2012 Saab 9-4X

WASHINGTON D.C. — It has been about a year since Saab, Sweden's iconic automobile brand, was released from the captivity of General Motors. It started its independence with one upscale model — the 9-5 sedan. It has now doubled its offerings by unveiling its new 9-4X Crossover.

It will have an initial build of about 1,000 2011 models and then in the fall switch the moniker to a 2012 model...with no changes from the 2011.

The 9-4X is moving into a pretty tough playground, competing with the Audi A5 and the Lexus RX. But if what was learned after putting several hundred miles behind the wheel is any indication there better be some room in the yard because the Saab is not going to shy away from its competition.

We were particularly impressed with its handling. It handles like the heavy car it is — curb weight being up to 4,650 pounds. But it's a good heavy handling; weighty but not awkward. The 9-4X projects a powerful stance and gives a responsive ride. There was no indication of sloppy handling. We were also happy with the braking. While taking a bit more pedal power it still stopped the vehicle quickly and smoothly under a number of situations. Some may not like the extra pressure it seemed to need but we found it more than satisfactory.

The suspension was solid exhibiting none of the mushiness sometimes associated with high-level crossover vehicles. The platform is the same as that used on the successful Cadillac SRX II. This will know doubt be the last of the holdover GM future projects it had planned for the nameplate.

We drove the top-of-the-line 9-4X Aero XWD (Saab’s All-Wheel Drive). It comes with 20” 9-spoke alloy wheels with all-season tires and has more standard equipment than you can shake a sardine at. Power for the Aero is a 2.8-liter V-6 turbo with aluminum block and cylinder heads.

It puts out a respectable 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque (available between 2,000 rpm and 5,000 rpm) and is mated to a very good six-speed automatic transmission. Even after a very-slight turbo lag it still hits 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds.

Seating is very comfortable and there is plenty of room in both rows. The cargo area (29.2 cubic feet) contains a very unique divider that can be configured for whatever size and need is there. It slides on rails and is lockable at any setting. When not needed, the contraption can be stowed below in a hideaway hatch that opens to a deep area that usually stows groceries or other items below the cargo deck. It’s an option to a spare tire.

The 9-4X has a maximum towing capacity of 3,500 pounds and ground clearance 7.9 inches. Estimated fuel economy hasn’t been determined but 9-4X models with less-horsepower average 18/25 (city/highway) mpg.

While the basic 9-4X has an MSRP of $33,380 the high-end Aero’s is $48,010 (with delivery charge of $825). While it’s quite a gap between the low-end and the high-end Aero there’s a fjord of extra content in the Aero that far exceeds concern of the extra money.

— Al Vinikour