Senin, 02 Juni 2008

Saab 9-7x Review

By William C Montgomery

The Saab 9-7x scored eighth place in TTAC’s Ten Worst Automobiles Today awards. Its crime? As Jonny Lieberman wrote so eloquently, “It is a Chevy TrailBlazer with the ignition key between the seats.” With these words echoing in my mind, I set off to test the 9-7x to determine if, indeed, the Born from Jets Saab SUV is nothing more than a Chevy TrailBlazer with the ignition key between the seats.

At first glance, the Saab 9-7x looks just like a Chevy TrailBlazer. On second glance, it looks like a GMC Envoy. Stand to the side and squint and the 9-7x resembles a Buick Rainier. Behold the grille from the straight ahead and, finally, you gaze upon a vaguely Saabish vehicle. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the "TrollBlazer" (referring to the Trollhättan factory where the 9-7x isn’t built) looks like a TrailBlazer pimped-out with 18” alloy wheels. Oh, and blackened ground effects trim designed to foster the illusion of gen-u-ine SUV ground clearance.

Despite deploying equally unconvincing ersatz wood and sharing many of its dials and buttons with its platform partners, the Saab SUV’s interior achieves an elegance denied its sisters under the skin. In quintessentially quirky Saab fashion, a small, fragile cupholder flips out from the dash at the push of a button. Also true to form, the ignition key is located between the seats. Nearly every other feature is standard, including leather chairs, a premium Bose blaster, moonroof, full-time all-wheel-drive and a trailer towing package. My only ergonomic complaint: the seatbelt emanates from the top of the GM-sourced seat back, placed irritatingly and irretrievably lower than my medium-height shoulder.

The 9-7x comes in two flavors: six-cylinder or a V8. The inline 4.2-liter six produces 290hp, while the 5.3-liter V8 stumps-up 300hp. Thanks to GM’s Active Fuel Management system, our always optimistic friends over at the EPA rate both engines at 15mpg city and 21mpg highway. For an extra two grand, the 5.3-liter mill also provides 53 ft.-lbs. more twist and a throaty engine note that's distinctly lacking from the I6. If you’re already throwing nearly $40k toward a fancy TrailBlazer, the larger powerplant seems a perfectly justifiable extravagance.

Although the 4,781lbs V8 9-7x moves with some authority, it’s not what you would call fast. If you plan on motoring from zero to sixty, you'll need to set aside a little under eight seconds of your valuable time. The quarter mile comes up (eventually) in 16 seconds. Speed freaks note: the Chevrolet Trailblazer SS has a 395hp version of Corvette’s 6.0-liter LS2 engine tucked under the hood that motivates the Nürburgring-fettled bowtie clad family truckster from zero to sixty in about six seconds, and hits the quarter in 14. Just sayin’…

The 9-7x’ engines are coupled to a knuckle-dragging four-speed transmission that's two cogs short of a quorum. Passing other road users requires an extra two seconds or so for the dim-witted mechanism to select the right gear. With so few cogs to choose from, you'd be forgiven for wondering why the 9-7x doesn't respond a little faster to throttle input. But then Saabistas might also wonder why the brand didn't stick to front wheel-drive turbo four-powered hatchbacks. Just sayin'…

Saab’s suspension tweaks are the brandgineers greatest contribution to the GMT360 platform. The loosy-goosy base TrailBlazer flops though bumps and corners like Michael Richards handles hecklers. (That is to say, dangerously.) In SS form, Chevy’s over-strung suspenders punish and maim. The 9-7x' underpinnings achieve the "just right" ride to satisfy the most discerning automotive Goldilocks. Double A-arm front suspension keeps the front wheels on track while a 1.42” stabilizer bar keeps the Saablaizer relatively flat through the corners. An electronically controlled air suspension manages the live-axle rear end like The Queen of Mean once managed the Helmsely Palace Hotel. All-season P225/55R18 tires complete the package and perform without a peep at eight tenths.

With an updated tranny, this Saab’s other shortcomings might quickly diminish. But is it worth $41,240 for a TrailBlazer whose pinky finger remains politely erect while sipping tea? Most buyers will say– have said– nej. If nothing else, the price isn’t right. The Saab 9-7x is about $5k more than a similarly equipped Chevy TrailBlazer and roughly $2k more than a similarly-equipped Corvette-powered TrailBlazer SS.

I suppose most TTAC readers who voted the 9-7x into the TWAT Hall of Shame never set butt in Saab’s SUV. Its inclusion was a vote against badge engineering and brand mismanagement. And no wonder, given the fatuous claims that the 9-7x is somehow related to Saab’s aeronautic legacy: “Have a Safe Flight,” “Skip the Garage. Get a hangar,” etc. In fact, the 9-7x says more about GM and Chevy than it does about Saab, a dead brand motoring. The 9-7x’ existence begs the question, why aren’t all Chevy TrailBlazers this refined?