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Saab 9-4X Aero review (2011 onwards)
Summary - New Saab crossover has plenty of promise, but limited engine choice is sure to restrict its European appeal
We like - Styling, equipment levels, interior, practicality
We don't like - No diesel option, little driver involvement
It's been a while coming, but Saab's third model line has finally arrived. The 9-4X crossover might have endured a lengthy three-year gestation period, but there's no question the Swedish firm is keen to see it finally rolling off the production line.
In fact, probably any conversation that's not about Saab's current financial problems under new owners Spyker, including temporary factory closures at its Trollhattan plant in Sweden and the ongoing wrangles with funding from China, is probably welcome.
Developed alongside the Cadillac SRX (when under GM ownership), Saab's executives are open about for whom and where the 9-4X is aimed. Around 80% of the Mexican-built 4x4s will be bound for US roads, with the remaining fifth for the rest of the world.
Those figures aren't much of a surprise when the 9-4X won't be offered with a diesel engine in a market dominated by oil-burners and, in the UK at least, also only in four-wheel drive form, when crossover sales are turning towards two-wheel drive versions.
That's a shame because, in the metal, the big Saab is actually fairly easy on the eye thanks to traditional Saab styling cues such as the front grille, wraparound glasshouse and headlights (the latter with a blue tint).
There's a 9-5-like signature chrome strip around the rear end too and the overall look is one that's not entirely dissimilar to the original Lexus RX. Likely to be a hit Stateside then but what about over here?
Although there will be normally aspirated and front-wheel drive versions of the 9-4X available in the US, British buyers will only get the top of the range, four-wheel drive Aero.
Fitted with a 300hp, 2.8-litre turbocharged V6 engine linked to a six-speed automatic gearbox, the 9-4X gets from 0 to 62mph in 8.3 seconds and onto a 142mph top speed.
A Holden GM engine developed by Saab, the powerplant itself is smooth enough and a good match for the standard automatic gearbox (there's no manual option). Flex your right foot and the turbo's intervention means it's never anything less than eager to press on.
The other obvious omission for buyers this side of the pond is the absence of a diesel option. Saab admits that there are no immediate plans for one to be available, although it's a strong possibility for the next generation of the 9-4X.
Ride and handling
Despite the fitment of Saab's DriveSense system allowing you to adjust the suspension, steering and throttle sensitivity and hold onto gears for longer, there's little suggestion that the 9-4X is going to give the BMW X5 any sleepless nights.
It's not that the big Saab handles particularly badly, in fact there's little body roll through corners and the ride quality on the admittedly smooth roads of our test route was good, but there's not much feedback about exactly what the car is doing beneath you.
But while it might not be far up any serious driving enthusiast's shopping list, the fact is that your overall impression on the road is pretty positive. It's comfortable, smooth and doesn't demand too much of the driver.
Little wind or road noise makes their way into the cabin either and as far as refinement levels are concerned, you could certainly do a lot worse for a long journey.
As with the exterior, there are lots of traditional Saab design cues on the inside of the 9-4X. The wraparound dashboard can feel a bit alienating from the passenger seat, but it works well from a driver's view, even if there's a plethora of buttons.
With standard keyless go, the ignition stop/ start button is where Saab fans would expect it too, down behind the gearlever, plus there's also the Night Panel button for driving in the dark.
But what initially looks cluttered actually becomes familiar surprisingly quickly and is very intuitive. The steering wheel adjusts for reach and height and there's also electric pedal adjustment, making it easy to find a comfortable driving position.
Even with our test cars being pre-production models, the build quality couldn't be criticized either, showing that despite its problems of late, Saab hasn't been tempted to cut corners.
Subject to confirmation Saab promises a healthy standard spec for the UK, including a rear-view camera, electric tailgate, panoramic sunroof, DAB radio, cruise control, bi-xenon headlights and electric seats. The only options are likely to be colour choice and the rear seat entertainment system.
And those in the back won't feel short-changed on space, as there's plenty of room for five adults. The same goes for the boot which, while shallow, is long and wide and boasts an extra large cubby under the main floor.
Economy and safety
It doesn't take a brainbox to realise that a car this size with a 300bhp turbocharged petrol engine isn't about to make it as an eco warrior's favourite transport.
Saab has yet to release any fuel economy or emissions figures, but during our drive we managed a reasonable 23.8mpg average which interestingly didn't dip dramatically even with some spirited driving.
All Saabs are five-star cars on the Euro NCAP test it would be hard to imagine the 9-4X not achieving the same. Saab has long had a 'real-life safety' philosophy using the findings of more than 6,100 real-life accidents involving Saabs on Swedish roads.
Together with the usual full complement of airbags, there's also the third generation of Saab Active Head Restraints and pre-tensioning and load-limited for the outer rear seat belts.
The MSN Cars verdict
The lack of a diesel engine will undoubtedly restrict sales in Europe, but as an alternative choice that doesn't follow the crowd, we like it and Saab's distinctive character is still apparent.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||2.8-litre, V6, turbo|
|Torque, lb ft||295|
|0-62 mph, secs||8.3|
|Top speed, mph||142|
|Mpg combined||23.8 (on test)|
|Ride & handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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