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In its quest to make Saab into a profitable division and give its dealers and customers more choice, General Motors has added the Saab 9-7X to its lineup. The 9-7X is Saab's first truck-based SUV, and the first-ever Saab available with a V8 engine.
As American as apple pie, the Saab 9-7X is built in Moraine, Ohio, on the same truck platform as the Chevy TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy, and Buick Rainier. However, it's been given a Swedish massage inside, outside and underneath.
We think the 9-7X may be the best execution of this solid truck platform to date. The combination of blocky good looks, Saabesque design cues, improved handling and ride quality, with reasonable power and fuel economy make the new Saab 9-7X worth a long look. Inside, it's thoroughly Saab-like, nicely finished and comfortable.
The 9-7X is built on the shorter of the two wheelbases used for the GMT 360 platform, which is the one we prefer. It rides lower and the chassis is a bit stiffer than the other GM models, and comes with a retuned suspension and bigger brakes.
Overall, the Saab 9-7X offers a lot of value for $40,000, which comes in the form of luxury and safety features, both active and passive. Among them: six airbags, all-wheel drive, electronic stability control. Leather upholstery is standard.
A superb inline six-cylinder engine comes standard. A more powerful V8 is optional. Saab says major competitors will include the Volvo XC90 and the Jeep Grand Cherokee, both excellent SUVs. We suspect Saab's new truck will also compete with GM's in-house brands.
We really like the silent-servant way in which this Saab drives. It would be even more silent with a fifth gear, but Saab makes do with lots of engine torque, the right-size tire, and the right gear ratios to present a very pleasant four-speed automatic overdrive in a highway cruiser that can hold, haul and tow like the big boys, because underneath, this is a Chevy truck. Body on frame, gutty engines, isolated cabin and all.
But the Saab tuning guys have done a remarkable job in improving the chassis. They lowered it one inch. The front end of the frame has been stiffened, as has every spring, shock, bushing and stabilizer bar in the entire vehicle, up to 15 percent stiffer, keeping the body roll, nose pitch, and a big portion of the usual harshness out of the Saab version. It steers much more tightly than most trucks in this class, with a nice hefty feel at the wheel rim, it rides quietly, handles the big bumps and holes quietly, and doesn't feel like a racing yacht in the corners. It just hunkers down and all four wheels work together whenever the electronic system is triggered by conditions and velocities.
The Saab guys also tweaked the entire steering system, its mounts, and components for more stiffness and greater isolation. They stiffened the shock absorbers as much as 70 percent compared to the stateside brands.
The six-cylinder version feels lighter in front than the V8 model and in that respect we like it better. The 4.2-liter inline-6 is rated at 290 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 277 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. The six-cylinder gets an EPA-rated 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway. The inline-6 features double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and continuously variable valve timing.
The 5.3-liter V8 is rated at 300 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 330 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Its greater torque helps the V8 version achieve a tow rating of 6500 pounds. All models come with a hitch receiver and receiver cover as standard equipment. The 5.3-liter V8 engine, the latest in GM's 50-year development program of the smallblock, overhead-valve V8, features displacement on demand, which automatically and imperceptibly deactivates four of the engine's cylinders at light loads, and puts them right back to work instantly when called upon to do so. GM says DOD is worth up to 8 percent in increased highway mileage. It's a prime reason for the V8's good highway mileage, even at a curb weight approaching 4800 pounds. The V8 is EPA-rated rated 15 mpg city, 19 mpg highway.
The Saab development team enlarged the brakes to 12.9-inch front and 12.8-inch rear ventilated discs, and they were extremely powerful, smooth, and linear in getting the 4800-pound 9-7X down from interstellar cruising speeds to small-town puttering speeds on Route 138. The automatic self-leveling rear air suspension made a huge difference in the Saab's braking behavior and quiet ride.
The world of $40,000-$45,000 entry luxury SUVs offers lots of worthy choices that have been designed from the ground up, and lots of others that have been adapted for the task at hand, either from cars or trucks. We think the Saab 9-7X is by far the best iteration of the GMT 360 platform, regardless of brand name, and we think the price is right for either the I6 or V8 models. And you can get serviced and fixed at a nice, quiet Saab dealership instead of a Chevy store.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Quebec City.