The fourth product in Saab's lineup is the 9-7X SUV, and it's built in the same Moraine, Ohio, plant as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer. The Swedish automaker is owned by General Motors.
Why a Saab SUV? Saab said its market research revealed that 39 percent of Saab's U.S. customers currently have an SUV in the household, and that almost 30 percent of customers who leave the Saab brand purchase a four-door SUV.
The 9-7X will be priced in the $37,000-to-$45,000 bracket. It will be offered with a 300-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 or a 275-horsepower, 4.2-liter six-cylinder. Saab expects about 70 percent of buyers to choose the V-8. Both all-aluminum engines are coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes leather-trimmed seats, 18-inch aluminum wheels, side-curtain airbags, all-wheel-drive, OnStar and XM satellite radio.
The 9-7X has a 113-inch wheelbase. Active customers will find room for their gear when they fold down the rear seat. There is no third-seat option.
The 5.3-liter is the fourth generation of GM's small-block V-8. A cast-aluminum block distinguishes this engine from the standard Vortec V-8. It has cylinder heads and pressed-in cyilinder liners similar to those of the Corvette engine. Other features include variable exhaust valve timing, electronic throttle control, coil-on plug ignition and a state-of-the-art powertrain control module. The aluminum block is approximately 100 pounds lighter than the cast-iron engine. Maximum towing capacity is 6,500 pounds with the V-8 engine.
The 9-7X's all-wheel-drive system is bolted directly to the engine's oil pan rather than the chassis. This saves space and reduces interior noise. In a bit of clever engineering, GM chose to run one of the front drive shafts through a passage cast into the engine's oil pan. This not only saves space, but it also allows the engine to be mounted lower. Saab said this configuration also reduces the amount of noise that filters into the cabin.
Reducing the noise level of the 9-7X was important. Sound-absorbing insulators were placed in the pillars and doors, the windshield uses acoustically laminated glass, and all four doors have a water deflector for exceptional sealing and noise reduction.
"The exterior and interior design of the Saab 9-7X are in line with the vehicle's dynamic road behavior and convey the sporty refinement of a Saab rather than the ruggedness of a traditional SUV," said Simon Padian, senior designer. "For example the interior features such Saab icons as the air vents with their distinctive sliding plate design, the famed cup holder like the Saab 9-5 and a center console ignition key."
The cockpit-inspired interior has a new instrument panel with a center stack angled toward the driver. Other key Saab styling cues, such as the signature three-port grille and rear quarter windows that appear to wrap around the D-pillars, are also part of the visual package.
Even though the 9-7X is based on a truck, it was designed to be a driver's vehicle, according to Saab. The front suspension has been tuned to work with a five-link rear axle that has electronically controlled air suspension. Ride height is low, and the suspension has been tuned to deliver "responsive European handling."
The all-wheel-drive system has a limited-slip rear axle and large brake discs. Anti-lock is standard.
Standard safety items include a rollover sensing system, side-curtain airbags, pre-tensioners for the front seatbelts and dual-stage front airbags.
Final specifications for the 9-7X are not yet available. The SUV should be in showrooms soon, and I will have a regular test drive when the vehicles are available.
Engine: 5.3-liter, 300-hp V-8
or 4.2-liter, 275-hp six-cylinder
Wheelbase: 113 inches
Curb weight: Not avail.
Base price: $37,000 to $45,000