Saab takes a radical departure in 2005, with the introduction of its first SUV and first V8 engine in the all-new 9-7X.

It’s the result of its association with GM; the 9-7X is the same vehicle that appears as the Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy and Buick Rainier. The 9-7X adds its own unique Saab flavour, with an unmistakable face, upscale interior with high-quality materials, and console design. The suspension has been tweaked to conform its ride and handling to Saab’s specifications, including a lower ride height, stiffer mounts and an 18.5:1 steering gear ratio that’s quicker than its siblings.

The 9-7X comes only in the platform’s regular-wheelbase configuration, which is a blessing; early designs incorporating the extended-wheelbase didn’t work as well as the shorter and better-proportioned final version.

Two models are offered. The Linear uses a 4.2-litre inline six, while the Arc carries a 5.3-litre V8. Both use a four-speed automatic transmission and GM’s automatic all-wheel-drive with active control, and feature an electronically-controlled rear air suspension.

Despite the vehicle’s weight, the six-cylinder moves it along well, with smooth acceleration and enough power to pass. The V8 is preferable if you’re planning on carrying a full load of passengers and cargo on a regular basis, or if you’ll be doing any heavier-duty towing. Both models come with a trailer hitch, but the V8 version can tow a maximum of 2,948 kg, or 6,500 lbs.

Both lines include heated mirrors, roof rack side rails, 18-inch aluminum wheels (six-spoke on the Arc), electronic dual-zone climate control with rear controls, cargo cover, cruise control, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, adjustable pedals, leather-wrapped wheel with audio controls, electric windows, variable intermittent wipers, rear washer/wiper, leather heated seats with eight-way power driver’s adjustment and position memory, 65/35 folding rear seat, CD/MP3 player with six speakers, fog lights and power locks with keyless entry.

Rear-seat passengers enjoy spacious legroom and headroom, and an optional DVD entertainment system can be added to keep them occupied.

It might be hard to think of a Saab truck, but there’s a sound theory behind it: many Saab passenger-car owners also have an SUV in the driveway, and until now, they’ve had to go to another brand to supply it. Hey, the idea of a Cadillac SUV was a bizarre one when it was introduced too, but the Escalade’s popularity exceeded everyone’s expectations. The Saab is the most expensive of the four, but also offers the highest level of sophistication and the closest to a sporty handling experience that you’re going to get in a 2,115-kg vehicle. And because it conforms to its brand’s across-the-board warranty, coverage on the 9-7X is one year/20,000 km longer than on the Chevrolet, Buick or GM versions.

The 9-7X is built in Moraine, Ohio.

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