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Saab 9-X Air concept car: first photos and video

Published: 18 September 2008

London motor show video

Saab has lopped the top off its 9-X show car to produce this – the new 9-X Air concept revealed today. No prizes for guessing that the aptly named Air is a convertible version of Saab's 9-X wannabe executive hatchback. The future 9-1 cabrio, in other words.

The 9-X hatchback was shown at the 2008 Geneva motor show to preview Saab's new 9-1 hatchback family due in 2010. It's been a long time coming, but the Swedes will finally gain a proper rival for downsizers who'd otherwise consider other premium tots such as the BMW 1-series or Audi A3.

Saab 9-X Air: the lowdown

Make no mistake, Saab is serious about building the 9-1 soft-top. Okay, so some of the concept flourishes will be lost (whose aren't?), but today's announcement is remarkably candid for the cautious Swedes: 'The 9-X Air concept demonstrates what a future convertible from Saab could like.'

The four-seater chop-top's design language is naturally carried over from the 9-X hatchback, but Saab claims the roof system is sufficiently clever to warrant patents to protect its intellectual property.

Most striking are the steeply angled buttresses rising from the boot to where a C-pillar should be; combined with the canopy-style glasshouse dropping dramatically to the rear of the car, it gives the 9-X Air a unique look. This thing exudes hunched-up energy, like it's ready to pounce.

Saab convertibles: the heritage

It's no coincidence that Saab is launching the 9-X Air at the Paris motor show on 2 October 2008. It'll be exactly 25 years since the company's first convertible concept was shown at the 1983 Frankfurt expo.

Saab claims the new 9-X Air reinterprets the four-seater, all-season soft-top in a smaller, cheaper package. But GM's strategic planners must be hoping that the world hasn't given up waiting for the new genuinely new products Saab has been crying out for all decade.

The new Saab 9-1 can't arrive soon enough...

 
Click 'Next' below to read more about the new Saab 9-X Air concept

Scroll down the page to the embedded video player to view Saab-supplied, unedited footage of the new 9-X Air concept     

 

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London motor show video

Tell me more about the Saab 9-X Air's clever roof system. I'm intrigued...

Saab calls it a 'Canopy Top'. The rear buttresses provide the rear mounting point for the electric roof, which folds flat in three sections under a tonneau cover. The separate rear screen can then remain in situ for more protected open-top driving (like the much smaller glass on the BMW 6-series cab). Our manufacturer-supplied video below gives some idea of how it works, although there is sadly no footage of the roof mechanism in action.

Combined with the wraparound window graphic, it gives the 9-X real visual clout. For once, we even find ourselves agreeing with designers' dreamy metaphors comparing the Air to aircraft design motifs. There is surely a trace of a Top Gun cockpit in that roofline...

Is there a normal boot?

Well spotted. That fastly angled rump leaves little space for a conventional boot. Instead, a large version of your underwear drawer slides out from the back end. Saab claims it's big enough for two golf bags, and it's said to slide out on rollers without any power assistance. One to test on motor show day.

It's a Saab. I can feel a Biofuel message coming on!

Like the 9-X Biohybrid (the clue's in the name), the Air concept runs the Swedes' 197bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged biofuel engine. It can run on E85 (85 percent bioethanol, 15 percent unleaded) for competitive performance and saintly emissions stats.

Saab claims the 9-X Air can scuttle to 62mph in 8.1 seconds, yet emit a lowly 107g/km of CO2. And – if you swallow the biofuels argument – all this is achieved while being nearly carbon-neutral.

Click 'Next' below to read more about the new Saab 9-X Air concept

Scroll down the page to the embedded video player to view Saab-supplied, unedited footage of the new 9-X Air concept     

 

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London motor show video

What's it like inside the new Saab 9-X Air?

The Air is said to have a typically modern Saab interior, but the company has helpfully failed to provide any detailed cabin shots to CAR. There's a wraparound dashboard, no centre console in the traditional sense of the word and five display screens replace your usual dials and read-outs.

Saab has partnered up with Sony Ericsson to develop sophisticated wireless technology that will let your MP3 player or mobile phone act as a controller for many of the car's functions. Sounds like the days of the humble key are numbered...

Saab's design boss speaks

Anthony Lo, director of advanced design at General Motors Europe, said: 'Like the 9-X BioHybrid, this car is all about efficiency in design and performance, and that includes the Canopy Top. It offers important benefits in weight-saving and packaging, as well as giving us the freedom to take convertible design forward in a very Saabish way.

'This is the direction we’re exploring for a future open-top car from Saab. We’re keeping the all-year-round practicality and the four-seat format, but giving it a fresh, sportier expression.'

Expect the 9-1 cabrio in showrooms in 2011, according to CAR's sources. We just hope it's enough to rekindle desire in a public which might have forgotten what Saab actually stands for. 

Scroll down the page to the embedded video player to view Saab-supplied, unedited footage of the new 9-X Air concept     

 

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By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

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