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Thin disguise: The production 9-4X is expected to appear within a year and to come to Australia before 2010.

Under the big wheels and fancy paint is Saab’s first international SUV

14 Jan 2008

SAAB has confirmed that its 9-4X BioPower Concept is a thinly disguised version of the production 9-4X “crossover” due in Australia by 2010.

Speaking at the unveiling of Saab’s first car-based SUV at this week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, General Motors Premium Brands Director for Australia, Parveen Batish, revealed that Australia is on the fast track to see the 9-4X as soon as possible.

“It will definitely be on sale in Australia by 2010 at the latest,” he said. “We can’t wait to see it in Australia.” Based on the new Theta architecture – a derivation of GM’s Epsilon platform that currently underpins the existing Saab 9-3 and Opel Vectra (as well as its upcoming Insignia replacement due in Europe this year) – the production version of the 9-4X will be shared with the upcoming Cadillac BRX.

As its name suggests, bio-ethanol is the motivator for the 9-4X BioPower Concept, meaning that it has the ability to operate on an 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent petrol fuel mix.

38 center imageUsing a development of the existing, all-aluminium 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged unit sold in Australia in the 9-5 BioPower as well as the upcoming 9-3 BioPower, the 9-4X Concept’s engine introduces direct-injection technology and variable valve timing, and is mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox.

Running on E85, the concept car’s power and torque outputs are 221kW at 5400rpm and 400Nm between 2600 and 5100rpm. This results in a 0-100km/h-sprint time of 8.0 seconds, while it can return fuel consumption of 10.5L/100km.

Saab is expected to offer BioPower in the production 9-4X, as well as a development of the Alloytec family petrol V6 and upcoming 2.9-litre turbo-diesel V6 that GM has developed with Italian engine specialists VM Motori, in which it has a stake.

Underneath the 9-4X Concept is a development of the XWD “Cross Wheel Drive” all-wheel drive set-up that Saab announced in its upper-spec 9-3 models at facelift time last year.

Supplied by Sweden’s Haldex firm, XWD is fully automatic and on-demand, and can send up to 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels via a rear limited slip differential, but only transmits between five and 10 per cent in normal cruising conditions.

Functioning with the vehicle’s ESP stability control and ABS anti-lock brake systems, it features a ‘Power Take-off Unit’ in the front final-drive that channels drive down to an RDM Rear Drive Module via a three-piece ‘anti wind-up’ prop shaft fitted with a TTD Torque Transfer Device.

The major innovation with XWD is that when the driver first accelerates from rest, the clutch plates are forced together under hydraulic pressure to activate the RDM, resulting in a “pre-emptive” actuation of AWD without having to wait for sensors to first detect slippage before kicking in the rear wheels, as virtually all other current ‘on-demand’ systems do.

According to Saab, the advantage is that AWD is there the instant it is needed, Audi Torsen differential style, without having to rely on a weighty and energy wasting constant 4WD set-up.

The front suspension employs MacPherson struts and an aluminium control arm, while the rear uses a multi-link set-up with an aluminium ‘H-arm’, with anti-roll bars all round.

Both the 9-4X and BLX will be built in Mexico when production ramps up next year, which should help keep costs down as Saab finally scores a challenger for the likes of the Lexus RX, Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90, and BMW’s X3 and X5, as well as the imminent Volvo XC60.

The 9-4X also serves as the replacement for the American-market 9-7X – a hurriedly prepared SUV based on the existing, US-built GM GMT 360 chassis that also underpins the Chevrolet Trailblazer – a fact that has led to some critics to call the Saab version “Trollblazer” as an ironic reference to Saab being based in the Swedish city of Trollhatten.

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