NORCROSS, Ga. - The challenge of turning a vision of a new Saab concept vehicle into reality was embraced by Saab's Advanced Design studio. They had to meet key parameters, in terms of compact design and packaging, and then develop the many all- important details that would give the 9X its unique Saab character.
The 1 0-person design team received valuable support from the Saab Advanced Concept Center (SACC) and also supervised the final assembly of the show car at Bertone in Italy.
The major design features of the Saab 9X are best appreciated by looking in more detail at each of the car's four "dimensions" or formats. Chief Designer Anthony Lo, who led the team, is our guide. "The whole team has found it very exciting to provide a first glimpse of what is to come from Saab in the future," he commented. "This is not just another show car, it has been developed with the serious intention of production."
Externally, the Saab signature, wrap-around windshield is the Saab 9X's most striking feature. The steeply raked, heavily tinted glass gives the car a strong "cockpit" look, balanced by the rear side windows that appear to flow around without interruption into the tailgate's glass.
The curvaceous, muscular body styling is clean and uncluttered. There are no swage lines down the sides, only a smooth surface wrapping around the front wheels and extending the length of the car. The gently flared wheel arches accommodate 1 9-inch, five- spoke alloy wheels, which are located, with minimal overhangs, at each corner of the chassis to optimize interior space. This accommodates a relatively long wheelbase of 106.3 inches within an overall length of only 163.6 inches.
The purposeful looks and stance of the car are reflected in the frontal styling, dominated by a bold interpretation in polished aluminum of Saab's traditional grille, within which eight headlamps are located. These use fiber-optic technology and are extremely small, yet will provide a powerful spread of light for safe night driving. "We've adopted fiber- optics to provide more freedom for design," Lo said. "Headlamps with reflector units can take up a lot of room and get in the way of other structures under the hood."
A smoked glass panel extends across the rear of the car and covers thin, neon-strip taillights and indicators, as well as the license plate. The overall effect contributes to the car's clean lines.
This desire for simplicity is reflected in the complete absence of door handles. The Saab 9X functions through a keyless ignition system, and the frameless doors are opened from the outside by a one-touch panel or remote control.
Inside, sweeping, scalloped curves encapsulate four bucket seats, mounted low down and either side of a prominent transmission tunnel. The two-tone interior is warmly swathed in black leather and a dark beige fabric. Satin-finished aluminum trims the instrument panel, and forms a "rib" that runs across the floor and up both doors to the waistline.
The steering wheel design also incorporates the aluminum and leather theme, and a short "pistol grip" gear lever for the six-speed, sequential shifter leaves no doubt that this is a high-performance driver's car. "The front airbags are mounted in the A-pillars," noted Lo, "so there is no need for a large module on the steering wheel, which has given us the freedom to put a bit more design into it."
Driver information is concentrated in a single large binnacle, via digital displays, on a "need-to-know" basis as in modern fighter aircraft. However, the team adopted an analog appearance for the tachometer with a sweep that turns a deeper shade of red as the upper limit of the engine's power band is approached.
"We've tried to introduce a little emotion in some areas," Lo commented. "For instance, there is also a single red button under a glass cover on the transmission tunnel for starting and stopping the engine. The ignition sequence includes a driver display where a 3D model of the car is scanned as a systems 'health' check. You can customize the computer to have your own suitable 'all-systems-go' type of message."
There is a noticeable absence of gauges, switches or buttons because many ancillary functions are incorporated within a single control on top of the transmission tunnel. Best described as an automotive "mouse," this controls the air conditioning, telephone and "infotainment" systems. It is turned and clicked in response to on-screen prompts from the central dashboard display. The Sat-Nav navigation system is also controlled here but, for driving safety, its instructions are displayed in the driver's binnacle.
Another interior innovation is the use of lighting. The lights, in fact, never go out inside the Saab 9X. Day or night, there is a welcoming faint blue glow within the cabin, giving an ambience similar to the interior of an executive aircraft. The diffused light emanates from thin, almost invisible openings within the dashboard fascia and doors and appears to have no direct source. These same, narrow louvers also provide ventilation and air conditioning, eliminating the need for separate air vents.
"The ambient lighting is designed to make the interior warmer and more inviting," Lo explained. "It also has a more practical use by making it rather easier to find things at night inside the car. We think it is more relaxing for the driver and passengers to be able to see and enjoy the interior of the car rather than sit in complete darkness, which is what normally happens at night."
The freedom of open-top motoring, to be enjoyed with the agile handling of a true roadster, is just a button push away in the Saab 9X.
The highly adaptable roof system comprises two tinted glass panels that allow a number of open-roof configurations for driver and passengers. Both panels will be electrically operated, and will move separately. This allows the front section to slide back over the rear panel, or the rear can also slide forward over the front section.
In either mode, the side windows of the doors and tailgate can be raised or lowered. Both roof panels are also completely detachable and, for maximum open effect, the rear roof rail can be easily removed.
The design team believes the Saab 9X succeeds better than many other attempts to deliver a top-down option. The starting point is much closer to a roadster format than fixed- roof "conversions," and the Saab 9X goes about the task in a more practical way.
When removed, both roof panels can be easily stowed, on their side, at the front of the load space behind the rear seatback. Unlike convertibles or sports cars with folding metal roofs, there is very little loss of valuable luggage space when the roof is down. The system also provides a great deal more flexibility than using a hard top for a conventional roadster.
All seatbacks in the Saab 9X fold down neatly into recessed spaces. The design team ensured that there is a flat deck throughout the car while in "wagon mode." This area is 37.6 inches long when the spliVfold rear seatback is down, and extends to 75 inches if the front passenger seat is also folded flat.
Access to the load space is generous, thanks to large doors designed for ease of rear passenger entry and exit. At the rear, the tailgate is split and the electrically powered glass window section can be lowered completely into the door.
As you would expect with Saab, the design team concentrated on providing useful ways to safely secure loads. As a further development of the cargo securing tracks first seen on the Saab 9-5 SportWagon, there are now four removable tracks that clip into the floor. In conjunction with fittings for the central roof bar, leisure items such as bikes and skis can be carried securely, as well as a variety of other loads.
The entire load space, and much of the passenger compartment floor, is covered with an innovative silicone-treated fabric. This is extremely durable, completely waterproof and has a practical non-slip finish. It is specially designed to meet the rigorous demands of everyday use.
"For the wagon format, it was essential to provide a completely flat load space," Lo said. "We didn't want this aspect to be compromised by the sports seating layout and the transmission tunnel. We're quite pleased with the result."
The most unusual feature of Saab 9X is probably the extending floor area, telescopically mounted in the rear of the car. At the push of button, this can add almost 8 inches to the length of the rear load space, and even more if the tailgate is also lowered.
The tailgate itself is attached to the telescopic floor, which has sidewalls that retract longitudinally into the rear wheel-arches. The whole assembly is electro-hydraulically powered and can be deployed in about five seconds, via a button in the passenger compartment.
A clever refinement allows the tailgate to be safely lowered, even when the floor is extended, because its top, inboard section carries a separate taillight display.
When this imaginative innovation is used in tandem with an open rear deck, the Saab 9X can justifiably lay claim to the kind of versatility more commonly associated with a pick-up.
"The telescopic floor has certainly not been seen before in a car," noted Lo. "It has allowed us to capitalize on the open deck format because the rear roof rail can be completely removed. The separate taillight display is also a neat solution.
"There are a lot of sports items, such as surfboards, small rafts or bikes, that can be carried more easily in this car because of the open rear deck. We also wanted to provide a very robust material to cover the cargo area. If you get caught in a rain shower, the silicone lining will prevent water from doing harm."