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What does Saab's Aero-X mean for the beleaguered Scandinavian second fiddle?

When we caught word of the Aero-X in the pre-Geneva show shuffle, we assumed it was Saab's Kappa architecture effort. A Pontiac Solstice/Opel GT/Saturn Sky with a Saab-ish face, rear end and ignition keyhole for which Saab would crack open the Sonett archive. Our first ogle showed us otherwise.

Granted, the Aero-X, as we have described over the past several weeks, is not so much about the chassis or powertrain as it is about exploring many Saab design themes that have gotten lost of late. Aero-X won our Best in Show award at Geneva on a few levels—daring design, surprising signs of life and a simple shortage of true concept cars at this year's show. Saab topped 'em all.

Aero-X is so far away from being a production car that the chassis bears little similarity to any GM architecture. And the future vision for Aero-X includes a bio-ethanol-burning 2.8-liter, 400-hp twin-turbo V6. Channeling power through a seven-speed dual-clutch sequential manual gearbox feeding torque to both axles, it supposedly is good for a 4.8-second dash to 60 mph. None of this is yet in place. But so what?

Aero-X is a dream car. The Saab/GM advanced design center in Pixbo, Sweden, got the ax in 2005, and Aero-X is, in a sense, Pixbo's final, heroic episode. The design team—David Leary and Erik Rokke for the interior, and Alex Daniel for the exterior and oversight of construction in Italy at G-Studio—decided to stretch the brand cues to the limit. The result is equal parts serious two-seater GT and cool Scandinavian spirit.

Sitting in the driver's seat is conducive to nodding off in a happy cocoon. First you need to hold off hopping in until the spectacular canopy assembly (inspired by jets of course) arises on its aluminum billet front hinges. The wait is about that of the industry standard for power tops: 20-ish seconds. Once in and cosseted in carbon fiber, you might giggle a little, but then it's quickly down to the business of comprehending all of the icy-blue 3D Lucite "binnacle" dials reminiscent, again, of modern jet fighters.

If something like this rectangular center console control unit ever happens, it will serve to open and close the canopy from inside, select drive modes and act as a more comprehensible version of BMW's iDrive. Push the keyless start, and the engine gives off a nice, big exhaust note from gaping twin BioPower exhaust tips.

While driving at maybe 40 mph, the huge Turbine wheels with designer rubber—22-inch alloys front and 23 rear—unveil every imperfection on the tarmac. But they look incredible and that, for now, is Job One. (They also are said to pull copious heat off of the 15-inch brake rotors.)

Hunkered down in the driver's seat, the lack of an A-pillar makes for terrific visibility. It's said an impromptu test of the roof's strength during construction had one designer doing a handstand on it and zero flex was shown. Since we saw the Saab 9-X concept at the 2001 Frankfurt show, Saab has been pushing hard for cars without A-pillars. What a wonderful world that would be.

Aero-X looks even better rumbling by than sitting under show lights. The question is: Can the suffering Swedish firm ever do anything for production as totally engaging as this? As remarkable as the original 99 Turbo was at the 1977 Frankfurt show? Both GM Europe design boss Bryan Nesbitt and global product czar Bob Lutz want to see this happen.

"If anything comes of it, most likely we could do a slightly smaller-scale two-seater with some of these design cues," says Daniel. "At the very least, it's out there now, no one was expecting it, and it has a lot of people talking about Saab. That's a great feeling."

Tags: AutoWeek

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