Saab 9-7X SUV mixes Saab styling and American vehicle traits
When Americans’ love affair with sport utility vehicles started shifting sales away from the Saab brand of Sweden, the company went back to the drawing board.The result: Saab’s sales decline stopped last year when it started selling its first SUV, the 9-7X.A version of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy mid-size SUVs sold since early this decade, the 9-7X mixes Saab styling with American SUV traits like the high ride and standard all-wheel drive. There’s also a roomy cargo area in back, and good-sized, 18-inch wheels and tires.But Saab character touches are here, too. The ignition keyhole of the 9-7X is right where it should be inside a Saab – between the front seats – and the front styling wouldn’t be mistaken for anything but a Saab.Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including delivery, for a base 2006 9-7X with inline six cylinder and automatic transmission is $39,240. A 9-7X with a V8 starts at $41,240.The 9-7X competes against the Volvo XC90 premium SUV, which starts at $36,770 for a 2006 model with turbocharged five-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. Another competitor is the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which starts at $27,860 for a V6 model with automatic transmission and two-wheel drive.Considered a premium SUV, the five-passenger 9-7X has many standard amenities, including heated front seats, leather-trimmed seats front and back, curtain airbags, moonroof, Bose stereo system, tow package and rear air suspension.Many of these items are options on the sibling TrailBlazer and Envoy, which start around mid-$20,000.
The 9-7X also has a firmer, sportier ride, thanks to firmer shock absorbers and springs as well as a larger diameter front sway bar, among other things. The vehicle sits slightly lower to the ground than the TrailBlazer and Envoy.The rack-and-pinion steering ratio is changed for a quicker steering response, and four-wheel disc brakes are updated for a more solid brake pedal feel and strong braking.Overall, the ride feels more taut than in the regular TrailBlazer and Envoy, as the vehicle body motions are controlled.Because of the suspension changes, passengers can notice vibrations on most road surfaces. But the 9-7X’s truck-based character comes through only at certain times, such as when the SUV goes over potholes in a bouncy, jostling fashion.The vehicle’s all-wheel-drive system requires no action from the driver. It doesn’t come with an extra-low gear for rugged off-roading.Power from the TrailBlazer and Envoy engines comes on readily, with no hesitation as the 9-7X merges into city traffic or accelerates to highway speeds.The test model had the base, 4.2-liter, dual overhead cam, inline six-cylinder engine that puts out a commendable 291 horsepower and 277 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm. The uplevel, 5.3-liter, Vortec V8 generates 300 horsepower and 330 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm and has technology that automatically closes some engine cylinders to conserve gasoline in certain driving conditions.As a result, the government’s fuel economy ratings for the six- and eight-cylinder engines are nearly identical and are in the 15-miles-per-gallon range for city driving and 21 mpg for highway travel.There’s decent passenger room inside the 9-7X, which includes rear-seat legroom of 37.1 inches, compared with 35.5 inches in the back seat of Jeep’s Grand Cherokee.
But the Cherokee has more rear hiproom – 60.6 inches vs. the 9-7X’s 58.1 inches.Maximum cargo space in the 9-7X is 80.1 cubic feet, which is better than the 67.4 cubic feet in the Grand Cherokee but less than the 85 cubic feet in the Volvo XC90.The XC90 is also available with seven-passenger seating.The nicely done Saab cosmetics notwithstanding, there are reminders that the 9-7X is a General Motors product.It has GM’s old-style, uncomfortable front-seat shoulder belts that are attached to the seatbacks rather than the side pillars. The blinker stalk in the 9-7X is GM’s old-fashioned one that incorporates the cruise control operation and always seems to be in the “on” position. The roof rails, which are standard, don’t include crossbars, and the drop-down screen for the optional entertainment system hinders views out the rearview mirror.There’s also no redline in the tachometer of this Saab.Despite Saab’s reputation for safety, the 9-7X did not fare well in initial U.S. government crash testing.Indeed, the 9-7X’s three out of five stars for driver protection in frontal crash testing contrasts with the five out of five stars awarded to the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Passenger protection in a frontal crash test also was lower – four stars, rather than the five awarded to the Grand Cherokee. The low rating is the same as that received by the 9-7X’s sibling vehicles.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not reported results for side crash testing on the 9-7X and has not released results for the 2006 9-7X.2006 Saab 9-7X 4.2iSaab 9-7X SUV 4.2i- Base price: $38,520 with six-cylinder engine.- As tested: $40,540.- Type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger, premium, mid-size sport utility vehicle.- Engine: 4.2-liter, dual overhead cam, inline six cylinder.- Mileage: 15 mpg (city), 21 mpg (highway).
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