2009 Saab 9-7X Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
March 27, 2009

A smart appearance can’t mask the 2009 Saab 9-7X's outdated GM truck design with vague handling, middle-of-the-road crash-test scores, and mediocre fuel economy figures.

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the new Saab 9-7X in order to give you an expert opinion. That’s in addition to all the research that TheCarConnection.com has done, gathering some of the most useful information from road tests on the 9-7X to produce this conclusive review.

Forged in an American assembly plant with either a six- or eight-cylinder engine riding in a truck frame, the 2009 9-7X is the nonconformist in Saab’s mode lineup. But it looks like a Saab—at least from some angles, if you’re squinting.

Because the 9-7X utilizes the same basic mechanical structure as the Buick Rainier, the fact that designers were able to create a Saab persona in the 9-7X is as impressive as it is surprising. From the side, though, the 9-7X reveals its heritage, and it's not so modern or alluring.

Compared to GM’s other SUVs, the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy, the 9-7X is endowed with an interior that’s richer in textures and tastefully styled. Out front, the 9-7X’s grille fits right in with Saab's newer 9-3 range. For the 4.2i and 5.3i models, a special Altitude Edition is offered and includes DVD touch screen navigation radio and highly polished 18-inch alloy wheels; for the exterior finish, you can choose Carbon Flash and Diamond Silver Metallic. All models receive Bluetooth hands-free telephone connectivity.

Review continues below

Shoppers have a choice of two very different engines. Inside the 4.2i is a commendably smooth 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine with 290 horsepower, while the 5.3i is powered by a 300-horsepower V-8 powerplant. The 5.3-liter engine accelerates the 9-7X from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds, but burns a lot of gas in the process. The inline-six musters 14 mpg city, 20 highway, but the V-8 only manages a pitiful 12 mpg city, 16 highway.

A four-speed automatic transmission is fitted to both the inline-six and the V-8. Standard on both models is a fully automatic all-wheel-drive system with a limited-slip rear differential, as well as fully independent suspension with electronically controlled air shocks in the rear. On the road, the Saab 9-7X's ride gets busy, and the steering is vague and lacks any reassuring feedback in corners. The front seats are good for longer trips, but the second row is somewhat tight for adults, and there's no third-row seat offered.

However, the 9-7X possesses excellent towing capacity—ranging up to 6,600 pounds, which is enough to tow even larger boat trailers—and lots of low-end grunt to match.

Features such as an AM/FM/XM six-disc, in-dash CD changer with rear-seat audio controls are all standard equipment on the 2009 Saab 9-7X. An in-dash, DVD-based navigation system is available, as is OnStar turn-by-turn navigation, as well as other options, including a DVD entertainment system, an upgraded Bose audio system, and a power sunroof.

Safety remains an odd blemish—considering the 9-7X wears the badge of an automaker with a legacy of above-average occupant protection. The Saab 9-7X receives only three stars for driver front-impact protection, and four for the front passenger. In side impacts, the Saab 9-7X rates five stars, and it merits four stars for rollover resistance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the 2009 Saab 9-7X as "acceptable" for front impacts and "marginal" for side impacts. Standard features include anti-lock brakes, front and side-curtain airbags, and stability control.

6

2009 Saab 9-7X

Styling

The 2009 Saab 9-7X is quite attractive when focusing on smaller details, but take a step back and you’ll see the 9-7X for the outdated GM SUV it really is.

The exterior styling of the 2009 Saab 9-7X has its highs and lows, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are largely split.

Taking a stance firmly against the exterior of the Saab 9-7X is ForbesAutos, which advises viewers to look elsewhere if they think "slapping a Saab badge on a GM truck is a bad idea." While the criticisms from ForbesAutos have some basis in reality, Kelley Blue Book counters by saying that "given that most of its exterior panels are borrowed from its domestic-branded cousins, Saab's designers did an excellent job of giving the 9-7X its own identity," and that they successfully managed to create an SUV that is "far sportier and more sophisticated than any of the vehicles with which it shares so much." From the front, the 2009 Saab 9-7X definitely looks the part of a refined, upscale Saab vehicle, but in profile, it is unremarkable. Car and Driver doesn't see anything stylistically special in the 9-7X Saab, claiming that it is "a Chevy TrailBlazer with only slightly more-becoming clothes." Cars.com is indecisive, split between the Saab's "sleek styling" and the fact that it seems like "an archetype of yesterday's midsize SUV...inefficient and rough around the edges."

