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36
STRATEGY

Late Out of the Gate, Stuck in the Center of the Pack
 

Saab's midsize, midpack SUV could leave you pining for the '80s.
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During a recent visit to the horse track, I came across plenty of old men in sweatpants and a horse named Bookmaster that paid me $13 on a win in the sixth. What I didn't find was a single Saab sport utility vehicle in the parking lot besides my own. This probably speaks primarily about the state of the sport of kings (not to mention my choice of leisure activities) but the indifference to Saab's 9-7X felt about right.

Despite some minor improvements, the 2006 9-7X, Saab's second version, isn't distinct enough to stand out from the SUV pack. It's also lacking in Swedish flair. You'll find a few requisite Saab touches we all know and love--the griffin emblem on the hood, the trapezoidal grille, and the ignition situated on the center console--but that's about it. Maybe I'm too nostalgic for the turtle-shell Saab 900s of the '80s, but those three-door hatchbacks could never be mistaken for another brand. Saab's parent company, General Motors, is making the 9-7X in Ohio, and it shows. The SUV shares its chassis with the Buick Rainer and GMC Envoy.

I dug the moonroof, which can now be combined with an optional rear-seat DVD player to completely drown out the kids with the sounds of wind and The Incredibles. The 9-7X also has basic electronic fare such as OnStar and automatic climate control, but I had hoped for a more tech-savvy SUV. As it is, it's not a bad car, but if the world needed another SUV, this isn't it. In other words, if I were a betting man, I'd be at the track on a Monday at noon in a new 9-7X that won't win or place and can only hope to show.


2006 Saab 9-7X

Sticker price:
$39,240 base price, $40,040 as tested, $41,240 for a model with a V-8 engine

Vital stats:
4.2-liter 290-hp 6-cylinder engine; 277 foot-pounds of torque; 15/21 mpg; and a 5,500-pound towing capacity

Good stuff:
All-wheel drive; three 12-volt outlets; new sleek exterior paint colors such as graphite gray metallic; and a nifty cupholder that, at the press of a button, pops out of the dashboard and flips around to grip the morning coffee

Drawbacks:
Though it can be disabled, the feature that automatically locks the doors when the vehicle is placed in drive and then opens them in park is like having mom cut your steak.

Second opinion:
"Although the 9-7X isn't bad looking, the list of choices is long when shopping for an SUV," says Trisha Hessinger, host of Car Care & Repair on the DIY Network. "The 9-7X is just another vanilla one."

Last updated: Mar 1, 2006




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