Design. The Saab cockpit over time

Design and ergonomics. Security thinking. These are integral parts of the Saab DNA. Nowhere else can one experience the constant quest for perfection of operability better than in the cockpit of a Saab. Representing all Saabs today is a tour of the middle class. Ready for time travel?

Objective aircraft construction. Saab middle class 1970. Image: Saab Automobile AB

Saab 99 1970. The thought leader

Saab enters the middle class for the first time with the 99. The designers Sixten Sason and Björn Envall are thinking. Already in the 60 years you lay the foundation for more than 40 years of Saab cockpit design. White numbers on a black background, these are experience from the aircraft industry. The dashboard is upholstered, the controls are clearly arranged. In the middle the instruments, on the right heating, on the left the light center. Clear rules are defined. It will stay that way until 2011.

And then the ignition switch. It sits on the middle tunnel. Why? Because it's logical. Saab thinks along and Saab comes to the following conclusion: The right hand grips the belt, fastens it in the lock, takes out the gear, turns the ignition lock, engages the gear, releases the handbrake. These are 5 operations, done with one hand movement. That's awesome ... but is not understood by the rest of the world.

Why does the ignition lock have to be in the middle? Because you can do 5 operations in one go. Image: Saab Automobile AB

So easier. Why is the ignition on the center tunnel? Two answers: Because the key then does not threaten the kneecap when it comes to the accident. Or because it is also a theft deterrent. The key can only be removed when the reverse gear is engaged.

The evolution in the Saab 900. Image: Saab Automobile AB
Saab 900 1986. The revolutionary.

The 99 goes, the 900 comes 1978. This is basically just an extended 99, but that does not matter. Saab is revolutionizing the cockpit design. A board turns into a driver's cockpit. Saab has found the ideal basic shape and will continue to evolve it over the coming decades.

Much of what was conceived back then will still be valid decades later. Turning handles instead of sliders for light and air conditioning, the hint to put on the seat belt. Everything remains logically arranged within reach of the driver. You don't need a manual. Anyone who gets into a Saab will find their way around straight away - if they have found the ignition lock beforehand.

Saab 9 3 2001. Perfection in detail. Image: Saab Automobile AB
Saab 9 3 2001. Evolutionary.

GM joins 1990 at Saab, but the design of the 900 II has already been completed. In addition, the communication between aircraft engineers and car designers is still. The times have changed. Cars are becoming more and more powerful, simple radios become sound systems, on-board computers are being used. Saab delivers the best cockpit of its time with the 900 II and 9-3.

The Night Panel or Black Panel comes straight from the aircraft industry. During the night flight, it fades out unneeded ads. This relieves the eyes, favors eyesight in the dark. Brilliant ! But at the time, hardly anyone understood it. As well as the asymmetrical speedometer. It facilitates compliance with limits in relevant speed ranges. That only exists with Saab.

The on-board computer also moves into the Saab middle class with the 900 II. He finds his place in the upper part of the dashboard and sits so directly in the driver's field of vision. Also in 900 II and 9-3 I you do not need a manual. Everything is arranged logically. The control buttons are large enough for a Finnish lumberjack to operate with gloves even in winter. Perfection in detail. This changes with the 9-3 II.

SID as HUD. And the war of buttons in the Saab 9-3. Image: Saab Automobile AB
Saab 9 3 2002. Saab cockpit evolution with weaknesses. Part 1.

You can do good things even better, for example placing the SID, the Saab on-board computer, even more directly in the driver's field of vision. Saab did it. The SID and the display of the navigation can now be found on the dashboard. Saab thus uses “television viewing”, the driver no longer has to take his eyes off the road to read information. This is aircraft construction and a kind of medieval HUD, conceived by aircraft engineers.

Otherwise Saab does a lot less well. GM has taken over Saab completely, the brand is in crisis. Saab should now be like BMW - which will not work. The design shows where the path should lead. A wild war of buttons rages in the cockpit. It looks gigantic with night operation, but the usability suffers. The volume of on-board literature is increasing, as are the problems. For the first time there is a navigation system in the Saab middle class. A very dark chapter in history begins.

The system, developed by Saab itself, has no compatibility with other components in the GM Group, such as the bus architecture in the 9-3. Saab sinks enormous sums, built for cheapest GM plastic in the interior. To top it all off, the navigation and multimedia system is characterized by unreliability.

Annoyed Saab 9-3 II drivers set, here comes from the pragmatism of the aircraft, on redundant systems. An expensive, built-in premium system from Saab. A cheap, portable in the glove box, if the actual system goes on strike. And it does that often.

Objectivity is absorbed. Saab 9 3 2007. Image: Saab Automobile AB
Saab 9 3 2007. Saab Cockpit Evolution with Weaknesses II

At some point it will be enough for GM. The Americans have had enough of the Swedish special way and clear out the 9-3. The bus system disappears, the self-developed navigation system goes to waste. For this, components move in from the group shelf - and reliability.

