This gorgeous coupe was made to help Saab rise from the ashes. It didn’t…
… But not for a lack of trying – this is one of the most striking and memorable concepts to ever emerge from Scandinavia. It’s also the main reason we still think of all that could have been – if Saab had managed to pull itself out of the nosedive it took after the turn of the millennium.
But why do we have such love for a mostly front-drive two-door with the engine from a Mini and a badge preferred only by librarians and architects?
Well, for one, it was designed by ex-Pininfarina luminary, Jason Castriota, whose other credits include the gorgeous Maserati Birdcage, the astonishing P4/5 and the spectacularly speculative SSC Tuatara.
For the PhoeniX, Castriota combined turbine-style wheels, flying buttresses (reminiscent of his work on the Ferrari 599), a glass cockpit and, in his own words, a “teardrop fuselage and canopy”, highlighting Saab’s aeronautical roots – as Saab was pretty fond of doing.
Powering the PhoeniX is a 200bhp, all-aluminium 1.6-litre turbo, which was a healthy amount of power back then, even if it’s pretty well outclassed these days. It’s actually a BMW unit, and was used to power Minis of the day (albeit in lower tune) and it was a good thing. There’s also 184lb ft on offer (199 on overboost), channelled through a six-speed manual. For a little extra get up and go, there’s a 34bhp electric motor attached to the rear axle, which makes the PhoeniX all-wheel-drive.
The PhoeniX also ran an Android-based touchscreen entertainment system – years ahead of its time, and far ahead of the creation of Android Auto. There were other touches that screamed ‘I’m a futurist and this is 2011’ – rear-view cameras that replaced mirrors, exhaust-driven aero and scissor doors, to name a few. This was the avant-garde renaissance of Saab, a car to get investors and car buyers back on board and ensure the future of the Swedish marque.
But it wasn’t to be – Saab couldn’t sort out its financial turmoil, i.e. sell enough cars to pay for the parts and staff needed to make more, and went bankrupt.
This year, however, is when National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS) has said it’ll start building an all-electric version of the 9-3 – the road car that was to follow in the PhoeniX’s footsteps (or is that wingspan?). So, while we wait (with appropriately low expectations) for electric-powered 9-3s to start rolling out of Sweden, let’s remember what could have been, if we’d all just gone out and bought a Saab.