2006 Saab 9-7X V8
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Getting accosted every once in a while by (mostly) innocent bystanders is an occupational hazard in this line of work. You drive interesting cars, you’ve gotta expect to have to talk to people about them every once in a while. Most of the time, people want to tell you they like your car. Sometimes, though, they tap on your window looking all indignant.

“You know that’s not a real Saab,” the guy that had run across the Toronto Carpet Factory parking lot said. “It’s a Chevy with a Saab grille.”

Well, yes and no. At its most basic level, the 9-7X does share a lot with the TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy, and Buick Rainier. It’s powered by a choice of the same inline-six and V8 engines, and features similar body-on-frame construction. Unlike the TrailBlazer and Envoy, which have selectable four-wheel-drive that you engage when needed, the 9-7X has a sophisticated full-time all-wheel-drive system that channels power to the wheels that need them automatically. Its suspension is lower than any of the domestic models, and has been tuned for a more European feel.

2006 Saab 9-7X V8
Click image to enlarge

And yes, it looks like a Saab. The grille is similar to those used on the company’s sedans, and flows into a body that, thanks to its lack of adornment and lower suspension, looks cleaner and better-resolved than the TrailBlazer. The wheel arches are round and have a lip on them; the rear lamps have clear lenses; the 18-inch wheel design looks much like the 9-5’s. Inside, while the basic dash architecture is familiar, it features Saab’s trademark waffle-core joystick air vents, real wood trim, a revised gauge package, and sharp green backlighting. As if to remind you to how much trouble they went to, the ignition switch has been relocated to the centre console as well.

2006 Saab 9-7X V8
Click image to enlarge

While the overall effect of the interior is distinctly more Saab than, say, a TrailBlazer, it’s still a far cry from what you’d find in a 9-3 or a 9-5. The big front buckets, which integrate seatbelts into their frame, are comfortable enough, but they’re not Saab seats. The radio and climate controls may have new faceplates and dials, but their knobs and buttons don’t have that same expensive feel, or the same clear operating logic. The instrument panel is very busy: full of information, like oil temperature, that you wouldn’t normally find on another Saab dashboard, and with smaller gauges and markings than you’d hope. And there’s no night-panel feature that, at night, dims everything but the speedometer and important warnings.

2006 Saab 9-7X V8
Click image to enlarge

If it’s lacking that overall Saab ambiance, the 9-7X’s interior is at least comfortable and versatile. There’s plenty of room up front, and it’s easy to find a good driving position thanks to a power seat and adjustable pedals (though it’d be nice if the steering wheel tilted in slightly smaller increments). The back seats are a bit upright, but there’s more than enough leg- and headroom for most purposes. A rear-seat video system with a bright DVD screen and auxiliary input is available to keep big and little kids alike entertained, and numerous roomy storage bins are scattered around the cabin. Accessing the rear cargo area is easy through the wide liftgate, and as you would expect, the seats fold if you need extra room. There’s also a shallow, but quite handy, well under the cargo floor to hold smaller items.

On the road, the 9-7X is a pleasant cruiser. It rides well on the highway, and the V8 provides an easy surge of power, abetted by a smooth-shifting automatic transmission. But because of its tough body-on-frame construction, rougher roads upset it a bit more: you can feel how heavy the suspension is as it shudders and bangs over rutted pavement. Handling is secure but not entertaining; the steering is smooth, but slow to respond, and there’s a lot of body lean in corners.

While the brakes are powerful, they’re connected to a pretty mushy pedal that doesn’t inspire confidence; hard stops involve a lot of nose-dive and no small amount of ABS juddering underfoot. Traction from the all-season snow tires isn’t great either, in the snow. Overall, the driving experience is more truck-like than the Saab’s slick looks would lead you to expect.

2006 Saab 9-7X V8
Click image to enlarge

The 9-7X is a nice enough vehicle. It’s roomy and comfortable and easy on the eyes, and for most daily duties, is a nice truck to drive. But the guy in the parking lot had it right: nice as the 9-7X may be, it isn’t a Saab, key in the console or not. It’s heavy when it should feel light on its feet; it’s not confidence-inspiring on rough roads or in the snow; and it’s expensive. At over $53,000, it’s more expensive than any domestic competitors (including the recently-priced Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 at under $50,000), and doesn’t measure up to its import competition in terms of technology content and driving sophistication.

For General Motors, which owns Saab, the 9-7X is a foot in the door of the lucrative SUV market, and brings the Saab brand into a segment that it hasn’t competed in before. But while the 9-7X may be good enough to compete, there’s not much about it that stands out; what Saab needs is an SUV based on a unibody platform like its European competition – something that drives like a Saab in addition to looking like a Saab.

Connect with Autos.ca