Saab thinks back to the roots and makes the best of it. The Star Wars cockpit is scrapped, and surprisingly there are components on the GM shelf that go well with the brand. Clear, Scandinavian structures move in. You can now find your way around again without a manual; Less can be more. Unfortunately, Saab sacrifices the SID on the dashboard to progress. Pity !

The cockpit still has its original form. The division of the operating zones is basically what Björn Envall and Sixten Sason wanted decades ago. And the design language moves into the present via the 901, 902, 9-3. Where is this available? Only at Saab.

Unfortunately, evolution has a weakness. Even 5 years after the premiere of the 9-3 II, the cockpit does not approach the perfection of earlier days. The dashboard now has a silver trim. Senseless decor that neither Sason nor Envall would have tolerated. It reflects in the windshield, not a few customers with a deer dashboard on the perfect solution.

After almost 10 years. In the 9-3 Griffin Saab solves the cockpit problem. Image: Saab Automobile AB
Saab 9-3 “Griffin” 2011. The finale.

Some people consider the 9-3 Griffin to be a Spyker-era product. But he is not, the final 9-3 edition was already finished when Spyker Saab took over. And after almost 10 years was good, which was not perfect for a long time. The 2007er cockpit has been upgraded with new decor without changing the basic shape. The senseless silver decorative strip was history, even in the serial state nothing reflected in the windshield.

Saab had successfully solved the 9-3 II cockpit problem. After almost a decade, which also suggests the disruption of the brand over the GM years. Unfortunately, at that time, the story of Saab arrived at the end. There were only losers. GM had lost its only European premium brand, Sweden its most exciting car brand. It would have been interesting to see the further course of the development.

14 thoughts on "Design. The Saab cockpit over time"

  • The article was only about the “small” series from Saab. No 9000, no 9-5.

  • I'm missing in the list the cockpit of 9-5. In my current 9-3, I do not particularly like it, I could do without this wrap-around silver trim.

  • Still, the materials on the 9k are still better than anything that came after. Somehow everything got “cheaper” at Saab over time. The cockpit, for example in the chrome glasses, looks like it has been built together in a hobby workshop. Are there any 9-3II / IIIs that don't somehow crack, creak or hum from the cockpit? I don't know from 901, 9k or 9-3I.

  • What is missing is the wooden strip cockpit built into the 1971 from 99 and delivered in the 1987s until 90, which introduces the saab ventilation nozzles, from 1973 the Fasten belts light, etc.

  • can I agree to 100% !!!

  • I've read that the DS5 (formerly Citroën) has a kind of night panel….

  • We have two 9-3, a year of construction 2006 Vorfacelift with the old Navi and a year 2010 and must say, I find both cockpits beautiful, functional and very clear. The play in the new cars look funny in the dealership, but in the real Everyday life is not so nice anymore. The silver bar in the new 9-3 has never bothered me, I think it's even nice, it enhances the interior discreetly.
    But I do not want to miss the nightpanel, without which I and my dad would not like to drive anymore. In the old 9-3 you had almost a head up display with the Navipfeilen on the upper SID and down everything was completely dark, the new is unfortunately a little more light on the radio. Nevertheless, a nightpanel was a super invention that unfortunately is nowhere to be found

  • ... and not to forget the (sorry for the following term) awesome automatic lever! 🙂

  • For me even today one of the most beautiful and functional cockpits: The 9000. The only damper is perhaps not quite so superclass material choice. Since you could have improved with the introduction of CS times.

  • ... that is exactly one of the main reasons why I love my current 2011 Saab so much - the still very well designed “cockpit” and especially the center console (with switches and knobs for important things).

    It was the same with our previous 9000'ers ​​and 9-5'ers.

    And that kind of got me as a toddler at the very first contact with a Saab (held the black, leather-covered new 900 Turbo 16V of our friend due to the “strange shape” for some strange outdated Eastern Bloc car).

  • With the difference that it was never reflected in the window. For around 500.000 kilometers it never bothered me. Form follows function ...
    With the 9-3 he is extremely stupidly placed. So you probably wanted to connect to the 900, but did not work.

  • “The dashboard now has a silver trim. Pointless decor that neither Sason nor Envall would have tolerated. "
    There was already a silver trim around the cockpit in the old 900 ...

  • Why am I driving SAAB at all?
    Do I feel comfortable with and in the car?
    Would not I feel better in one or the other?

    If you ever have any doubts about driving SAAB, just read one of Tom's articles ...
    (And enjoy the pictures!)

    Immediately you remember what you have already experienced in and with other cars and repressed. For example, a night trip where you literally saw red and literally. Displays and lighting that make you aggressive and nervous.

    Actually unbelievable what some cars expect their drivers.

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