Friday, September 08, 2006

Insider's view of the 9-7x
Charles River Saab was in need of replacing its venerable 2001 9-5 Aero Wagon customer shuttle. In looking at the incentives offered from GM, there was no question but to go with the 9-7x. The deal was amazing, it made a nice vehicle to ferry customers, and will give us the opportunity to showcase the vehicle. I just came back from a drive in our new shuttle. I also took a college visit trip to Philadelphia earlier this summer in a 9-7x, so now that I have logged some serious miles on the 9-7x, I can present my view.
Disclaimer--I generally abhor the notion of an SUV or SAV (sorry, my Bavarian friends--they are all SUVs to me). Whether Porsche Cayenne or Ford Explorer, I never understood the point. Most have less room inside than a good sized wagon or van (vans I understand), most have serious safety issues which have started to be mitigated with better mechanical and electronic stability systems, all are inefficient with respect to consumption vs. interior space, and most really can't be taken off-road (except of course Land Rovers). The only SUV I ever fancied was the MB G-Wagen in its early iteration--diesel engine, manual transmission, no carpeting. I also understand Jeeps. There is one in my driveway that plows the drive (can't do that with my Saabs) and tows my in-laws boat. I tow my boats with my 900, thank you. The all-wheel drive argument for SUVs never washed with me; when there is a blizzard and I have to get from Ipswich to Watertown to plow the lot in the wee hours, I never take the Jeep. My snow-tire clad Saab never fails to get me through.
So here I am reviewing the 9-7x, which is part of a genre I have little use for. Add to that its somewhat dubious DNA as a Saab, and you're likely to think that a Saab nut like me will hate this thing, right? Wrong! I really do like this truck. I will never ever own one. But I like it. Much of the motoring press has, too. So here are the particulars.
What Pierre Likes:
I like, no, I love the suspension set-up. The balance between firmness and comfort is perfect. In fact, it is batter balanced in that regard than any Saab, ever. It reminds me very much of the ride quality and quiet of a Mercedes, which is not a bad thing.
I like the handling, but not completely. In most situations, the handling and steering seem terrific. In my long journey, though, I discovered, as I am sure Saab's engineers realized, that in some handling situations the suspension, no matter how well tuned and modified, can't cope. this is very uncharacteristic of a Saab. Every other Saab I have driven is very predictable no matter the road surface. The 9-7x can go from feeling brilliant to having moments where it handles like, well, a truck. This, to me, is the problem with a derivative design. If there are limits in the fundamental design, you are stuck with those limits.
I like the look of the 9-7x from the front view.
I like the equipment--the gadgets. This car is so well equipped, and the radio/XM is terrific in sound and ease of use.
I love the quiet of this vehicle. It motors with aplomb, without the roar and bang I am used to from other Saabs.
I like the front seats. Not quite as good as real Saab seats, but still good.
Brakes seem fine, and appropriately brawny for the weight of the vehicle.
I like the I6 engine. It doesn't belong in any Saab, but it is a terrific modern engine.
The air compressor in the trunk to inflate tires, balls etc...Cool!

Here's What Pierre Dislikes about the 9-7x:
Side and rear exterior styling, or lack thereof. You can't peel off some mouldings, add some others and fool people. From 3 of 4 angles this looks like an Envoy/Trailblazer. Not acceptable. Booooooo.
Side directional indicators are in the mirrors, not the fenders. While not uniquely Saab, this would add a good euro-detail to the too-American flanks.
The V8 engine. I don't care if it's made of aluminum and has displacement on demand. It doesn't belong anywhere near a Saab. Why couldn't GM have taken, say, the 5-cylinder engine from the H3 Hummer (based on the 6 cylinder engine in the 9-7x linear) and turbo-charged it. The consumption improvement, turbocharger and uniqueness of that arrangement would be much more "Saab."
The transmission. It sucks.
The dashboard. Most of the interior is OK, and some high quality materials were used in the dash, but everywhere you look you see Trailblazer stuff and it looks like junk: cheap plastic, cheap (if complete) gauges, probably look extra bad next to the Saab bits and swathes of better materials. The interior should have been built from scratch, not modified.
The steering wheel is awful. You can't take a cheap steering wheel and glue a Saab badge on it and think it's ok. It's not. It is the one part of a vehicle we touch most. The 9-7x deserves a proper steering wheel.
THERE WERE NO SAFETY UPGRADES MADE when this truck was derived. If it's not extra safe, it's not a Saab. It doesn't even have active head restraint! Not forgivable! Boooooooo.
Rear seat is very uncomfortable and not adjustable.
Stops for the rear hatch encroach on hatch opening and are at least inconvenient, if not dangerous. This seems like a patch for some sloppy initial engineering.
Cheesy Chevrolet styled Munroney sticker. Why?
Fuel mileage. I got 18.5 on my 800 mile trip. Maybe that's ok next to other SUVs, but it doesn't do much for me.
My overall impression is positive. If someone liked driving an SUV or had something over 2000 pounds to tow, I'd highly recommend the vehicle. It is handsome, agile, strong and exceedingly comfortable. Could it have been better--yes, much better. Still, I give it thumbs-up.

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