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Saab Offers a Practical Addition to Luxury SUVs

Saab has taken a plunge in the SUV ocean with the advent of its new 9-7X model.

The vehicle competes with luxury midsize truck-based sport utility vehicles such as the Lincoln Aviator and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

With Saab’s entry into SUV-land, almost every marketing arm of every auto manufacturer now offers a sport utility vehicle. Somehow, I don’t foresee Bentley, Jaguar or Mini Cooper in the SUV wars. Saab is a small Swedish company specializing in sporty, but practical, cars and wagons. The company has been under General Motors Corp.’s ownership for many years, so when Saab’s dealer body demanded equal SUV access, GM, in typical fashion, turned to its existing domestic vehicle list and picked out the platform currently used by the truck-based Chevy TrailBlazer with heavy body-on-frame construction. The relationship between the made-in-America 9-7X and Saab’s current advertising campaign emphasizing the company’s Swedish aircraft heritage represents corporate marketing at its best, or worst.

Saab has set the base price for the 9-7X with the inline six at $39,240. And while the decision to use an existing platform may have made financial sense, it carries some liabilities. First, the TrailBlazer platform itself is long-of-tooth and in its declining years.

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More importantly, the trend in luxury SUVs is decidedly leaning toward more nimble crossover SUVs built on car platforms, such as the hot-selling Lexus RX330, Infiniti FX and BMW X5. In fact, the truck-based Lincoln Aviator has quietly gone into suspended production in wait of a new version based on a car chassis.

While one might characterize the new Saab 9-7X as the wrong song in the wrong key, it has some appealing virtues. It makes sense for the buyer who will spend substantial time off-road, or pulling a trailer, yet wants an unusually refined classic SUV. Additionally, it gives die-hard Saab dealers and loyalists an option in an important market.

Saab has put much work into differentiating the 9-7X from other General Motors’ products that utilize the same platform. The exterior is exceedingly clean and smooth with none of the plastic cladding or other lumps and humps or cowcatcher bumpers that have defined the segment.

The integrated front bumper flows seamlessly into the signature Saab grille and fenders. The interior features a multitude of Saab touches, such as mounting the ignition switch on the center console and deploying air vents and cup holders similar to those found in the Saab 9-5 sedan.

All in all, the dashboard and center console are very muted and attractive in a European style. The seats are supportive and comfortable.

The 9-7X’s suspension is one area where Saab engineers made a difference.

The vehicle has some unique suspension components and is tuned for on-road ride and handling. It is equipped with performance-oriented 18-inch wheels and tires, and the suspension has been lowered to give it a sporty stance.

In fact, the 9-7X is very nice on the road and delivers good road feel.

The Saab 9-7X features full-time all-wheel-drive and the choice of either a 290-horsepower inline six or a 300-horsepower V-8. The choice of engines is interesting. The V-8 has considerably more torque (almost 20 percent) but gets the same gas mileage, 17 miles per gallon combined city and highway. But the difference in weight is a minuscule 11 pounds. The base price of the V-8 powered model is exactly $2,000 more than the inline six. So if you’re looking for towing power or acceleration with a bang, the V-8 is your choice for firepower. On the other hand, GM’s inline six is exceptionally smooth and quiet, has been recognized as one of the world’s best truck engines by auto industry trade publication Ward’s AutoWorld.

Regardless of the engine choice, the Saab 9-7X buyer is faced with an old four-speed automatic transmission in a competitive environment where five- and even six-speed automatics prevail. The new transmissions provide better user control and even a gas mileage boost.


Cordell Koland is an automotive journalist based in California’s central coast. He can be reached at cordellkoland@mac.com.



Saab 9-7X

Price as tested: $41,340.

Engine:

Type: 4.2-liter inline 6.

Horsepower: 290 @ 6,000 rpm.

Torque: 277 foot-pounds @ 3,600 rpm.

Fuel economy, automatic transmission:

City: 15 mpg.

Highway: 21 mpg.

Curb weight: 4,770 pounds.

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