The interior scores higher than that of some other Saab vehicles, notably the 9-2X, and Kelley Blue Book feels that "contrast stitching, wood-like trim and familiar air vents help further differentiate the 9-7X as a premium European-like vehicle." ConsumerGuide adds that "controls are clear and handy, though adjusting the low-mounted climate system demands a long look away from the road." Edmunds says, "Drivers who have piloted other Saabs and don't look too closely will feel comfortable behind the wheel of the 9-7X." For those who decide to look closely, though, ConsumerGuide points out that "some elements retain the cheap plastic feel of TrailBlazer and Envoy."

6

2009 Saab 9-7X

Performance

The 2009 Saab 9-7X is quick to accelerate and stop—and to drain your fuel budget.

Fuel efficiency is not a trait possessed by the 2009 Saab 9-7X—especially when outfitted in Aero trim with its 390-hp V-8. The 9-7X does, however, scoot around town with the urgency of a muscle car.

When driving the lower-output six-cylinder engine on the 9-7X Saab in 4.2i trim, ConsumerGuide finds that it "provides brisk takeoffs and adequate passing power," and Kelley Blue Book appreciates the boost from "plenty of power," although they note that neither engine on the 4.2i nor the 5.3i "conveys a sense of effortlessness under heavy acceleration." Edmunds reports that the engine options on the 2009 Saab 9-7X range from a "4.2-liter inline six-cylinder good for 285 hp and 276 pound-feet of torque" on the 4.2i up to a "6.0-liter V-8 cranking out 390 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque" on the 9-7X Aero. In between the two rests the Saab 9-7X 5.3i, which "comes equipped with a 5.3-liter V-8 engine putting out 300 hp and 321 lb-ft of torque," according to Edmunds. Moving up engine outputs, the 300-horsepower V-8 provides excellent power for all maneuvers. For those who simply crave more, however, Saab offers the 2009 Saab 9-7X Aero, which Car and Driver says is "fast...as you'd expect of nearly anything with a 390-hp Chevrolet LS2 V-8 under the hood."

In reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, the recurring complaint is the four-speed automatic transmission. As quick as it is, the 9-7X Saab can't outrun its many performance shortcomings. Cars.com feels that the "transmission is generally well behaved," although "awkward downshifts sometimes occur when attempting to pass." Kelley Blue Book laments the lack of any other transmission options, saying that all versions of the Saab 9-7X would "benefit greatly from a more sophisticated transmission than the four-speed automatic."

Other common complaints include references to the Saab 9-7X's unimpressive (to put it mildly) fuel economy. Car and Driver finds that "lesser 9-7Xs already manage only questionable fuel economy—the thriftiest engine is rated at 14/20 mpg," while the 390-hp Aero "returns a bottom-of-the-list 12 mpg in the city and 16 on the highway."

When handling comes into question, the 2009 Saab 9-7X performs with old-style SUV manners. ConsumerGuide praises the "direct and nicely weighted" steering effort, while Edmunds finds that the 9-7X has a "more stable ride and more responsive handling than any of its GM cousins." Although they both agree that the 9-7X offers responsive handling, the two differ sharply on their review of the brakes on the 9-7X. Edmunds says "brake feel" is a "sore point, as the pedal lacks the progressive and confident response associated with a premium vehicle," while ConsumerGuide counters, contending that "braking is strong with reassuring pedal feel." Kelley Blue Book concludes that "although stiffening the suspension imparts the 9-7X with increased straight-line and cornering stability, it also results in a rougher ride, especially for those in the rear seat."

7

2009 Saab 9-7X

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Saab 9-7X is reasonably comfortable, but it doesn't live up to the quality or reputation of the brand.

The 2009 Saab 9-7X suffers from a few atypical oversights—again, because this is merely a dressed-up, outdated GM SUV design—but otherwise exhibits Saab’s usual high-quality accents.

