Stiffer steering mounts, a quicker steering ratio (18.5:1 versus 20.3:1), larger brakes, fatter tires, and an electronically controlled limited-slip rearend round out the changes that most strongly set the 9-7X apart from its GM kin. The result is an SUV equally at home on long drives as it is over undulating twisting roads. (Saab insiders say the chassis and suspension improvements will only be shared with the coming TrailBlazer SS.)

Then there are the luxury touches in the cabin. They're the same as would be expected on a high-end 9-3 sport sedan--power amenities, rich, stitched-leather upholstery and trim, dark burled wood on the console with chrome-accented handles, satin-nickel-ringed gauges, and, of course, the ignition key switch on the center console rearward of the shifter. Couple those items with plenty of sound-deadening material strategically located in and around the cockpit to muffle road and wind noise, and you have a midsize sport/utility vehicle that rivals the comfort and quietness of the best upscale SUVs.

As for power, both models feature a standard four-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Base models are equipped with the Vortec 4200 I-6. At 290 horsepower, it's a nice match for the 9-7X, for those who value fuel economy over pulling power. (Horsepower is up by 15 over the current I-6, as a result of increased compression ratio and improved airflow. This upgrade will be seen in all 2006 GMT360-based SUVs.) The inline-six is smooth and is said to deliver 21 mpg on the open road; however, the popular model likely will be the 300-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8--a $2000 upgrade that includes unique six-spoke, 18-inch wheels, adjustable foot pedals, and Xenon headlights. The V-8 has nearly 60 pound-feet more torque than the six and gets the 9-7X moving much faster when onramps and passing come into play. The V-8 also has that sporty exhaust note the I-6 will never have, unless it someday gets paired with a twin turbo. The 5.3-liter's highway fuel economy is said to hover around 19 mpg, with city numbers in the mid-teens.

The advantage the V-8-powered all-wheel-drive 9-7X has in the luxury midsize market is that it can tow 6500 pounds and can save fuel with the latest version of Displacement on Demand technology. The current generation of cylinder-shutoff software makes the system invisible during acceleration and coast-down.

That cutting-edge technology, combined with sporty performance and distinctive Saab looks and styling, ensures this new entry will turn heads wherever it goes.