Overview: Saab 9-4X

Saab has entered the ‘crossover’ (sporty SUV) market. Its new 9-4X, set to premiere at the Los Angeles Auto Show shortly, is pitched against the likes of Volvo’s XC70 and the formidable new BMW X5.

At present there’s only one 9-4X available, and it has a curious choice of specification for a solo player: the power-unit is the familiar General Motors 2.8-litre petrol V6, here rated at 300PS and 400Nm, while the transmission is a six-speed epicyclic automatic. This is not a particularly efficient drivetrain even in the 9-5, and the 9-4X is likely to turn in markedly worse consumption figures than the 9-5. Saab isn’t presently saying anything about when turbo-diesel versions of its newcomer will be made available.

According to Saab’s timetable, the 9-4X goes on sale in North America in May next year, with sales in Europe and other global markets due to begin from August. U.K. sales start late in 2011. By this time, of course, the range could boast a wealth of engines.

Although it’s possible that Saab might in future offer a front-wheel drive version of the 9-4X to compete with Volvo’s XC70 D3, the V6 (together with, we suspect, most future derivatives) uses Saab’s XWD four-wheel drive system, which uses a Haldex multi-plate clutch as a centre differential. The XWD system provides continuous adjustment of the front-to-rear torque split, and comes fitted with with an electronically-controlled rear limited-slip differential. The Company’s Drive Sense adaptive chassis is also fitted — adjustable dampers by any other name.

The 9-4X fits into Saab’s range between the 9-3X and the new 9-5 saloon. The former is a relatively mild reworking of the standard 9-3 estate, while the 9-4X uses a larger, bespoke crossover body with fair ground-clearance — there’s not likely to be much overlap between the new car and its smaller sibling. The 9-4X is a five-seater, with no option of a third row of seats.

Infotainment includes a 10-speaker Bose system with 5.1 surround sound and a 20cm touchscreen. The navigation system uses a hard disk; there is a bird’s eye map view and 10GB storage for music files. Communication is supported by an integrated Bluetooth hands-free phone system, which functions via voice command and steering wheel controls as well as via the infotainment panel.

In the rear, passengers can select their own onboard audio/visual entertainment through an optional dedicated unit in the back of the centre console. This has a video auxiliary input and two 20cm screens in the rear faces of the front seatbacks.

Engine

As we mentioned earlier, the single power-plant to be offered initially will be General Motors’ 2792cc petrol unit. It is an all-alloy 60° V6 with a single liquid-cooled twin-scroll tubocharger mounted centrally above the transmission. Charge-air cooling is by air. Peak outputs are 300PS at 5500rpm, and 400Nm available between 2000rpm and 5000rpm. Variable valve timing is applied to both intake and exhaust camshafts, which are chain-driven. Direct ignition is delivered by six individual coils.

The cylinder walls are laser-etched to improve smoothness over and above the standards achieved by conventional machining. Under-skirt piston oil cooling and sodium-filled exhaust valves are also deployed.

A forged-steel crankshaft runs in four main bearings. The steel connecting rods are sinter-forged. The polymer-coated aluminium pistons and the floating wrist-pins are cooled and lubricated by triple under-skirt oil jets.

The exhaust manifolds are double-skinned with hydroformed stainless steel liners. This improves cold start emissions by reducing the rate at which heat is lost from the exhaust gases through the manifold walls; consequently the catalytic converters light off more quickly. Air injection into each exhaust manifold for up to 30s after a cold start also helps the central pre-catalyst, positioned upstream of the main catalytic converter, achieve 'ight-off.

To reduce NVH, the cast aluminium oil-pan is stiffened and bolted to the transmission bell housing as well as the engine block. The camshaft covers are acoustically isolated and made from composite material.

The six-speed automatic transmission carried its electronics onboard, avoiding the need for any external wiring. Manual gear selection is available by way of steering-wheel controls.

As this is written, fuel consumption figures have not yet been finalised. Expect an urban cycle consumption figure rather worse than the V6 9-5’s 16.2l/100km (17.4mpg).

An ‘Eco’ mode is available, activated by a button on the dash. This re-maps the accelerator pedal response and the transmission’s gearchange patterns for improved fuel economy.

Running-gear

The 9-4X’s front suspension is by McPherson struts with hydraulic lower A-arm ride bushings and a hollow anti-roll bar. A semi-independent H-section torsion-beam layout is used at the rear. Suspension components are mounted on sub-frames isolated from the main bosyshell by bushings. Shear bushings in the damper mountings to the body help to dissipate vibrations from the road.

Unsprung weight has been reduced by the use of aluminum for all brake calipers, the front wheel hubs, A-arms, steering knuckles and rear suspension links. The braking system uses ventilated discs all round; ESP is fitted as standard.

