Unique in being distinct yet not expressive — unlike most of today's generic but expressive designs.
Volvo has ‘owned’ Swedish car design for quite a while now with its variably square and soft edged forms, but not long ago Saab told a different and more abstruse story of Swedish car design, and the 99 is its most important chapter.
Like many Volvo designs, the 99 is Swedish (or perhaps more accurately, Scandinavian) in its bluff nose and thick upright pillars in order to be generally safe and specifically to protect its occupants were they to crash into an elk (that has its mass high enough to come through the windscreen of a sleeker design). It also Scandinavian in its un-flamboyant design — the region is almost as famous for design as Italy, but for design that is more reserved. This combination makes the 99 perhaps the greatest exemplar of a design both being distinct with singular, culturally specific, aesthetic, and yet also not expressive — and this is now a pretty special attribute: a reserved but unique car design; the opposite of today’s many expressive but normative designs.
In this distinction it also differs to most Volvo designs — the 99 is almost wilfully unconventional, it sits tall with a very upright windshield, it has long overhangs, its body tucks under at the front and rear almost as if it were amphibious, and its concave sweeping rear is odd in so many ways.
Time and familiarity has lessened the unusualness of the 99, just as it does with all designs, and its elan and harmony win through. It is clearly a design from a talented designer (Sixten Sason), the more you study the car the more its rightness speaks to you. Arguably the 99 is the best exemplar of car design from this most northern of regions.