9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept: Design: Strong, Progressive, Scandinavian
Norcross, GA - The design language of the Saab 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept draws its inspiration from both the 9-3X 'cross-over coupe' concept and the 9-3 Sport Sedan. For the exterior, these themes are synthesized with an economy of line and form to communicate impressions of strength, muscularity and power, all key brand characteristics.
The four-seat interior is a development of the 9-3X concept's layout, with innovative driver displays and a bold central motif that complements the external glass roof. These features are combined with core elements of the 9-3 Sport Sedan's cabin to create a sporty and cleanly executed interior.
The dynamic visual appeal of the car is generated by its tautly contained, almost compact, proportions. All external glazing, with the exception of the headlamp units, is presented in dark green tinted glass - a theme that is uniquely carried into the interior. The purposeful stance is reinforced by front and rear tracks which are, respectively, 2.2 inches and 2.3 inches wider than in the Sport Sedan and bring the 20-inch wheels out to the edge of the bodywork. The wheel-arches are distinctively flared with a flat vertical face, as previewed on the 9-3X concept.
The wedge-shaped profile and a high, rising waistline are Saab signatures: as is the 'stretched' teardrop shape of the side window glass. This is visually framed by brushed aluminum edging, with disguised B and C pillars, and is a natural evolution of the design theme seen on the sport sedan.
The sweeping shape of the side glass emphasizes the sloping profile of the roofline, which progressively reduces from the B-pillar rearwards. The Saab signature 'hockey stick' profile - a continuous contour in the bodywork that extends from the A pillar under the side windows and up along the forward edge of the D pillar - is also a prominent feature. Traditional, oval-shaped Saab door handles are now color-keyed with a fresh, new look.
A large, reinforced glass panel runs the length of roof, following a gentle, convex profile that leads into an integrated rear spoiler at the top of the tailgate.
The frontal styling is an evolution of the traditional Saab 'face,' as executed on the 9-3 Sport Sedan. However, the distinctive styling of the headlamps and a subtle extrapolation of key components communicates an even bolder, sportier persona. The central element of the grille is drawn down into the bumper molding and the horizontal 'wing' profile, a reference to Saab's aviation heritage, is now more prominent.
A deep, trapezoidal air intake in the front bumper molding, with two smaller apertures either side for brake cooling, replaces the narrow, full-width opening seen on the sedan.
As you would expect from Saab, the styling of the headlamps eschews the common circular, jewel-effect trend. The clear plastic lens adopts familiar Saab proportions, but the bulbs are installed, projector-style, in rectangular polished aluminum casings that are fixed within three lateral glass mountings extending the entire width of the housing. These horizontal fins feature LED illumination when the lights are switched on. Green-tinted glass filters, echoing part of the overall design theme, are positioned in front of the headlamp units. The headlamp housings now also appear to flow seamlessly into the grille and bumper, without any interruption to line or contour.
The rear, hatchback-like styling features a relatively short overhang behind the rear axle line, which helps remove the bulky extension of rear bodywork and window glass often associated with a wagon.
As previewed by the 9-3X concept, the full-width, steeply-raked rear window merges almost seamlessly into the large, triangular light units on either side; the common use of tinted glass appearing to present a single glazed area.
In side profile, the rear light units are bent to follow the residual 'notchback' line of a hatchback's forward-raked rear glass. LEDs for the tail and brake lights and bulbs for the reversing and indicator lights are all effectively masked behind three translucent fields. These are designed to resemble frosted blocks of ice, which are contained within the green-tinted plastic housings.
The powered tailgate extends down to floor level, giving a flat loading platform without a sill. In addition to load-carrying applications, it also carries the rear roof spoiler and a centrally-mounted, high-level brake light.
"Overall, we wanted the car to assume a very clean and muscular character," explains senior Saab designer Taras Czornyj, responsible for the exterior of the 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept. "And it was important to execute this sporty look free from any traditional wagon motifs. I guess you could say this car inherits some of the classic Saab 900 hatchback genes.
"In contrast to the lines of a conventional wagon, we have tried to move the focal center of gravity forward, away from the rear area. The tapering side window zone and the prominent 'hockey stick' line, which ends by pointing forwards, emphasize the slope of the roof, helping to create an impression of forward movement.
"We've also carried forward the 9-3X rationale of making sure all load-carrying features are virtually invisible when not in use. The glass roof does not interfere with this functionality and it brings an open dimension to the design, which reflects the outdoor lifestyles of potential owners."
