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Saab 9-7X - 2005 SUV Buyer's Guide

by Martha Hindes

Saab 9-7X
Saab 9-7X

BMW has its X5. Volvo has its XC90. But notably missing from the European nameplates lineup of sport utility vehicles has been Swedish automaker Saab. And it was long overdue. Saab's American parent, General Motors, rectified the problem this year by finally giving the Swedish badge an SUV, based on GM's midsize, truck-based architecture. Now, at last, Saab has a midsize X of its own.

Saab's new sport utility, the 9-7X, had a late 2005 model-year kick-off with an on-sale debut during the Spring. Bolstered by a flurry of television commercials, it is digging in for a spot within the more rarefied premium pack, unlike its volume-centered kin.

Appearance-wise, the 9-7X sports some distinctive cues, and departs from its mainstream relatives with a different, more European feel and look aimed at higher end continental competition. The "three-port" grille has the feel of a friendly Saab kind of face. There are no bumper offsets or protruding shapes and forms to disrupt the cleaner, more pristine Scandinavian lines, and wraparound rear glass gives a smooth, uncluttered appearance.

Inside, there's an attractive cream against off-black among interior trims that lends a look of smart sophistication. The Saab character is evident again in a variant of its trademark airplane cockpit dash, derived earlier from its longstanding aeronautics heritage. (Being behind the wheel of almost any Saab gives a heady sense of revving up for a flight, perhaps a factor in the appeal Saabs have long had for a sophisticated professional crowd.)

The 9-7X comes in two variations, the entry Linear powered by a 256-horsepower, 4.2-liter inline six. The tonier Arc model rides a 325-HP, 5.3-liter V-8. Standard on both is leather trimmed seating, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, all-wheel-drive, premium sound, XM Satellite radio and GM's OnStar communications security system. Driving dynamics are Saab's own, with suspension aimed at a European feel for crisper handling, underscored by high tech sophistication.

Now that Saab has a midsize SUV ($37K to $45K base), how will it share the sales wealth it is cultivating? Saab execs cite some encouraging observations. More than a third of U.S. Saab owners have a family member who drives an SUV. In 2003 Saab was the fastest growing European premium car brand sold in the U.S. With a midsize SUV finally on board, there's optimism it might do it again.