The 9-7X looks, smells, and sounds like a GM midsize SUV. It's even built on the same assembly line. But it sure doesn't feel like one--actually, it feels better. Our initial driving impressions of the Saab 9-7X--the first SUV offered by the GM-owned Swedish car company--is that it rides and drives better than any of GM's GMT360 SUV platforms.

The 9-7X, introduced as a late limited-edition 2005-model run of 5000 and in full production for 2006, shares 80 percent of its parts with the TrailBlazer, Rainier, and Envoy and is powered by the same 4.2-liter inline-six and optional 5.3-liter V-8.

But it's the Saab touch on the other 20 percent that sets the 9-7X above its kin and puts it on a pedestal alongside Acura, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo all-wheel-drive midlevel luxury SUVs.

Before you gripe, know that such praise doesn't come lightly. We spent a long day driving the 9-7X over 200 miles of narrow, twisting, rolling Canadian highways in northern Quebec, where smooth pavement is the exception, not the rule. Such distance and road conditions allowed ample time to get to know the new truck.

After a few minutes behind the wheel, we were surprised to discover that Saab chassis and suspension engineers have done in two years what GM's truck designers haven't been able to do in 10: Give a GM midsize SUV the handling and ride quality of a sports car without sacrificing the utility of a frame-on-chassis truck.

Irregularities are absorbed with ease, keeping the 9-7X planted on the road and the occupants comfortable. Saab's 'ute tracks down the road as if glued in the lane, and when you make a steering change, it responds--immediately.