While initial forays into this new class of luxury compacts were limited, primarily consisting of BMW’s revival of the Mini nameplate, over the past several years other luxury marquees have cast their chips onto the pile: Mercedes with their C-Class hatchback, Audi with the A3, and now BMW again with the newly created 1-Series.
So it is no surprise that the Scandinavian car companies have noticed the success of their Teutonic competitors, and have introduced the Volvo C30/S40 and the forthcoming Saab 9-1.
Positioned to replace the outgoing Saab 9-2x, which was based on the Subaru WRX platform borrowed through parent-company General Motors’ worldwide sharing plan, the 9-1 will be a radically different vehicle in both style and function.
Whereas the 9-2x was a 4 door wagon with AWD, the 9-1 will be a sleek, aerodynamic 4 door hatchback, with a look more like the A3 than the boxier, upright WRX-clone. AWD will be offered, but front-wheel drive will be standard in the base model 9-1, along with a 1.8l Ecotec 4 cylinder producing 170 horsepower.
For those who crave more power, a 265 2.0 liter turbo engine will also be available. All engines put their power to the ground through either a 6 speed automatic or 6 speed manual transmission.
Continuing their track record of producing environmentally-conscious vehicles, a BioPower version of the 9-1x is also slated for production, powered by ethanol.
The futuristic look of the 9-1 is derived from the Saab Aero-X concept car. The Aero-X represented Saab’s attempt to redefine its company’s design language in response to criticism that vehicles had begun to resemble no more than badge-engineered GM products.
While the look is definitely more Saab than Chevy, the base Delta platform underlying the entire enterprise is shared with Opel, a cost-cutting move common in today’s automotive industry.
Time will tell if Saab can unseat such stalwarts as Audi and BMW in the luxury-compact market. It will also be interesting to see just how much American consumers are willing to pay for a small luxury car.
While the size of these vehicles may be at the low end of the scale, luxury and safety features to keep occupants alive and happy during the cost of ownership push the weight of these vehicles past 3000 lbs, rendering their miles per gallon respectable, but hardly noteworthy.
Since small has for so long been associated with fuel economy, and since Japanese companies still retain their aura of quality and fuel-efficiency, the future of Saab and its compatriots in this niche market is far from certain.