2008 Saab 9-7X Review

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 2, 2008

The 2008 Saab 9-7X carves a respectable SUV out of GM’s older running gear, but fuel economy and crash scores are decidedly unlike other Saabs.

The resident sport-ute fans at TheCarConnection.com studied a wide range of road tests to write this definitive review of the 2008 Saab 9-7X. TheCarConnection.com’s truck experts also drove the Saab 9-7X and have added driving impressions and details where they help you make the best decision on a new truck or sport-ute.

The 2008 Saab 9-7X is an anomaly--the only real truck in the Saab lineup, it seems out of place with its big six- and eight-cylinder engines, its truck-frame construction, and its American assembly-plant heritage.

At least it looks like a Saab--from some angles. Designers did a commendable job in creating a Saab persona for the same mechanicals that underpin the Buick Rainier. The front grille fits right in with Saab's newer 9-3 range, and the interior's richer textures and linear styling are a big improvement on GM's versions of the ute, which also include the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy. A special Aero edition gets even better, with blingy 20-inch wheels, a cocoa-colored paint job, and special trim. From the side, though, the 9-7X reveals its heritage--and it's not so modern or alluring.

Two engines power the 2008 Saab 9-7X. The 4.2i version gets its go from a 290-horsepower, 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine that's commendably smooth. The 5.3i and the Aero use a high-torque (generating 330 pound-feet), 300-horsepower V-8 powerplant. It's good for 0-60 mph runs in less than six seconds, but bad for fuel economy. The inline-six musters 14/20 mpg; the V-8, a low, low 12/16 mpg.

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All engines are fitted to a four-speed automatic transmission, and a fully automatic all-wheel-drive system with a limited-slip rear differential comes standard, as does a fully independent suspension with electronically controlled air shocks in the rear. Think "sport-ute" and the capabilities shine, with towing and low-speed grunt particularly good. However, on the road, the Saab 9-7X's ride gets busy, and the steering becomes as vague as a campaign promise. 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.

The 2008 Saab 9-7X comes with good standard features, such as an AM/FM/XM six-disc, in-dash CD changer with rear-seat audio controls. An in-dash, DVD-based navigation system is available, as is OnStar turn-by-turn navigation. Other options include a DVD entertainment system, an upgraded Bose audio system, and a power sunroof.

Standard features include anti-lock brakes, front and side-curtain airbags, and stability control. Still, the Saab 9-7X only gets 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 2008 Saab 9-7X as "acceptable" for front impacts and "marginal" for side impacts. (The IIHS's crash tests are done at higher speeds than the federal tests, so results vary.)


2008 Saab 9-7X


The 2008 Saab 9-7X looks distinctive from the front and inside, but in profile, it’s recognizable as an old-age GM SUV.

The exterior styling of the 2008 Saab 9-7X has its highs and lows, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com were largely split in their reaction.

From the front, the 2008 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 much of 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." 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."

Inside the 2008 Saab 9-7X, occupants will find an interior that feels like a Saab despite its GM heritage. 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." Overall, however, 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."

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2008 Saab 9-7X


The 2008 Saab 9-7X goes fast and stops quickly, but gas stops will be frequent.

For a company whose slogan is "Born from jets," Saab vehicles, you would expect, should move around town pretty quickly. The 2008 Saab 9-7X does just that, especially when outfitted in Aero trim with its 390-hp V-8, but that performance comes at the price of dismal fuel economy.

Edmunds writes that the engine options on the 2008 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 V8 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 V8 engine putting out 300 hp and 321 lb-ft of torque," according to Edmunds. 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 the engines on the 4.2i nor the 5.3i "conveys a sense of effortlessness under heavy acceleration." 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 2008 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."

Despite its undeniable quickness in Aero trim, the 9-7X Saab can't outrun its many performance shortcomings. Chief among the complaints in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com is the four-speed automatic transmission. 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." Cars.com, however, feels that the "transmission is generally well behaved," although "awkward downshifts sometimes occur when attempting to pass." Other common complaints included 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." The EPA's official estimates for fuel economy on the 2008 Saab 9-7X are 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway for the 4.2i and 13 mpg city, 19 mpg highway for the 5.3i.

Another critical component of the performance category is handling and driving characteristics, and here the 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 that "brake feel" is a "sore point, as the pedal lacks the progressive and confident response associated with a premium vehicle," while ConsumerGuide counters by saying that "braking is strong with reassuring pedal feel." Kelley Blue Book finds 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."

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2008 Saab 9-7X

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Saab 9-7X wins points with its generous cargo room and the admirable effort designers made with the interior, but some lapses in quality don't live up to the brand.

In GM's brand arsenal, Saab has always filled the role of the quintessential European mid-luxury brand. The 2008 Saab 9-7X features some of Saab's usual high-quality accents, but suffers from a few atypical oversights.

Ride quality and occupant comfort for the five occupants in the Saab 9-7X are admirable for cars in its class. Kelley Blue Book finds that the "sport-styled seats" are "comfortable," though ConsumerGuide feels that "firmer cushions would give better support." On a positive note for the 9-7X Saab, 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."

The 2008 Saab 9-7X is a clear winner when it comes to cargo space. The Saab 9-7X boasts "80.1 cubic inches of maximum cargo volume--more than most of its competitors" with the second row folded down, according to Cars.com. 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 distinct mix between the improvements Saab has made to the original GM it had to work with and the features left over from the TrailBlazer. 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." While the interior receives generally positive reviews, some elements of the exterior don't fare so well. 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 2008 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."

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2008 Saab 9-7X


Safety ratings for the 2008 Saab 9-7X are not up to class standards.

The old refrain among SUV buyers is that large cars are safer because there's more material around you to absorb an impact. While on the surface this logic may seem sound, one look at the crash-test results for the 2008 Saab 9-7X show that bigger isn't always better.

Tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) did not treat the 9-7X Saab well, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com noticed. The NHTSA gives the 2008 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." However, 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 did give the 9-7X Saab an Acceptable rating for its frontal offset test, the 9-7X still scores a Marginal rating for side impacts.

Crash-test results are surprising, given the list of safety features on the 2008 Saab 9-7X. 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." 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.

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2008 Saab 9-7X


The 2008 Saab 9-7X has a commendable features list.

Like any luxury-brand vehicle, the 2008 Saab 9-7X comes with an impressive array of features on the base model, and options and upgraded trims add to the list of cool features.

The different trims of the 9-7X Saab don't differ materially when it comes to standard features, as they simply represent different engine choices. 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.

Kelley Blue Book notes that the standard features list on the 2008 Saab 9-7X is completed with "XM Satellite Radio, OnStar...load-leveling rear air suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels." The OnStar feature is definitely worth noting again, as all GM vehicles now include 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.

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