Saab’s Drive Sense adaptive damping system offers three modes. The default setting is ‘Intelligent’ mode, providing a compromise between comfort and handling dpending on how the car is being driven. Perhaps predictably, the other modes are ‘Sport’ and ‘Comfort’; these can be selected using a rotary knob next on the console.

‘Intelligent’ mode not only adjusts the damping rates, but also varies the responses of the electronic throttle and the degree of power assistance delivered to the steering. For example, when the car is being driven in a sporty style, the damping rates are increased, the throttle pedal movement is shortened for a faster response, and steering assistance is reduced for a more direct feel. At lower speeds, the dampers are softened for greater ride comfort, the action of the throttle pedal becomes less avid and the steering feels lighter.

The ‘Sport’ setting uses a firmer range of adjustment for the dampers, offering even greater body control. In addition to sharpening the accelerator pedal response and enhancing steering feel, ‘Sport’ mode also raises the gear-change points of the automatic transmission and sends more drive torque to the rear wheels.

Predictably, ‘Comfort’ mode optimises ride refinement by using a softer range of settings for the dampers and a smoother throttle pedal action. It also provides better compliance over rough road surfaces.

The 9-4X uses electro-hydraulic variable rate power steering. An electro-magnetic sensor is mounted on the steering rack, and a coil is used to boost or reduce the level of hydraulic assistance. The system varies assistance according to both road speed and also the rate at which the steering wheel is being turned, providing progressively increased assistance the faster the wheel is rotated.

The new Saab offers keyless starting, which is no novelty in itself — the car’s locking fob must be present somewhere in the car for the start-stop button to operate. But a keyless entry-exit system is also offered, which allows the car to be automatically unlocked when the door handle is pulled, so long as the fob is close by. The car can also be locked when the driver leaves it by touching the lock area of the door handle.

Any other business

A small camera lens is mounted in the tailgate to provide a rear view when reversing. The image is displayed in one of two ways: if satellite navigation is fitted, the rear camera image is displayed on the sat. nav. system’s screen; otherwise, a small 9cm image is shown in the interior rear-view mirror.

The front seats of the 9-4X are fitted with the third generation of Saab’s Active Head Restraints (SAHR 3); pre-tensioning and load-limiting equipment is specified for the outer rear seatbelts, though not the centre position.

Bi-xenon adaptive lighting is standard. The 9-4X’s system offers up to 15° of swivelling, controlled by the steering angle.

At speeds below 50km/h, a ‘Town Light’ régime provides a wider, flatter beam than a conventional dipped pattern, allowing pedestrians and potential hazards at the roadside can be seen more easily. At speeds above 100km/h, ‘Motorway Light’ is engaged: this increases the depth of the light beam from 130m to 170m. The light cone is shaped so that on-coming drivers are not affected.

Bosch’s ubiquitous Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is fitted as standard across the range, and the rear brake lights flash under heavy braking to warn following drivers.

While we would not expect a vehicle in the class to excel in its aerodynamic performance, the 9-4X’s drag coefficient of Cd 0.38 is not impressive, lagging behind its obvious competitors here and only a whisker ahead of the Range Rover’s Cd 0.39.

Saab
9-4X
BMW
X5 40d
Volvo
XC70 T6
Cylinders 6V 6I 6I
Valves 4 4 4
Swept volume 2792cc 2993cc 2953cc
Block/head material A/A A/A A/A
VVT I/E No No
Fuel/injection P/id D/d P/id
Aspiration Tts 2T Tts
Compression
ratio (volumetric)
9.5:1 16.5:1 9.3:1
PS/rpm 300/5500 306/4400 304/5600
Nm/rpm 400/2000 600/1500 440/2100
Maximum
speed
TBA 145 130
0-100km/h 8.3s 6.6s 7.4s
Urban MPG
(l/100km)
TBA
(TBA)
32.1
(8.8)
18.7
(15.1)
Combined MPG
(l/100km)
TBA
(TBA)
37.7
(7.5)
26.7
(10.6)
CO2 g/km TBA 198 248
Emissions EU5 EU5 EU4
Transmission A6 A8 A6
Driven wheels All All All
Fuel tank 80l 85l 70l
Kerb mass 2100 (est) 2110 1912
Length TBA 4857 4838
Width TBA 1933 1876
Height TBA 1776 1604
Wheelbase TBA 2933 2815
Track: front
— rear
1622
1623
1644
1650
1614
1580
Brakes: front
— rear
345v
315v
348v
320v
316
302
Tyres 235/55R20 255/55R18 TBA
CdxA 0.38xTBA 0.34x2.87m² 0.35x2.44m²
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