Driving Impressions

By June 22, 2005

We really like the silent-servant way in which this Saab drives. It would be even more silent with a fifth gear, but Saab makes do with lots of engine torque, the right-size tire, and the right gear ratios to present a very pleasant four-speed automatic overdrive in a highway cruiser that can hold, haul and tow like the big boys, because underneath, this is a Chevy truck. Body on frame, gutty engines, isolated cabin and all.

But the Saab tuning guys have done a remarkable job in improving the chassis. They lowered it one inch. The front end of the frame has been stiffened, as has every spring, shock, bushing and stabilizer bar in the entire vehicle, up to 15 percent stiffer, keeping the body roll, nose pitch, and a big portion of the usual harshness out of the Saab version. It steers much more tightly than most trucks in this class, with a nice hefty feel at the wheel rim, it rides quietly, handles the big bumps and holes quietly, and doesn't feel like a racing yacht in the corners. It just hunkers down and all four wheels work together whenever the electronic system is triggered by conditions and velocities.

The Saab guys also tweaked the entire steering system, its mounts, and components for more stiffness and greater isolation. They stiffened the shock absorbers as much as 70 percent compared to the stateside brands.

The six-cylinder version feels lighter in front than the V8 model and in that respect we like it better. The 4.2-liter inline-6 is rated at 290 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 277 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. The six-cylinder gets an EPA-rated 15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway. The inline-6 features double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and continuously variable valve timing.

The 5.3-liter V8 is rated at 300 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 330 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Its greater torque helps the V8 version achieve a tow rating of 6500 pounds. All models come with a hitch receiver and receiver cover as standard equipment. The 5.3-liter V8 engine, the latest in GM's 50-year development program of the smallblock, overhead-valve V8, features displacement on demand, which automatically and imperceptibly deactivates four of the engine's cylinders at light loads, and puts them right back to work instantly when called upon to do so. GM says DOD is worth up to 8 percent in increased highway mileage. It's a prime reason for the V8's good highway mileage, even at a curb weight approaching 4800 pounds. The V8 is EPA-rated rated 15 mpg city, 19 mpg highway.

The Saab development team enlarged the brakes to 12.9-inch front and 12.8-inch rear ventilated discs, and they were extremely powerful, smooth, and linear in getting the 4800-pound 9-7X down from interstellar cruising speeds to small-town puttering speeds on Route 138. The automatic self-leveling rear air suspension made a huge difference in the Saab's braking behavior and quiet ride.