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The 9-4X also happens to be closely related to the Cadillac SRX. But unless you looked closely you probably wouldn't know it; Saab has gone its own way with design and done a great job in differentiating its first foray into crossover vehicles. While the SRX has a lot of body creases and sharp details, the 9-4X comes with mostly smooth sheetmetal. The only exception is in front, where the look is aggressive and expressive—an extra macho version of the snout used in Saab's new 9-5 sedan. Inside, the instrument panel looks all the part of a Saab, with green gauge pointers, the distinct Saab font, and details like joystick air vent with black-plastic gridplates.
For 2011, the 9-4X comes in 3.0i, 3.0i XWD (all-wheel drive), and Aero XWD models. A 265-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 is installed into 3.0 models; in other GM products we've found this rev-happy engine to be neither very responsive nor very fuel-efficient. Aero models come with a powertrain that Cadillac's already cancelled on the SRX: a 2.8-liter turbo V-6, paired with a six-speed automatic. While the engine makes 300 hp and a healthy 295 pound-feet of torque, it doesn't come on as responsively as BMW's excellent in-line turbo six—or even Volvo's for that matter. The Aero handles well but is hardly nimble, and zero-to-60 times run just 7.7 seconds in the Aero, mostly because in that form it weighs considerably more than the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Acura MDX, or Lincoln MKX.
Overall, the 9-4X interior package is well designed and good for four adults (five in a pinch) though a little tight in back; and there's plenty of cargo space, including an available cargo management system. The ride is pretty well balanced between comfort and responsiveness—although in fairness we've only tested a top Aero version with active damping.
In all, the main problem with the Saab 9-4X is that it's just not very compelling. It's nicely equipped as a luxury vehicle, but there's no feature or attribute that it does far better than the competition, and pricing is a sticky point. With prices in the forties for the 'base' 3.0i variants, and more than $57k for a loaded Aero, it's truly hard to justify the 9-4X over a number of the luxury-brand alternatives. And that's before pondering Saab's future and the role it might have on resale value or future support.
With production just ramping up in June 2011, the 2011 model-year run of the 9-4X will likely be very limited. Read our First Drive of the 2011 Saab 9-4X over at MotorAuthority for a longer-form take on this new model.