Saab came to an unfortunate end, and a brand that had a dedicated buyer base found itself unwanted and forgotten. One of its last vehicles offered to the public turned out to be one of its rarest: a crossover.
Welcome to Forgotten Cars where we go into a brief history and background of some models you may not remember. Join us for an automotive trip down memory lane.
Things were looking up for Saab for a short time. But when the 9-4X came about, it was a strange time for the brand — a time that was like being told your parents are getting a divorce and your dad is leaving and your mom doesn’t want you because she wants to go “live her life.” So, while you aren’t being sent to foster care, you’re going to go live with your aunt who’s not bad, but her house smells weird.
The real story behind that “strange time” was it was 2010, and GM had emerged from bankruptcy, bailed out by the Feds. While Hummer, Pontiac, and Saturn were sent to their deaths, Saab got off easy. The carmaker was sold for $600 million (even though the brand hadn’t made money in years) to an investment group headed by Koenigsegg Automotive and Spyker. The sale was approved and completed by early 2011. Part of the agreement between the companies was that GM would continue to supply parts for the 9-4X and other vehicles for production.
The history of the 9-4X starts with a canceled Saab that never saw the light of day: the 9-6X. GM had owned just over 20 percent of Subaru’s parent company FHI (Fuji Heavy Industries) since the turn of the century. It’s how we wound up with the weirdly great Saabaru 9-2X wagon. Around 2005, Subaru decided that it wanted in on the seven-seat crossover game and created the unnecessarily named B9 Tribeca. But GM wanted to sell its stake since the relationship between the two companies had soured by this time.
So when GM told Fuji it was selling its stake, Fuji contacted Toyota to become a partner. The two companies were developing a Saab version of the Tribeca called the 9-6X, which was canceled when GM sold its stake in FHI. While Subaru admitted that development of the 9-6X wasn’t far along, Subaru took a nearly $44 million loss when the program was ended, and at least one known prototype exists. It sits at the Saab Museum in Trollhättan Sweden.
The 9-6X was supposed to replace the 9-7X (which was a clone of the Chevy Trailblazer/Buick Rainer/Oldsmobile Bravada), but its cancellation extended the 9-7X’s place on the market by two model years. The 9-4X would be a rushed, last-minute replacement for the 9-7X.
While the 9-4X gave off the appearance of a Saab, right down to an engine start button by the shifter, its mechanical bones were GM. The 9-4X rode on GM’s Theta platform, which underpinned everything from the Saturn Vue to the Chevy Equinox and Suzuki XL7. But Saab was too premium to share a platform with those plebeian vehicles. It got a variant called Theta Premium which was used exclusively by the 9-4X and the second generation Cadillac SRX. It’s said that this platform was a mixture of Theta and Epsilon mechanicals.
The base engine on the 9-4X was a 3.0-liter version of GM’s High Feature V6 that made 265 horsepower. The optional engine was mainly a Saab/Opel exclusive. A rather small turbocharged V6, it was 2.8-liters and put out 300 horsepower. Both engines could be had with front- or all-wheel drive and paired with six-speed automatics.
When auto publications got their hands on it, performance was…underwhelming. When Car And Driver tested it, they found it was slower than the SRX, which says a lot. The Saab hit 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. The SRX with the same engine did the same sprint in 7.2 seconds — and it did it being 11 pounds heavier. It also wasn’t cheap. While the base Saab 3.0 V6 with FWD started at just over $34,000, a fully loaded Aero started at $48,835, which was pricer than every one of its rivals at the time.
It’s hard to pin down what actually killed the 9-4X, as its introduction was marred by the mess of a company descending into bankruptcy. Some reports say that production was canceled because GM didn’t want to give updated mechanicals to Chinese companies, which had their eyes on Saab at the time.
Whatever killed it, the 9-4X is extremely rare. While exact numbers are hard to pin down, detailed estimates done up by Saab site 9-5sc2012.com say that just 803 9-4Xs were ever produced. And they are getting harder to find for sale if you go looking. Some are dirt cheap. As of this posting, I found just nine for sale in the entire country. Most are under $20,000 though some weirdo wants $30,000 for one with almost 90,000 miles in Oregon. If you do purchase one, it may not be the most exciting vehicle you can find, but it is rolling history, as a near-poster child of the demise of a quirky, but widely loved Swedish brand.