Conceived to be a key part of the brand's aggressive redevelopment of its product line, the Saab 9-7X aims to attract new customers to its lineup and more importantly keep current Saab owners in the Swedish automaker's family. Saab's market research showed that 39 percent of Saab owners in the U.S. currently have an SUV in their household, while 30 percent of its customers who leave the brand do so to purchase a four-door SUV. In an attempt to keep its claim as the fastest growing European premium car brand in the U.S., Saab desperately needed an SUV to stem the exodus and, to that end, introduced the 9-7X midsize SUV last year.
Although this is Saab's first SUV, the actual underpinnings are the same as those used for General Motor's other midsize SUVs, which means that the Saab 9-7X is broadly similar to the Rainier, TrailBlazer, Envoy and Ascender. The fact that the Saab SUV is based on this workaday platform also means that it's not a fresh-out-of-the-box design, but extensive modifications to the suspension tuning, exterior styling and interior trim were made to give the 9-7X a look and feel that's uniquely Saab. To achieve this lofty goal, plenty of overtime hours were spent trying to distance the 9-7X's exterior looks from its American cousins. The trademark three-port grille, European-styled headlamps and wraparound rear-quarter windows find their way into the design. Saab stylists also made sure that the profile was clean and uninterrupted, without big bumper offsets or protruding shapes to give the Saab 9-7X a distinctly European flavor.
Achieving the road feel of a European sedan using an American truck chassis is no small task, but Saab appears to have made the kind of changes that will yield a responsive SUV. Engineers stiffened the front frame and installed firmer bushings, thicker sway bars and revalved shock absorbers to achieve more stable and responsive handling than the GM-badged versions offer. The Saab 9-7X also uses a quicker 18.5-to-1 steering ratio with street-oriented 18-inch wheels and tires to give it a more sedanlike feel. All-wheel drive, an electronically controlled rear air suspension and standard stability control round out the package.
Unfortunately, there are no turbocharged engines available to make Saab loyalists feel at home. Instead, the Saab 9-7X comes with either a 290-horsepower, 4.2-liter inline six or a 300-hp, 5.3-liter V8. Coupled to both of these engines is a four-speed automatic transmission. Both engines are responsive off the line with passable passing power on the highway. Even fuel economy is similar, thanks to GM's Displacement on Demand which cuts the V8 down from a powerful eight cylinders to a fuel-saving four when cruising. The bigger pushrod engine does excel, but not so much in power production as in its sonic performance: The $2,000 bonus comes from the eight's heavenly roar of authority over the surprisingly ratty snarl of the 24-valve six.
The Saab 9Â7X comfortably seats five adults. Like most luxury SUVs, it comes standard with all the latest amenities including heated leather seats, automatic climate control, a driver information computer, wood accents and the OnStar satellite communications system. It holds up to 41.0 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat back up and 80.1 cubic feet with the seatback folded down. A 60/40-split rear bench seat is standard as is a trailer hitch receiver and hitch receiver cover. This faux import comes all the way from the Nordic lands of Moraine, Ohio. While we like what the 2006 Saab 9-7X offers in principle, we think it's apt to be a tough sell to Saab's traditional clientele of highly educated people with discriminating tastes.
The Saab 9-7X is a midsize four-door SUV that seats five and comes in two trims: Linear and Arc. Standard equipment on both trims includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a self-leveling rear air suspension, leather upholstery, wood interior trim (some of it faux, some of it real), 8-way power-adjustable and heated front seats (with driver-seat memory), dual-zone automatic climate control, an MP3-compatible Bose stereo with an in-dash CD changer and the OnStar communications system. In addition to more power, the Arc features HID headlights and power-adjustable pedals. Optional equipment highlights for the 9-7X include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and a DVD-based navigation system.
Saab drivers will feel right at home in the 9-7X's interior. Traditional brand distinctive design elements such as the instrument panel's cockpit-inspired center stack and center-mounted ignition will be instantly recognizable by aficionados. Wood grain trim on the dash and contrasting seat upholstery and door inserts do their part to give the 9-7X the progressive Scandinavian feel of other Saab models. Those who look closer will see the cabin's GM roots, a resemblance that cheapens the Saab 9-7X next to stylish rivals like the Touareg and XC90. Cargo capacity measures 41 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 80 cubes when they're folded.
Unlike all other Saabs, the 9-7X cannot be equipped with a turbocharged engine. The Linear trim comes with a 4.2-liter, inline six-cylinder engine capable of 290 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. The Arc packs a 5.3-liter V8 good for 300 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. Both engines come standard with a four-speed automatic transmission that directs power to a standard all-wheel-drive system. Towing capacity is 5,500 pounds for the six-cylinder Linear and 6,500 for the V8-powered Arc.
Achieving the road feel of a European sedan using an American truck chassis is no small task, but Saab engineers put the double-A-arm front bone structure and multilink, solid-axle rear setup through a boot camp of geometrical adjustments, while stiffening the frame and revalving the shocks. And indeed the 2006 Saab 9-7X has a more stable ride and more responsive handling than any of its GM counterparts. However, less expensive SUVs like the Explorer and 4Runner still run circles around the Saab SUV when it comes to driving dynamics. Brake feel is another weak point, as the pedal lacks the confident, linear action expected in a premium-brand SUV. Both the standard inline six and optional V8 provide more than ample power, but neither has the refinement of the engines offered in the 4Runner or Touareg.
The Saab 9-7X comes standard with stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. The 9-7X received a mediocre three out of a possible five stars for driver protection in NHTSA's frontal crash test. Front passengers fare a bit better in the same test with a four-star rating.
For 2006, the Saab 9-7X's V8 receives Displacement on Demand technology. Saab says that this feature enables fuel economy gains of up to 5 percent by reducing the number of cylinders engaged in the V8's combustion process. The 9-7X's inline six-cylinder engine has been updated, too; it now produces 290 horsepower, a 15-hp gain. Other changes this year include a standard stability control system, an optional navigation system (which had been promised for the 2005 model, but not delivered) and the ability to order the rear-seat DVD-based entertainment system on models equipped with the moonroof.