Saab, purveyor of WASPmobiles since time immemorial, is bursting out of its shell at the International Motor Show in Geneva this week with a hot little concept car sure to scandalize Saab loyalists from Stockholm to Walnut Creek.
The PhoneiX is a sporty, sexy thing, with butterfly doors and a rippling silver body that looks like T-1000 morphed himself into some sort of latter-day DeLorean. Inside, it’s got race car-inspired styling and a cutting-edge infotainment system powered by Android. All in all, the car is cool, sleek, and over-the-top — in other words, everything Saab isn’t.
And it isn’t just a fluke. As Jason Castriota, Saab executive design director, tells it, the car presages a radical new direction for the trusty Swedish car maker. “It symbolizes a renaissance of the innovative spirit and passion that drove Saab to build its first car,” he says in a media release. “This design aesthetic will shape and differentiate future models in the Saab portfolio.”
It’s an aesthetic that elevates aerodynamics above all else. (Saab calls it “areomotional” design, which is only slightly less annoying than capitalizing the “X” in “PhoeniX”). The company’s aviation roots were a big inspiration here, and the teardrop shell tips a hat to the Ursaab, a 1940s prototype that spawned Saab’s first generation of cars. A sawed-off tail echoes Saab’s first coupe, the Sonett. And side-mounted “winglets” are a peek of the future; they channel airflow across the rear deck, slashing lift without increasing drag. The car’s drag co-efficient is only 0.25.
The interior is designed to mimic what the press release calls ?the stripped-out feel of a competition car.” So it has a 2+2 cabin and shell-like seats and a display pod in front of the driver, shaped like the afterburner of a jet engine. Angled at 45 degrees from the driver is the Saab IQon, a touchscreen, which taps Google Android’s operating system to create a full-blown infotainment center. IQon comes with the obvious features, like online navigation and music storage, but it can also be customized to show impossibly detailed data, from engine speed and torque to barometric pressure and the position of the sun.
Pretty bad-ass stuff, huh? We’ll see which elements Saab actually feeds into the new models. Obviously, the company can’t go too crazy, lest it lose its customer base, the rich, guilty liberals who love tooling around in a car that’s more expensive than it looks. But even if the next gen lifts a pinch of what we’re seeing here, Saab’s message will be crystal clear: It isn’t just catering to ladies who lunch at the farmer’s market anymore.