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Future models - Saab - 9-1 - Convertible

First look: 9-X Air previews small topless Saab sibling

Fresh: Drop-top 9-X Air, based on the 9-X BioHybrid concept, previews 9-1 cabrio.

Swede’s latest concept heralds a convertible within Saab’s new compact model range

18 Sep 2008

SAAB has signalled its intention to develop an all-new compact model range, widely expected to go by the 9-1 name, when it presented the smooth Volvo C30-sized 9-X BioHybrid hatch concept at the Geneva motor show in March.

Now General Motors’ Scandinavian subsidiary has revealed it plans to evolve the 9-1 series into a complete entry-level model family by announcing the 9-X Air concept, which will preview the 9-1 Convertible when it makes its global debut at the Paris motor show on October 2.

With a redesigned 9-5 flagship sedan finally expected to emerge next year and both an all-new 9-3 and the 9-4X SUV expected to be released in 2010, it’s unlikely the 9-1 hatch will hit the road in production guise before 2011. Some reports suggest the 9-1 could appear before both the redesigned 9-5 and 9-3, but either way we don’t expect to see a road-ready convertible version of Saab’s C30 rival in dealerships until 2012.

38 center imageAnd while the Saab 9-1 model family is expected to reside upon a small front-drive next-generation GM platform that’s shared with the Holden/Vauxhaul/Opel Astra, it’s unclear wether its most striking feature, its so-called Canopy Top, will ever see actual rain or sunshine.

Of course, officially, Saab has not acknowledged plans to produce a direct premium hatchback rival for the likes of BMW’s 1 Series, the same company’s Mini Cooper range or the Audi A3, let alone a convertible version there of.

It says the 9-X Air is “an innovative design study exploring what a future open-air Saab could look like”, which also underlines Saab’s history of producing landmark convertible designs – including its first topless model revealed at the Frankfurt motor show exactly 25 years ago.

The four-seater 9-X Air, like the 9-X BioHybrid, features a wraparound glasshouse but this time it also includes the rear screen. Prominent rear pillars define the distinctive silhouette and also mount the flat-folding Canopy Top roof system, as well as the separate recessed rear screen.

Saab claims the design presents a coupe-like look with the roof up and a turbulence-free interior with the top down. Developed from the Targa-top principle, the fabric Canopy Top is said to differ from both a folding metal roof and a folding soft-top by folding away fully automatically into three small sections stored within the boot.

Saab says the rear screen between the buttresses then retracts automatically into the underside of the raised tonneau cover to allow stowage of the Canopy Top, before the screen then moves back into position to provide a complete glass surround for the cabin in open-top mode.

This,along with an active wind deflector on top of the windshield header rail, is claimed to minimise buffeting, reduce back drafts and eliminate the need for a wind deflector, while separating the rear screen from the folding top allows the employment of a glass area that is larger than feasible when integrated into a soft-top.

Measuring just 4.43 metres in length, 1.39 metres wide and 1.83 metres high, the 9-X Air also dispenses with a conventional boot. Instead, a spring-loaded storage compartment - large enough to accommodate two golf bags - slides out from underneath the rear lights.

The 9-X Air shares its 1.4-litre turbocharged BioPower hybrid engine with the 9-X BioPower concept, which it says was designed in tandem. Running on E85, it is claimed to produce 147kW, 280Nm of torque, projected average CO2 tailpipe emissions of just 107g/km and fuel consumption of 6.4L/100km (4.9L/100km on straight petrol) – despite 0-100km/h acceleration in a respectable 8.1 seconds.

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