Road Test: 2006 Saab 9-7x
No, this truck-based 9-7x isn't the end of Saab as we know it.
For Saabanistas, the end came with the infusion of Opel platforms, anyway. After considering a front-drive crossover platform ultimately deemed too unrefined for semi-premium Saab, the solution is a truck-based all-wheel-drive sport/utility that's as necessary to the brand in the U.S. as the Cayenne is to Porsche. At least Saab made more changes to the GMT360 than it did to the Subaru-based 9-2x.
The Saabness in this GMC Envoy variant comes through in the 9-7x's front-end sheetmetal and its better steering, brakes, and suspension. The ignition key is on the floor of the console, but there's no signature-Saab night panel, and no power-adjustable steering-wheel tilt or power-up driver's window, as you'd expect in a premium brand.
The 9-7x comes in 4.2i (I-6) and 5.3i (V-8) versions. Saab expects to sell about 7000 per year, just enough to stem the tide of customers flowing to other European SUVs. The 5.3i, priced $2000 higher than the 4.2i, has good power for passing and for steep hills, plus seamless cylinder shutoff. But its four-speed automatic often searches for gears under heavy load. The 5.3i is about $7000 less than a "comparable" Volvo XC90 V-8. Sweden-based chassis engineer Per Jansson lowered ride height about one inch, strengthened the frame, firmed up the shocks and springs, thickened the anti-roll bars, and added a steering brace.
Premium GMT360 options standard on 9-7x include automatic all-wheel drive, side-curtain airbags, self-leveling air suspension, StabiliTrak, heated leather seats, metallic paint, six-CD Bose audio with XM, OnStar, and a power moonroof.
The 9-7x handles better than any of its platformmates and has some of the suspension components that'll go into the upcoming TrailBlazer SS for a carlike trade-off between ride and handling, with firm damping and moderate roll in the corners. It inspires more confidence than do other GMT360s, but, unlike the XC90, it doesn't begin to pretend to be a sport-sedan alternative. Brakes are far better than those on other 360s, and the steering is quicker and more precise, although it still suffers poor on-center feel. The sound insulation package is straight off the Rainier, but, like its brothers, the 9-7x still has significant wind noise coming off the driver-side A-pillar.
Saab hasn't decided whether there'll be a new 9-7x based off the 2008 GMX-375, so check it out if you yearn for a Saab truck that happens to be the best of its platform so far.