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Concept Car of the Week: Saab 9X (2001)

Fri, 05 Jul 2013

With a glorious heritage, a strong and understated design philosophy combined with a focus on technology and innovation, it is sad to have witnessed how GM's questionable management led to Saab being completely wiped off the map in just a decade.

The vision of what this iconic brand could have been still haunts many car enthusiasts around the globe. The 9X concept is, along with the AeroX, one the most exciting concepts produced by the Swedish manufacturer.

Unveiled at the 2001 Frankfurt motor show, the 9X challenged the automotive established order by opening up new dimensions in car design. It features elements usually associated with coupés, roadsters, wagons and  pick-ups but brought together into one innovative vehicle.

Its fun character is expressed through its purposeful stance with a long bonnet and large wheels pushed in the corners. The 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 produces 300bhp coupled with a four-wheel-drive and six-speed sequential transmission, helping it deliver the thrills promised by the exterior design.

Despite its unusual proportions, the 9X features archetypal Saab elements such as wraparound glass at the front and rear, a high belt line and Scandinavian minimalism with smooth surfaces deprived of any superfluous ornamentation. While the face could be from a production model, the rear is very bold thanks to a long, rectangular piece of dark tinted glass covering the neon strip lamps.

Two separate glass panels on the roof can be completely removed and stowed onboard for a hair-in-the-wind sensation, but the real party trick of the 9X is its extending floor area. At the push of a button, the load space increases by 200mm and even more if the tailgate is lowered. Designed without roof-mounted hinges, the entire rear and the roof can open to offer loading capabilities and versatility similar to that of a pick-up.

Inside the cabin, straight lines stretching the cantilevered dash surfaces and the length of the transmission tunnel accentuate the simple orthogonal construction. Sharp mechanical details such as the steering wheel or the gear lever complement the otherwise very digital interface controlled by a rotary knob similar to BMW's ‘iDrive'. The front bucket seats are spare and sculptural with side hinges allowing them to be folded flat. The same folding design continues in the back, which extends the usable cargo floor to accommodate surfboards, kayaks and other ‘active lifestyle' accessories.

Designed under Michael Mauer's direction, the 9X demonstrates that exciting, driver-focused performance and real world practicality are not mutually exclusive attributes. Saab claimed to have designed the 9X so it could be produced with only minor modifications by using damping struts for the tailgate, smaller wheels and more cost-effective materials. It makes you wonder where Saab would be today if they ever decided to launch such a revolutionary product on public roads.

Designers Michael Mauer, Anthony Lo
First seen Frankfurt Motor Show, 2001
Length 4,156mm
Height 1,365mm
Width 1,820mm
Wheelbase 2,700mm
Engine 3.0L V6 turbocharged, four OHC, 24v transversely mounted.
Power 300bhp@5,500rpm

Your author, Flavien Dachet, is a UK-based, French-born car designer. You may know him as the purveyor of KarzNshit, a photo blog that if isn't already in your bookmarks, certainly should be.

By Flavien Dachet