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.

The Aero X is designed to have an eco-friendly 400-bhp twin-turbo engine. The BioPower 2.8-liter V6 is fueled entirely by ethanol, a sustainable energy source that is kinder to the environment by cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is what performance with responsibility is all about. Power is applied to all four wheels via a lightweight drivetrain and seven-speed sequential-manual gearbox. Large 22/23-inch turbine-inspired wheels appropriately fill the arches and also contribute to brake cooling.

Since the car is purely a concept show vehicle, our brief outing didn't consist of much. However, driving down the runway with a full panoramic view of the horizon was like being in a large fish bowl or watching a live Imax movie.

Saab says its computer simulations anticipate zero to 62 mph (0-100 km/h) in a mere 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph (limited). Nothing Ferrari needs to worry about, but impressive numbers nonetheless. Developing environmentally clean performance is what's important here.

Meanwhile, the Aero X was conceived as a study to explore future design directions and breathe new life into the Saab product line. Some design elements may trickle down into production models sooner than you think, such as the grille and headlight treatment, as well as the singular taillight and possibly its center-mounted exhaust. Using bits and pieces of the Aero X is fine, but if Saab really wants to make a statement, it needs not stop there.

It is said, if you build it, they will come.

Saab Aero X Concept
Chassis
Sport coupe two-seater format, monocoque steel construction
Rear opening cockpit canopy, carbon-fiber bodywork
Engine
Front, longitudinally-mounted behind front axleSaab BioPower 2.8-litre V6 turbo. 24-valve, four OHC.All aluminium construction. E100 fuel. 12:1 compression ratio.VVT, exhaust and inlet. SIDI (Spark Ignited Direct Injection).Twin VGT (Variable Geometry Turbine) turbochargers. 1.0 bar max. boostDry sump lubrication.
Peak Power: 400 bhp @ 5000 rpm (EEC)
Peak Torque: 369 lb-ft @ 2000 (EEC)
Engine Management
32-bit, ignition timing, fuel injection, turbo boost pressure, air mass measurement, throttle setting, secondary air injection for quick catalysts warm up
Transmission
Seven-speed, automated manual transmission with double clutch system.Sequential gear changes via the steering wheel paddles.All-wheel drive, variable front/rear torque split.
Suspension
Saab Active Chassis continuously adjustable damping control
Front: Double wishbones, coil springs, elec.adj. dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear: Multi-link, coil springs, elec. adj. dampers, anti-roll bar
Steering
Rack and pinion, hydraulic power-assisted
Brakes
ABS, MBA, EBD, electronic stability control
14.9-inch ventilated discs front/rear
Wheels/Tires
Front: 9.0x22-inch multi-spoke alloys/ 265/30 mm
Rear: 23 x 11.5 inch, multi-spoke alloy/ 325/25 mm
Curb Weight
1,500 kilos (projected). F/R distribution: 50/50 %
External Dimensions
Length: 4675 mm
Width: 1918 mm
Height: 1276 mm
Track: 1599 mm (f), 1579 mm (r)
Wheelbase: 2795 mm
Performance:
0-62mph: 4.9 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)

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