Saab - 9X
The task of turning a vision into reality was taken up by Saab's Advanced Design studio. They had to meet key parameters, in terms of compact design and packaging, and finalise the all-important detailing that would give the car its unique Saab character. The 10-strong design team received valuable support from the Saab Advanced Concept Centre and also supervised the final assembly of the show car at Bertone in Italy.
Externally, that Saab signature, wrap-around windscreen is the Saab 9X's most striking feature. The steeply raked, heavily tinted glazing gives the car a strong 'cockpit' look and this effect is balanced by the rear side windows which appear to flow round without interruption into the rear screen. The curvaceous, muscular bodystyling is just as clean and uncluttered. There are no swage lines down the sides, only a soft, clean surface wrapping around the front wheels and extending the length of the car. The gently flared wheel arches accommodate 19-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels, which are located, with minimal overhangs, at each corner of the chassis to optimise interior space, allowing a relatively long wheelbase of 2.7 metres within an overall length of just over 4.0 metres.
The purposeful looks and stance of the car are reflected in the frontal styling, dominated by a bold interpretation in polished aluminium of Saab's traditional grille, within which the eight headlamps are located. These use fibre-optic technology and are extremely small, yet will provide a powerful spread of light for safe night driving. A smoked glass panel extends right across the rear of the car and this covers thin, neon-strip rear lights and indicators, as well as the number plate. The overall effect contributes to the car's clean and uncluttered 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 frame-less 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 aluminium is adopted within the fascia layout and forms a 'rib' that runs across the floor and up both doors to the waistline. The steering wheel design also incorporates the aluminium and leather theme and a short 'pistol grip' gear lever for the six-speed, sequential gearchange leaves no one in doubt that this is a thoroughbred driver's car.
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 analogue appearance for the rev-counter with a sweep that turns a deeper shade of red as the upper limit of the engine's power band is approached. 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 fascia display. The Sat-Nav 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 feint blue glow within the cabin, giving an ambience similar to the interior of a passenger aircraft. The diffused light emanates from thin, almost invisible openings within the fascia and doors and appears to have no direct source. These same, narrow louvres also provide ventilation and air conditioning, dispensing with the need for separate air vents.
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 and it can be deployed to allow a number of permutations for driver and passengers. Both panels will be electrically-operated, allowing the front section to slide back over the rear panel which, alternatively, can also slide forward over the front section, although this panel is fixed in the show car. In either mode, the side windows of the doors and rear screen can be raised or lowered. Both roof panels are also completely detachable and, for maximum effect, the rear roof rail can be easily removed as there is no top-mounted tailgate. The design team believes the Saab 9X succeeds better than many other attempts to deliver a top-down option. The starting point is, of course, much closer to a roadster format than fixed-head '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 up against the rear seatback. Unlike Convertibles or sports cars with folding metal roofs, there is no 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 their squabs. The design team have been able to ensure that when 'wagon mode' is adopted, there is a flat deck throughout the car. This area is 955mm long when the split/fold rear seatback is down and extends to 1900mm if the front passenger seat is also folded. Access to the load space is more than adequate thanks to the large doors designed for good rear passenger entry. At the rear, the tailgate is effectively split; 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 hard-wearing, completely waterproof and has a useful 'non-slip' finish. It is specially designed to meet the rigorous demands of everyday use.
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 20cm 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 also 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. 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. A clever refinement allows the tailgate to be safely lowered, even when the floor is extended, because its top, inboard section carries a separate rear light display.