Saab introduced its first-ever SUV three years ago in an attempt to jump on the sport-utility bandwagon and diversify its model lineup. To do so, it took the quick and easy route by basing the 9-7X on parent company General Motors' existing midsize SUV platform. The result was a premium-priced, Swedish-themed sport-utility that nonetheless had much in common with the Chevy Trailblazer and GMC Envoy.
Like its siblings, the 2008 Saab 9-7X is a midsize SUV with truck-based, body-on-frame design. It's differentiated through recalibrated suspension tuning and Saab-styled interior and exterior tweaks. Saab's sport-utility also features smoother sculpting led by its signature three-port grille and cleanly styled headlamps, giving the 9-7X a simple yet sophisticated European flavor.
Unlike other Saabs past or present, however, the 9-7X isn't powered by a small, high-revving turbocharged engine. Instead, it uses large-displacement American-style power to better cope with its truck-based mass. Most 9-7Xs are equipped with either a 4.2-liter inline-6 or a slightly less thrifty but more torquey 5.3-liter V8. The new driver-oriented, low-volume 9-7X Aero model shoehorns a muscular and much more enthusiastic 390-hp 6.0-liter V8 under its hood. Other Aero go-fast goodies include a limited-slip rear differential and a more responsive lowered chassis with larger stabilizer bars and heavy-duty brakes with larger calipers and high-performance linings.
Though the 2008 Saab 9-7X has a few things to recommend it, in the final analysis it doesn't possess enough uniquely Saab qualities to compensate for its lofty price tag. Its upgrades over more ordinary GM midsizers are welcome to be sure, but don't go far enough in masking garden-variety domestic roots that date back to 2002. The 9-7X also competes in the hotly contested premium SUV segment against other popular, well-turned-out vehicles like the Acura MDX, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Volvo XC90 and VW Touareg 2, all of which offer a full complement of safety and luxury features as well as finely engineered performance. Unless your SUV simply must be a Saab, we advise you to consider your other options first.
The 2008 Saab 9-7X is a premium midsize SUV that seats five and comes in three main trim levels: the 4.2i, the 5.3i and the limited-production high-performance Aero. Standard equipment on the 4.2i includes 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, faux wood trim, eight-way power-adjustable/heated front seats with driver memory, a sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, OnStar communications, satellite radio and MP3-compatible Bose audio with an in-dash CD changer. The 5.3i model includes V8 power, power-adjustable pedals, xenon HID headlamps with washers and specific aluminum wheels.
The range-topping Aero is further differentiated with more V8 power, a performance-tuned chassis, 20-inch wheels and speed-rated tires, unique Carbon Flash charcoal metallic paint, "Aero" embroidered leather seats and embossed floor mats.
Optional 9-7X equipment includes a navigation system, rear-seat DVD entertainment and polished aluminum wheels.
Drivers who have piloted other Saabs and don't look too closely will feel comfortable behind the wheel of the 9-7X. The center-mounted ignition and cockpit-inspired design are instantly recognizable Saab brand items, and the faux wood dash accents and contrasting upholstery trim impart additional Scandinavian design school cues. However, eagle-eyed aficionados will be able to look past these elements and recognize the vehicle's GM underpinnings -- which tend to cheapen the Saab 9-7X next to stylishly sophisticated rivals like the Touareg and XC90. Cargo capacity measures nearly 40 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and up to 80 cubic feet total -- about average for this segment.
All 9-7Xs are powered by GM-sourced engines, driving through a four-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel-drive system. The 4.2i model features a 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder good for 285 hp and 276 pound-feet of torque. The 5.3i comes equipped with a 5.3-liter V8 engine putting out 300 hp and 321 lb-ft of torque. The performance-minded Aero comes with a 6.0-liter V8 cranking out 390 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque. Towing capacity, when properly equipped, is rated at 5,500 pounds for the six-cylinder 4.2i and 6,500 pounds for the V8-powered 5.3. EPA-estimated fuel economy for 2008 reflects what might be expected from a nearly 5,000-pound, large-displacement SUV: 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway from the 4.2-liter six-cylinder and 13/19 mpg for the smaller V8.
In a valiant attempt to elevate the 9-7X's handling prowess and coax a bit more Euro-style road feel from its truck-based chassis, Saab engineers stiffened the 9-7X's frame and recalibrated its A-arm front suspension and solid rear axle arrangement. The surgery was a qualified success, as the 2008 Saab 9-7X does indeed have a more stable ride and more responsive handling than any of its GM cousins. Apparently there was only so much Saab's surgeons could do, however, as less expensive run-of-the-mill SUVs like the Explorer and 4Runner still outclass the 9-7X in driving dynamics. Brake feel also remains a sore point, as the pedal lacks the progressive and confident response associated with a premium vehicle. And while there's no arguing with the power of the standard inline-6 or optional V8 engines, we find they don't offer the refined operation of those found in many of the 9-7X's imported competitors.
The 2008 Saab 9-7X comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front seat side-impact airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and OnStar communications with turn-by-turn navigation. In the government's frontal crash test, the 9-7X received an unimpressive three stars out of five for driver protection and a slightly better four-star rating for front passenger protection. Saab's SUV performed very well in the government's side-impact testing, receiving five stars out of five for both front and rear occupants.
In what is expected to be the 9-7X's final year, Saab attempts to generate a halo effect and increased interest for this GM-derived midsize all-wheel-drive SUV by introducing a limited-production, high-performance Aero model for 2008. The Aero is powered by a 390-horsepower 6.0-liter V8 nearly identical to that used in the similar Chevrolet Trailblazer SS. The Aero also gets upgraded suspension and brakes to handle the extra oomph. The higher-volume 4.2i and 5.3i models are largely carryover except for optional new 18- and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels.