Enthusiasts with a penchant for Swedish-flavored transportation -- and, perhaps with a Saab passenger car already parked outside -- may think they've found the utility vehicle of their dreams when they lay eyes on the 2009 Saab 9-7X. Front fascias can be deceiving, however. Behind that distinctively Swedish face, the 9-7X is basically a gussied-up Chevrolet TrailBlazer, a back-of-the-pack midsize SUV that received its last redesign seven years ago.
Like its corporate cousins, the 2009 Saab 9-7X continues to ride on a truck-based body-on-frame chassis. However, it's differentiated through recalibrated suspension tuning and some unique exterior and interior design elements -- the signature three-port grille and cleanly styled headlamps give the 9-7X a simple yet sophisticated look up front. From most other angles, though, the 9-7X looks uncomfortably like its GM relatives. More family resemblance becomes evident when you turn the key and large-displacement, American-style power rumbles to life. There are three flavors to choose from: a base 4.2-liter inline-6, a 5.3-liter V8 or a fire-breathing 390-horsepower 6.0-liter V8.
The 9-7X is generally competent, but it doesn't possess enough unique Saab DNA to compensate for its obvious GM underpinnings and lofty price tag. Competing models like the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 350 offer higher levels of safety, luxury and refinement. Even if you consider yourself a Saabophile, you should think twice before adding this SUV to your stable.
The 2009 Saab 9-7X is a premium midsize sport-utility vehicle that seats five and is offered in three states of tune: base 4.2i, midlevel 5.3i and high-flying 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, satellite radio and an MP3-compatible Bose audio system with an in-dash six-CD changer.
The 5.3i model ups the ante with V8 power, xenon headlights with washers, specific aluminum wheels and power-adjustable pedals. The range-topping Aero is further differentiated by a bigger V8, a sport-tuned suspension with larger stabilizer bars, heavy-duty brakes, 20-inch wheels with performance tires, exclusive charcoal metallic paint and "Aero"-embroidered seats and floor mats. Optional 9-7X equipment includes a navigation system, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and polished aluminum wheels. Chrome-trimmed side assist steps are also offered as a dealer-installed option.
Drivers who are familiar with other Saabs but don't look too closely should feel right at home behind the wheel of the 2009 9-7X. The console-mounted ignition and the cockpit-inspired design are instantly recognizable Saab brand cues, and the faux wood dash accents and contrasting upholstery trim impart an inviting Scandinavian design feel. However, sharp-eyed enthusiasts will quickly uncover the vehicle's more pedestrian GM foundation. When compared with more sophisticated but similarly priced Japanese and European rivals, the 9-7X's interior design and materials quality simply don't measure up. The 9-7X is roomy, though, with cargo capacity measuring nearly 40 cubic feet behind the rear seats and just over 80 cubic feet total with the seats down -- slightly above average for this segment.
All Saab 9-7Xs are powered by GM-built engines that transmit their power through four-speed automatic transmissions and a standard all-wheel-drive system. The 4.2i model features a 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder putting out 285 hp and 276 pound-feet of torque. The 5.3i is equipped with a 5.3-liter V8 that generates 300 horses and 321 lb-ft of torque and features GM's Active Fuel Management system, which deactivates four cylinders when not needed during cruising conditions.
The performance-oriented Aero is equipped with a 6.0-liter V8 cranking out 390 hp and 400 lb-ft of tire-twisting torque -- if you want to reach 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, this is the one for you. Properly equipped, the 9-7X can tow up to 6,600 pounds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is about what you'd expect from a 2.5-ton, large-displacement SUV: 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined from both the 4.2-liter six-cylinder and the 5.3-liter V8. Those figures go down to a Hummer-like 12 mpg city/16 mpg highway and 13 mpg combined for the Aero's 6.0-liter V8.
In order to achieve more responsive handling and coax a bit more Euro-style road feel from this truck-based chassis, Saab engineers stiffened the 9-7X's frame and recalibrated its antiquated A-arm front suspension and solid rear axle design. The result is a qualified success, as the 2009 Saab 9-7X offers a more compliant and better-controlled ride plus sharper handling than any of its GM relatives. But that's not saying a whole lot, as less costly traditional SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Toyota 4Runner still top the 9-7X in driving dynamics. Brake feel is also a weak point, as the pedal lacks the progressive and confident modulation associated with a premium vehicle. And while we have no problem at all with the abundant power of the three available engines, they lack overall refinement when compared with the power delivery found in some of the 9-7X's premium rivals from overseas.
The 2009 Saab 9-7X comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side-impact airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and OnStar with crash notification. In the government's frontal crash test, though, the 9-7X received an unimpressive three stars out of five for driver protection and four stars for front-passenger protection. Saab's SUV did perform well in government side-impact testing, earning a perfect five stars out of five for both front and rear occupants. However, in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the 9-7X received an "Acceptable" rating for frontal-offset collisions and only a "Marginal" ranking for side-impact crashes.
The 2009 Saab 9-7X receives Bluetooth connectivity and an Altitude Edition option on 4.2i and 5.3i models that includes DVD-based navigation, polished 18-inch alloy wheels and special paint.