The 2009 Saab 9-7X offers a quality ride and comfortable surroundings for its five passengers, but it didn’t appease all reviewers. ConsumerGuide praises the "fine headroom and legroom" up front, as well as the "good headroom and knee space" found in the backseat. However, they point out that the "generally comfortable" rear bench seat "disappointingly lacks the supportive contour found in Saab's 9-3 and 9-5 cars." Kelley Blue Book finds that the "sport-styled seats" are "comfortable," though ConsumerGuide feels that "firmer cushions would give better support."

According to Cars.com, the 2009 Saab 9-7X provides impressive amounts of cargo space, saying that the 9-7X boasts "80.1 cubic inches of maximum cargo volume—more than most of its competitors" with the second row folded down. ConsumerGuide agrees, finding that "cargo room is OK with the rear seatback in place and generous with it folded," and the front cabin features "a nice array of small-item storage space."

Unfortunately, build and materials quality on the Saab 9-7X is a haphazard mix, reflecting the compromises between Saab’s improvements and the original GM vehicles that it’s still assembled alongside. Edmunds.com finds that the interior of the 9-7X Saab has received a pleasant makeover, but it is definitely possible to "recognize the vehicle's GM underpinnings—which tend to cheapen the Saab 9-7X next to stylishly sophisticated rivals like the Touareg and XC90." Cars.com points out that "the tailgate leaves considerable gaps where it shuts, and the fender flares are little more than molded strips. These sorts of detail lapses might be acceptable from a lesser brand, but luxury shoppers expect more." On the other hand, reviewers at ConsumerGuide rave about the sound characteristics of the 2009 Saab 9-7X, which they say has "more sound insulation than its GM cousins" and "noticeably less wind and road noise than many crossovers or traditional SUVs."

5

2009 Saab 9-7X

Safety

The 2009 Saab 9-7X offers a just-adequate level of occupant protection.

Saab has a longstanding reputation for some of the best occupant protection in its vehicles, but the 2009 Saab 9-7X is an exception. The aging SUV design upon which the 2009 Saab 9-7X is built just doesn’t do as well as more modern vehicle designs in crash tests that predict the likelihood of injury.

USA Today points out that during Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, ratings for the Saab 9-7X "improved to receive the second-highest rating of acceptable." While the IIHS gives the 9-7X Saab an Acceptable rating for its frontal offset test, the 9-7X still scores a Marginal rating for side impacts. However, tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) do not treat the 9-7X Saab well, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com notice. NHTSA gives the 2009 Saab 9-7X three stars for front-impact driver protection, four stars for the front passenger side, and five stars for side impact tests. Cars.com is quick to mention that the Saab 9-7X’s safety ratings "trail those that NHTSA awarded to many 9-7X competitors." Crash-test results are surprising, given the list of safety features on the 2009 Saab 9-7X.

Driver visibility is decent on the Saab 9-7X, although ConsumerGuide feels that "headrests and thick roof pillars interfere with visibility" toward the back of the car.
ForbesAutos appreciates the "rollover-sensing, side-curtain airbags," while ConsumerGuide lists other safety features, including "dual front airbags...antilock 4-wheel disc brakes, antiskid system w/ rollover sensors, [and] tire-pressure monitor."

TheCarConnection.com editors point out that while the 2009 Saab 9-7X does come with head-protecting side-curtain airbags, side thorax airbags are not standards as they are on most other luxury-SUV rivals. That’s a glaring omission for a vehicle sold by Saab.

8

2009 Saab 9-7X

Features

The list of features on the 2009 Saab 9-7X is commendable.

The base model 2009 Saab 9-7X sports an impressive variety of features and options. For 2009, Bluetooth hands-free telephone connectivity is added.

Kelley Blue Book notes that the standard features list on the 2009 Saab 9-7X includes "XM Satellite Radio, OnStar...load-leveling rear air suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels." The OnStar feature comes with one year of OnStar service as part of the purchase, and this service can prove invaluable in a number of driving situations in the Saab 9-7X.

Cars.com lists some of the Saab 9-7X’s standard features as "heated leather upholstery, a six-CD audio system, dual-zone automatic climate control, a moonroof and power front seats." Those features, standard on all trims of the 9-7X Saab, are improved with the optional navigation system, which replaces the six-disc CD player, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. The only difference between trims levels on the 9-7X Saab is the choice of engines.

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6.4
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Expert Rating
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Styling 6.0
Performance 6.0
Comfort & Quality 7.0
Safety 5.0
Features 8.0
Fuel Economy N/A
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