Vehicle Overview
Few automakers have steered clear of the sport utility vehicle market, but Saab has been one of the holdouts. That changed in late May 2005 when a few full-size 9-7X models debuted. Following on the heels of the 9-2X sport wagon, which was developed with Subaru and debuted as a 2005 model, the 9-7X participates in the luxury SUV segment.

Saab's 9-7X is structurally related to the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy. General Motors owns Saab, and although the 9-7X is manufactured in Moraine, Ohio, the Swedish company says it offers traditional Saab traits. Per Jansson, chassis development engineer, said the new model "had to be a seamless fit" with other Saabs and designed to deliver "European ride and handling." Saab's principal competitor is the V-8-equipped version of the Volvo XC90.

All-wheel drive and 18-inch tires are standard. Two engines are available: an inline-six-cylinder, which gains power for 2006, and a 5.3-liter V-8 that gains Displacement on Demand technology. StabiliTrak, GM's electronic stability system, has been added to 2006 models.

Five-passenger interiors feature leather-trimmed heated front seats. A Saab representative has indicated that a seven-passenger version is unlikely.

The 9-7X's signature styling cues produce a more European look. Saab's traditional three-port grille sits up front, and the company says the 9-7X doesn't have any protruding shapes and forms, resulting in a clean, uninterrupted appearance. Aluminum-alloy wheels hold 18-inch tires. Built on a 113-inch wheelbase, the 9-7X is 193.2 inches long overall.

Chassis enhancements made by Saab to the SUV's GM foundation include a lower ride height, firmer springs and shock absorbers, larger brakes with steel front calipers, a strengthened frame, steering revisions and a thicker front stabilizer bar. Six-cylinder models have 12-spoke wheels, while V-8 versions get six-spoke wheels. A self-leveling rear air suspension is installed.

Five people fit inside the full-size 9-7X. Saab cues include a distinct instrument panel. Certain components hail from the automaker's 9-5 sedan and wagon. For example, the ignition switch is mounted in the center console, which has long been a Saab hallmark, and the air vents have a traditional Saab look.

Automatic climate control, XM Satellite Radio and GM's OnStar communication system are standard. The six-CD changer works with a Bose audio system. A backseat DVD-based entertainment system is optional. Cargo space totals 39.8 cubic feet with the 65/35-split rear seat up and 80.1 cubic feet with that seat folded.

Under the Hood
Two engines are available for the 9-7X. GM's 4.2-liter inline-six-cylinder gets a 15-horsepower boost and now produces 290 hp and 277 pounds-feet of torque. The 5.3-liter V-8 generates 300 hp and 330 pounds-feet of torque and comes equipped with fuel-saving Displacement on Demand technology, which disables half the cylinders when they're not needed. Both engines mate with a four-speed-automatic transmission. Each 9-7X has automatic all-wheel drive. A V-8 model can tow 6,500 pounds.

All-disc antilock brakes are standard. Side curtain-type airbags work with a rollover sensing system.

Driving Impressions
Despite this SUV's already-familiar GM foundation, developers have managed to inject a substantial selection of Swedish styling and behavior into the 9-7X. Engineers developed a long list of changes to the suspension, steering and brakes, and the result is a notably different SUV experience from that provided by the TrailBlazer or Envoy.

Markedly more confident than some rivals, the 9-7X is strictly SUV underneath, though directional changes occur with greater-than-expected precision. Steering effort is moderate and the ride is generally good, but rough, uneven pavement produces considerable choppiness. Still, the taut suspension recovers smartly and cushioning is satisfying, though lumpy roads yield too much body motion.

The V-8 delivers plenty of vigor, and the transmission is generally well behaved. Awkward downshifts sometimes occur when attempting to pass — only a little trucklike drone is emitted. You can tell the V-8 is pushing quite a bit of weight on steep grades. GM's six-cylinder engine is noisier on hard acceleration and less refined, but it yields sufficient energy for most applications. The six-cylinder version actually feels a bit more stable and secure on twisty roads.

Saab has created a classy, refined variant of GM's basic midsize SUV (being slightly larger, classifies the 9-7X as a full-size SUV), lacking true luxury cues yet exuding a premium personality.