Imagine the surprise Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo received at the 2006 Geneva Auto Salon when Saab's Aero X concept garnered more attention than his prized Pininfarina-sculpted models positioned nearby. Many of the show's automotive elite had to share the limelight for that matter. It's something most would never expect from a small and historically conservative manufacturer. To be trumped by Bugatti or Lamborghini is one thing and very plausible, but by Saab? Not a chance. Just tell that to the hoards of people who gathered around to get a closer look at this car. Among those vying for a better perspective included some of the world's most highly regarded chief designers. This type of recognition is important for Saab and the timing couldn't be better as GM board members ponder its future.

As conservative as Saab may be, the company is not known to conform to the rules of ordinary automotive styling. In fact, for decades Saab ran the other way, producing uniquely designed cars that attracted a cult-like following in the process. This design philosophy changed over the years to improve mainstream appeal and Saab has been trying to find a proper footing ever since. Much of this effort has been placed in the hands of its talented design team who have churned out no less than three concept cars in only four years, including the 9X crossover sport wagon and the 9-3X sport coupe off-roader. The Aero X is the latest and presumably the last offering from the company's Pixbo, Sweden, design house. It's also by far the most ambitious, drawing strongly from Saab's jet fighter heritage.

We recently accepted an offer to take the controls of the Aero X at Vallhall Park, a one-time military airbase for the Saab Gripen aircraft in Angelholm, Sweden. The car appeared right at home on the main runway. Wings or no, it looks like it could fly. Razor sharp with a supercar stance, this Saab is as visually striking as it is intimidating. Obviously, the most notable design treatment is the jet fighter-inspired canopy top, which eliminates the need for doors and A pillars. Aside from its groundbreaking design, it offers the Aero X pilot full 180-degree vision, and also facilitates entry and exit from its low-slung cabin.

The front of the car features a modified version of the Saab corporate face with integrated LED headlights and large lower intakes, while the rear adopts a singular futuristic-looking taillight and an integrated center-mounted horizontal exhaust. After climbing inside, I activated the glass canopy and watched as the multi-piece assembly lowered securely in place in less than 20 seconds. Equally impressive is the fact it requires very little space to do so. Once seated behind the wheel you are surrounded by clean Scandinavian design. All of the conventional dials and buttons one expects to see are completely eliminated. Instead, Saab has applied techniques derived from Swedish glass and precision instrument making displaying data via LED on glass-like acrylic in graphic 3-D images. At night the dash fascia and center console emits a warm ambient glow. It's all quite impressive and cleverly designed. The flat bottom leather-trimmed steering wheel is pure race, complete with aggressive looking paddles and multi-function controls. Its main center-console-mounted control unit operates the canopy, as well as allowing you to select gears. It also features a start/stop ignition button among other interface operations.

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