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2006 Saab 9-7X Arc Review

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

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MODEL: Saab 9-7X Arc
ENGINE: 5.3-liter V8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 300 hp @ 5200 rpm/330 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic with manual mode
WHEELBASE: 113.0 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 193.2 x 75.4 x 68.5 in.
TIRES: 225/55R18
CARGO VOLUME: 80.1 cu. ft.
ECONOMY: 15 mpg dity/16 mpg highway
PRICE: $40,990 (includes $720 destination charge)

Talk about vehicles with split personalities. The Saab 9-7X says "Saab" all over it, yet it's a brother to the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Buick Rainier, and GMC Envoy. It even has a GM 5.3-liter V8 under the hood, and that's about twice as many cylinders as you usually find in a Saab.

Just when you begin to think it's an American car (okay, it is built in the U.S.), you look for the ignition switch and, there it is, right in the middle of the transmission hump, just where any normal Saab should have it. Of course, the 9-7X does have traditional Saab styling cues so you won't mistake it for a Chevy; trapezoidal grille up front with rectangular headlamp covers shielding projector headlamps, for two.

But why another SUV? And why a Saab? Well, Saab research showed that when Saab owners trade up, they usually trade up to an SUV. Not having a vehicle of that type in its stable was costing Saab customers, because research also shows that Saab customers are loyal to the brand. In fact, they're almost fanatic. So, Saab talked to parent GM and the 9-7X was born.

I had the opportunity to drive the 9-7X home from a GM introduction in upstate New York. With the trip scheduled, I put more than 120 miles on the vehicle, mostly on Interstates. But there was one section on the Blue Mountain Parkway that showed how the Saab could handle winding (and rough) roads. I thought the car had a solid platform. There were no rattles or unnecessary noises.

The power seats are very comfortable, especially on long rides. They are leather-faced and you can heat the back, seat, or both. I like having a heated seat back because it tends to reduce any potential backaches on longer trips.

Under the hood is GM's new 5.3-literV8, pumping out 300 horsepower. You can also get the 9-7X with a DOHC inline six that delivers 290 hp, but the $2,000 difference in price justifies the larger V8. The difference in fuel economy is only 1 mpg at highway speeds. Oddly, the transmission is only a 4-speed automatic, as opposed to a 5-speed in nearly every other vehicle on the road.

Back on the home front, we used the 9-7X for a variety of jobs, including taking brush and leaves to the local compost site. The rear cargo area was large enough for all our leaf bags and would have been equally roomy had we chosen to put a few golf bags back there - or luggage, or goodies to take to the children or grandchildren. Saab lists the cargo volume as 80.1 cubic feet with the rear seats down. With them up, cargo volume is decreased, but even my wife would be hard-pressed to fill it up. Well, maybe not.

The rear hatch can open with just the window, for smaller and lighter objects, or as a full hatch.

Rear seat legroom is very good. I found the seats to be comfortable and offered good shoulder room as well.

The 9-7X has full instrumentation. This means that there are oil pressure and battery ammeter gauges to go along with the standard speedometer, tachometer, fuel and water temperature gauges.

The excellent audio system offers AM/FM/CD/XM, while the HVAC system pumped out heat in cooler weather and coolness when the autumn weather turned chilly.

A concession to Saab's "Europeness" was a pop-out cupholder in the dash. It reminded me of similar units found in some Mercedes-Benz models. In addition, the dash had two 12V power outlets. The deep center console can hold nine CDs, more than enough for a long trip.

Under the hood, the engine is hidden by a large cover, but all the important items - such as battery terminals, oil dip stick and windshield washer filler - are accessible.

Our tester was a pre-production model, so it didn't have a sticker. In fact, the 9-7X I had has probably gone to the crusher already. The 9-7X Arc with the V8 engine has a list price of $40,270, plus a $720 destination charge. The Arc adds power adjustable pedals over the base Linear model, base-priced at $38,270.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate