2011 Saab 9-4X Aero: Reviving the Brand
Written by Brian Armstead
Saab has been though a lot over the past few years, having been put on the market and sold to a Kuwati firm, the iconic Swedish brand is no longer a pure Swede, but is still every bit a Saab, which will surely please devotees to the brand. Automotive Rhythms was recently invited to drive the 2011 Saab 9-4X Aero, and we came away from that experience duly impressed with the terrific driving dynamics of this SUV.
The 9-4X joins the 9-3X and all new 9-5 sedan in Saab’s renaissance as an independent premium car manufacturer. The big story of the new 9-4X is its car-like driving dynamics enhanced by Saab’s advanced all-wheel-drive system -- Saab XWD (standard on Aero trim level) -- and DriveSense adaptive chassis control.
Saab XWD infinitely varies drive torque between the front and rear axles. It is combined with an electronically-controlled, rear limited-slip differential (eLSD) which can transfer up to 50% of rear torque between the rear wheels, to whichever has more grip. More high tech includes Saab DriveSense, an adaptive chassis function which uses real time damping control to help the 9-4X react to how it is being driven and to changing road conditions. In addition to the default “Comfort” setting, the driver can select “Sport” mode, which firms up the suspension, improves throttle response and raises gear shifting points. An “Eco” mode also re-maps the throttle and gear shifting patterns for optimal fuel economy.
Other driving aids include variable effort steering, a function of Saab DriveSense, and bi-xenon adaptive lighting, which provides better illumination of upcoming bends by linking the direction of the headlamp beam to the steering angle.
All of these gizmos combine for a truly rewarding drive experience, and on the road over a 165 mile test loop, we found the 9-4X extremely impressive. It feels well planted, and handles in a way that makes you wonder if the SUV was co-developed with BMW. Yes, it’s that good. Damping is controlled, body roll and lean are minimal, even during aggressive driving, and overall ride quality is excellent. Another plus to the on the road experience is the 9-4X is quiet. Obviously, much attention was paid to overall noise reduction, as this is often the “Achilles Heel” in SUVs, where road noise can be quite an issue.
The 9-4 X comes in three trim levels – base, Premium and Aero – and there are two V6 engines available. Base and Premium models get a 265 hp, 3.0-liter motor while Aero models come with a 300 hp, turbocharged 2.8-liter V6. Both engines are mated to six-speed automatic transmissions.
Our test model was a fully equipped Aero, and when we say “fully equipped,” we mean just that. The 9-4 X Aero comes pretty much with everything standard, including dual zone climate control, a terrific dual-panel glass moonroof, and DVD player with headrest mounted screens.
The interior is executed well. Saab’s unique “joystick” air vent controls mean it’s quite easy to get air wherever you need it. Fit and finish are generally good, but the plastic around the center dash stack is quite cheap looking and is the only interior flaw.
In the cargo area, Saab has installed a super nice rail system for securing loads. A removable gate installs in the rail system, and is adjustable to suit your needs.
Exterior styling is sleek. This is a great looking SUV. The only drawback is horrible rear vision when changing lanes due to a lack of glass in the “D” pillar area. Lane changes require an abundance of caution.
The excellence of the 2011 9-4 X portends good things for Saab in the future. The challenge now is to draw consumers into showrooms, who may not understand that the brand is viable and still offers great products.