From Outside to Inside
The best of Scandinavian design should have simplicity and consistency, with rounded and clean lines contributing to a sense of 'oneness.' For Saab this means that car design must work in a 'holistic' way, introducing exterior design principles to the inside of the car. There should be no straight lines or mismatches in shape, line or form in the interior of a Saab car. The overall design strategy should echo the fluid, soft lines and contours of the exterior bodywork.
The 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept now takes this approach a step further. While the four-seat cabin layout, with leather/textile Recaro seats, accurately reflects the car's sporty external lines, the main interior motif is the introduction of a translucent 'clear zone.' This is a smoke-tinted, composite material, which mirrors the presence of the glass roof, and introduces a common 'transparency' theme to both the inside and outside of the car.
This innovative feature dominates the interior, covering the main instrument panel, the center stack, both front and rear floor-mounted consoles and a storage compartment between the rear seats. The same surface is also extended across the rear cargo deck, further uniting the front and rear of the car.
Up front, the 'clear zone' uses touch-screen functionality to provide information on demand through illuminating displays in the center stack. It is a further development of Saab's current Night Panel feature and removes much of the visual clutter associated with buttons, controls and panel split lines; again echoing the clean and uninterrupted exterior design.
The center stack has a particularly neat appearance, without the myriad of buttons and controls normally associated with audio and climate control settings. In addition to a CD slot, there are just four large controls for air conditioning, 'infotainment' and comfort functions shared by the driver and front passenger.
Essential driver information is presented through three portholes in the 'clear zone' surface. The large central one contains the speedometer and a wide range of programmable system 'status checks,' graphically displayed. These include, for example, tire pressures, seat-belt usage, light bulb status, door closures and even a front and rear outside clearance check for close maneuvering.
The smaller left-hand porthole contains a tachometer and the right-hand one again offers the driver scope to tailor information as required. In addition to the usual fuel, water temperature and turbo boost displays; oil temperature/pressure, battery charging and even a real-time engine torque read-out can be called up.
As a subtle reference to Saab's aviation heritage, the styling of the aluminum/leather steering wheel mimics the look of an aircraft hand control. In the straight ahead position, the brushed aluminum finish on the inside of the rim extends only from two o'clock to ten o'clock, leaving the top third of the rim open.
The steering wheel includes audio, telephone and gear changing controls. A mini-mouse, similar to that found in the keyboard of a lap-top, is mounted on top of the shift lever. This provides entry to menus on the main display in the center stack, giving easy access to audio, navigation and heating/ventilation functions via a simple point-and-click action.
The disguised handbrake lever at the side of center floor console, a feature introduced on the 9-3 Sport Sedan, is retained and a small DVD/video screen for rear seat passengers is located in the rear surface of the central front armrest.
A red, recessed starter button is located immediately behind the shift lever, armed, along with the instrument displays, by a transponder when the driver enters the car by a passive keyless entry and start system.
The glass roof adds a light and airy counterpoint to the close-coupled interior ambience, again echoing a theme from the 9-3X concept, as well as providing panoramic viewing for the occupants.
The rest of the interior resembles the design of the 9-3 Sport Sedan. The leather upholstery is presented throughout in beige, further highlighting the light and airy feel. All passenger seatbacks can fold forwards, completely flat; the two in the rear folding to the same level as the rear cargo deck. The door trim inserts and handles are finished in brushed aluminum.
The Sport-Hatch Concept's advanced 'infotainment' functions utilize the powerful fiber optic electronic platform from the 9-3. Facilities include satellite navigation, front and rear TV and DVD screens, Bluetooth connectivity with e-mail, Internet and WAP access.
Lars Falk, Head of Interior Design at Saab, says the 9-3 Sport-Hatch Concept's cabin is intended to demonstrate how Scandinavian design values can be adopted to simplify the appearance of the interior. "In overall design terms, the central translucent 'clear zone' brings a part of the exterior inside the car and unites the front and rear areas. It also allows us to provide information in an attractive way without lots of visible buttons and fixed cut-outs for screens," he explains.
"The principle of information on demand has also provided an opportunity to introduce a lot of interaction for the driver, reinforcing the feeling of being in control," he adds.
"A number of systems checks can be programmed for the central driver display with some interesting graphics. Together with the keyless entry and a starter button, the whole experience of getting into and driving off in the car can be rather more rewarding and involving than usual."