2011 Saab 9-4X: First Drive
The interior of the 9-4X is classic Saab, right down to the green-lit gauges and between-seat ignition, which is now just a start/stop button. It is evident that Saab took its materials, fit and finish seriously when creating the interior for this car. If any elements were found to be not up to Saab standards, they were redesigned or sourced elsewhere. Because of this approach, there is hardly a trace of the car's GM roots, although there are a few exceptions, such as the gauge-mounted LCD display.
The onboard navigation system, standard on the Aero trim and optional on the Premium, is pleasantly intuitive and includes an 8-inch touch-screen display and a 10-gigabyte hard drive. The 9-4X comes with all the obvious modern technologies, including Bluetooth, XM radio and OnStar. Premium and Aero variants receive a premium 10-speaker surround-sound Bose audio system in lieu of the base trim's 7-speaker setup. All versions also feature a backup camera, although the base trim makes do with an in-mirror display.
Seating for five passengers is standard on all versions, including a standard 8-way electric seat for the driver and an optional powered front passenger seat. No seat inside the 9-4X feels cramped or otherwise uncomfortable. A large rear cargo area offers either 29.2 cubic feet of storage space or 61.2 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. Ambient lighting, not available on the base trim, adds the finishing touch to an already nice cabin.
On the Road
We recently had an opportunity to spend some time with the 9-4X's sporty Aero variant. It took actually sitting behind the wheel to appreciate this new crossover. It is fun to drive, all things considered. We were immediately impressed with the surge of power from the twin-scroll turbo. It makes for a surprisingly capable engine, one that never felt winded or in need of more torque. We also never experienced any frustrating turbo lag while waiting for the boost to come on; the sensation is entertaining when it does.
The 9-4X's steering has a solid feel and ably communicates road subtleties to the driver. Another plus is the Sport button, which immediately and noticeably tightens up the suspension, making for decent handling around curves. Once in Sport mode, the Saab does feel legitimately sporty, at least for a crossover. This setting also increases throttle sensitivity and remaps the transmission shift points to handle more spirited driving.
Of course, it's still a fairly large vehicle, and you can feel its height and weight — roughly 2.25 tons — come into play as the car reaches its limits. The brakes feel strong and reasonably progressive, but it is obvious that they are tasked with slowing quite a heavy piece of machinery.
Right for You?
While official pricing has yet to be announced, don't expect the 9-4X to be particularly inexpensive. Saab obviously tried to ensure that the 9-4X is a worthwhile contender in the crossover segment. Frankly, one of its worst aspects is simply that it doesn't really stand out visually, something we've come to expect from Saab vehicles. Whether that's a bad thing or not lies in the eye of the beholder.
The Saab 9-4X is a solid package, not too remarkable or particularly groundbreaking, but capable nonetheless. In fact, it's a lot better than we were expecting it to be, and is easily one of the better crossovers on the market. If you appreciate build quality and technology, and you're looking for something with plenty of space but don't want to feel like you're in an episode of "Ice Road Truckers," you'll be pleased with the new 9-4X. Just don't expect to turn many heads.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Saab provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trendand European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.
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