When is a Saab not a Saab? Certainly, the 9-7X, the company's first SUV, had Saab's signature grille, requisite badging and floor-mounted ignition. But underneath the Swedish veneer was General Motors' midsize, truck-based SUV platform, which means that the 9-7X shared its core mechanicals with the departed Chevy Trailblazer family (including models from Buick, GMC, Isuzu and Oldsmobile).
The Saab 9-7X thus felt like a trucky GM SUV that was taken to Sweden to get a mild infusion of Saab character, which -- no surprise -- is exactly what it is. It's like putting Uncle Sam in a Viking helmet, or Bruce Springsteen in an ABBA jumpsuit. In spite of Saab's best efforts at altering the interior and exterior styling and revising the vehicle's suspension tuning, it could never hide the fact that the Ohio-built 9-7X was limited by its heritage. As a choice for a luxury SUV, it was and remains mediocre. We feel most consumers would be happier with other choices, such as Acura's MDX or Mercedes' M-Class.
Most Recent Saab 9-7X
The Saab 9-7X was produced from 2005-'09. It originally came in a single trim level, but the next year saw each available engine get its own trim level: Linear and Arc. These were renamed the following year to reflect engine displacement: 4.2i and 5.3i. A higher-performance Aero model was introduced for 2008.
Forget small displacement and turbochargers -- the 9-7X's engine lineup was pure Detroit iron. The 4.2i came with a 4.2-liter inline-6 engine with 290 horsepower (275 hp for 2005). The 5.3i had a 300-hp 5.3 V8 with considerably more torque than the 4.2-liter. The Aero got a 6.0-liter V8 good for 390 hp and 395 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission available on the 9-7X was a four-speed automatic. All-wheel drive, a limited-slip differential, traction control and stability control (2006 and later) were standard.
Despite the different trim levels, all shared the bulk of standard equipment like side curtain airbags, leather upholstery, heated front seats, automatic climate control, a premium Bose stereo with six-CD changer, satellite radio and OnStar. The only major options for most of the 9-7X's run were a navigation system and a rear-seat entertainment system. The Aero had a performance-tuned chassis, 20-inch wheels and sport trim.
The fact that the 9-7X was not equipped with a turbocharged engine is one good clue that the vehicle wasn't a real Saab, and the layout of the interior was another. Despite some classic Saab features like the driver-canted dash, soft-touch knobs and center-console-mounted ignition, the interior still looked very GM.
The 9-7X seated five. Third-row seating, a feature common on vehicles in this class, wasn't available. There was plenty of cargo space, though, with 80 cubic feet when the rear seats were folded.
In reviews of the Saab 9-7X, we found that this SUV's positive attributes included a smooth ride and well-weighted steering. The Aero, in particular, offered a surprising level of performance. One strong criticism we had was regarding the four-speed automatic transmission, which couldn't match the efficiency or smoothness of the five- or six-speed transmissions in other luxury SUVs. Otherwise, our affection for the 9-7X was only slightly greater than that of its GM SUV platform mates -- which wasn't very high.