Saab at last has the vehicle it hopes will keep some of its buyers from defecting to SUVs of their own. It’s Saab’s own mid-size SUV, the 2005 9-7X, which bows at the New York Auto Show this week and will be available exclusively in North America.
2005 Saab 9-7XEnlarge Photo
With the 9-7X Saab is expanding its model lines to four. The Swedish brand is the fastest growing European premium nameplate on the American market, but has been missing the light-truck segment’s booming sales. With its own mid-luxury SUV Saab hopes to grab its fair share of that market, which is predicted to be as big as 470,000 units by the end of 2005.
The driving force behind adding the sport-ute was market research that revealed that 39 percent of Saab drivers in the U.S. have a SUV in the household, whereas nearly 30 percent of the Saab customers have left the brand to purchase a four-door SUV.
For the 9-7X Saab had to turn to Chevrolet. The new Saab is technically based on the TrailBlazer/GMC Envoy and will be built in Ohio, becoming the second Saab with the 9-2X that is not assembled in Sweden and will not (yet) be marketed in Europe.
In December, Saab unveiled its 9-2X sports compact, based on the 4WD platform of the Subaru Impreza and built by Fuji Heavy Industries in Japan. Critics, mainly in Europe, thought Saab was going into the wrong direction, by rebadging models from other GM-divisions. But after the presentation of the 9-2X they were not so outspoken anymore. The same applies to the 9-7X, as the Swedes have brought its unique characteristics into the design of its model, both on the exterior as on the interior — for example, the center console ignition key and the distinctive air vents. The cockpit, too, is driver oriented with the instrument panel’s center stack and controls angled toward the driver.
The 9-7X has a wheelbase of 113 inches and is 193.4 inches long. The luggage compartment holds up to 41 cubic feet and with the seatback folded down, 80.1 cubic feet. The 60/40 split rear seat is standard, as well as a trailer hitch receiver and cover. The V-8 model is estimated to have a maximum towing capacity of 6500 lb.
The 9-7X is tuned to be more of a driver’s vehicle than its American cousins. It uses a uniquely tuned double A-arm front suspension with coil springs and a multi-link, electronically controlled rear air suspension, a low ride height, thick front stabilizer and stiff upper control arm bushings in the rear. Together with a stiffened front section of the frame, a quicker 18.5:1 steering gear ratio is designed to help improve steering precision and responsiveness.
Saab offers the 9-7X with a choice of two engines: the 4.2-liter in-line six with 275 hp and a maximum torque of 275 lb-ft and the 5.3-liter V-8 with 300 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are teamed to a four-speed automatic transmission. On demand all-wheel drive is standard on both models, while traction is enhanced by standard preloaded-clutch limited-slip differential at the rear. Four ventilated disc brakes, with aluminium dual-piston callipers up front and ABS, provide stopping power. Eighteen-inch aluminum wheels are standard (with P255/55 high performance all-season Dunlops), as well as leather trimmed seats, an advanced sound system and dual stage front airbags, head curtain side airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters and a rollover sensing system.
Production is scheduled to start in January 2005, at GM’s Ohio assembly plant. The price of the Saab 9-7X will be between $37,000 and $45,000.