand, there will be no turbodiesel version.
The Aero’s twin-scroll turbocharger responds without lag or torque steer. At peak, the Aero makes 296bhp and 295lb ft, channeled through Saab’s Cross-Wheel-Drive, or XWD, system. That torque-vectoring system not only shifts power front to rear, but juggles it between the 9-4X’s left and right rear wheels, to help guide you through corners.