What's New for 2011
The 2011 Saab 9-4X is an all-new compact luxury crossover SUV.
Though the new 2011 Saab 9-4X is almost mechanically identical to the Cadillac SRX crossover, it isn't the sort of half-hearted badge replacement job that Saab offered up with its most recent SUVs like the woeful Saab 9-7X. No, you'd be hard-pressed to tell that the 9-4X shares anything with its GM sibling simply by looking at the two. The Saab bears the new styling cues established by the attractive new Saab 9-5 (including the wagon version sold in Europe).
The cabin of the Saab 9-4X is similarly and properly Saab-like in appearance. The aircraft cockpit-like design features Saab design motifs like the egg-crate-style grilles within the multidirectional air vents, center-console-mounted ignition and the "Night Panel" button that dims the trademark green interior lights for better visibility on dark roads. It looks good and is certainly unique for the class. Most of the many buttons and switches are unique to Saab as well, although their markings and the underlying technology are pulled in their entirety from the General Motors parts bin.
And indeed, this is where the 9-4X's weaknesses begin to show up. No, it's not the simple association with GM, but rather that the same problems that plague the Cadillac SRX also carry over to its Swedish comrade. On paper, the base V6 engine shared with the SRX would seem to be competitive in terms of power, but one glance at its curb weight reveals a much heavier (and therefore slower) vehicle than its competitors.
The Aero model's 2.8T V6 is more in keeping with Saab's turbocharged heritage and indeed allows the heavy 9-4X to keep up with its rivals. Unfortunately, the loaded Aero costs nearly $50,000. That's OK if you want every option Saab offers, but if you'd like something more modest in price (and in equipment), you'll have to stick with the underpowered 3.0i. It's a trade-off you simply don't face with competitors like the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK350 or Volvo XC60.
If power isn't an issue, however, the 2011 Saab 9-4X is definitely worth a look. Beyond its unique style, it's well equipped, handles well and offers a spacious cabin (as long as you avoid the headroom-robbing panoramic sunroof). Is that enough to overcome the lingering doubts about Saab's future? We have our reservations, but the 9-4X at least shows that Saab is headed in the right direction.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Saab 9-4X is a compact luxury crossover available in three trim levels: 3.0i, 3.0i Premium and Aero.
The base 3.0i comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver seat with memory functions, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, reclining rear seats, leather upholstery, OnStar and a seven-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. The Power package adds a power liftgate, a rearview camera, power-folding and auto-dimming exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power-adjustable pedals and heated front seats.
The 3.0i Premium includes the contents of the Power package, plus different 18-inch wheels, headlight washers, automatic wipers, keyless ignition/entry, remote ignition, a power passenger seat, ventilated front seats, interior ambient lighting and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system. The Technology package adds adaptive bi-xenon headlights along with front and rear parking sensors. A Navigation system is optional and includes a touchscreen interface and 10GB of digital music storage. To the navigation system you can add the Rear Passenger package, which includes three-zone automatic climate control, heated rear seats, rear seat audio controls and a rear-seat entertainment system with dual headrest-mounted screens.
The 9-4X Aero adds to the 3.0i Premium's standard equipment a more powerful engine, all-wheel drive, 20-inch wheels, adjustable drive settings, foglamps, a sport steering wheel, the navigation system and the Technology package. The Rear Passenger package is optional. All 9-4Xs can be equipped with a panoramic sunroof.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Saab 9-4X 3.0i comes with a 3.0-liter V6 that produces 265 horsepower and 223 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional. Every 9-4X comes with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Based on Edmunds testing of the related Cadillac SRX, we expect the 9-4X 3.0i with front-wheel drive to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in about 8.2 seconds, which is a little slow for the segment. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway with front-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive drops those estimates to 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway.
The 9-4X Aero comes only with all-wheel drive and a 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 that produces 300 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. We expect that it'll go from zero to 60 mph in about 8 seconds (it's much heavier than a base front-driver 9-4X). EPA-estimated fuel economy is 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway.
Every 2011 Saab 9-4X comes standard with stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. OnStar emergency telematics are also standard.
Interior Design and Special Features
Following Saab tradition, the 2011 9-4X's center control stack wraps toward the driver, bringing all controls within easy reach. Other Saab hallmarks include the egg-crate grilles for the outlets of the ventilation system, the Night Panel switch that dims instrument light at a single touch and the ignition switch mounted on the center console. The seats are pretty comfortable, too, though not in the over-stuffed, body-enveloping way of past Saabs.
The many climate and electronics interfaces have been lifted wholesale from General Motors, and the graphics look awfully familiar. The layout is unique to Saab, though, and the backlighting is a very Saab green. The overall effect is actually quite nice, though overall quality and refinement just aren't up to Audi or Mercedes standards.
Interior space is quite good in the 9-4X, with rear seat legroom on par with the Audi Q5 (though a bit less than its Swedish rival, the Volvo XC60). Headroom is fair, but we'd advise against the optional panoramic sunroof, as even adults of average height will find themselves slouching under the lowered roof.
The 9-4X borrows some excellent cargo-carrying features from its Cadillac SRX sibling, including an adjustable-height power liftgate and a cargo management system that essentially creates a fence to contain fragile cargo. Cargo capacity with the rear seats raised is 29.2 cubic feet, but Saab hasn't released maximum cargo capacity as of this writing. We suspect it will be on par with the SRX's 61.1 cubic feet.
The biggest disappointment with the 2011 Saab 9-4X is its standard 3.0-liter V6, as it lacks the power required to swiftly motivate this crossover's hefty curb weight. The Aero's turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 is more powerful and certainly better suited to the 9-4X. However, all that power really only makes the 9-4X class-competitive; it's not a performance model by any means.
In other respects, the 2011 Saab 9-4X is a commendable luxury crossover. Steering response is sharp and its handling is quite adept for the class. This is especially true of the Aero model, which gets bigger wheels and adjustable drive settings that alter steering and suspension. The ride is comfortable over regular pavement, but it gets busy for a luxury vehicle when the road gets a bit rough.