Edmunds test the 9-6x

OK, perhaps it’s a little cheeky to headline it that way. But Edmunds do have a fairly comprehensive test based on 10 days with the Suuby B9 Tribeca, which of course, is the skeletal vehicle for the 9-6x.

As a side note, it’s interesting that Edmunds do a 2 page review on the vehicle. The first page is written on the vehicle as a whole and then there is an entire, albeit shorter, second page focusing just on the stereo system. Thankfully there isn’t one of their usual, rather stupid, “what this means for you” comments at the end.

But back to the story at hand, and I’m feeling reasonably confident that a 9-6x sneak preview vehicle may be unveiled at Frankfurt next month. Therefore it seems like a good time to take a look at the Suuby and see what’s good, what’s not so good and let’s face it – what’s downright ugly. In doing so it might be fun to speculate as to what Saab might retain and what they might tweak in getting the 9-6x ready for the marketplace.

One of the great hopes is that Saab will do what it didn’t do with the 9-2x – give the car a Saab interior. I’m sorry, you might be a futurist and think this is the bee’s knees, but it doesn’t shake my tree at all.

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The cabin is so important in selling a car and maintaining customer loyalty. I’m really surprised that there isn’t more written about it.

Where do you spend most of your time? Hovering in the air 10-15 feet from the front corner of the vehicle? This is where most car photos seem to be taken and on a well designed car, it’s an alluring pose that will suck people in.

The fact is, though, that you spend a few moments admiring the exterior while you’re approaching it to go for a drive, but your active time with the vehicle is spent INSIDE the car and it’s here that you’ll forge the fundamentals of your relationship with the vehicle.

Suuby have loaded the inside with plenty of good appointments and I know that Saab will retain the current Tribeca-level equipment as a base. I just hope they change the way it’s presented to be consistent with the prevailing Saab design philosophy.

At US$38K for the test vehicle, this is one reasonably pricey puppy. It’s just a shade under the 9-7x Arc, which starts at US$38,990. Of course, the test model was ‘loaded to the gills’ with options and a basic Tribeca is available for around the US$30K mark, with the premium models starting at US$32,295.

The Premium Tribeca offers the following as standard equipment:

B9 TRIBECA LIMITED 5-PASSENGER

Starting at $32,295*

Standard Features
250-hp 3.0-liter 6-cylinder boxer engine
219 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm
Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive
Leather-trimmed upholstery
3-stage heated front seats
Cargo-area-concealed multicompartment under-floor storage tray
9-speaker premium audio system with subwoofer, 6-disc in-dash CD changer and MP3 compatibility
Multifunction screen displaying audio system information, clock, ambient temperature and trip computer functions
Power tilt/sliding-glass moonroof

I’d be looking for the 9-6x variant to use the Premium model as a starting point. Edmunds liked the inside and noted some of the little things that finish a well produced package:

Subaru has also packed the B9 with small details that help justify its price. Things like ambient interior lighting that illuminates the footwells, center console and cupholders at night; the two wireless headsets and remote control you get when you order the optional rear-seat entertainment system; and the extra heft of the clamshell doors on the center console are all nice touches that take this truck up a notch on the luxury-o-meter.

One of the standard features that Edmunds noted as missing is satellite radio, an oversight that I’m sure GM would correct. The Suuby also has a rear seat DVD entertainment system available as an option on the 7-seater, but I’d bet it’ll be available on the 5 seater 9-6x.

The configuration is another point of concern. The Suuby is available as either a 5-seater base model or a 7-seater people mover. As to the 7-seat configuration, Edmunds note the following:

The third row is nearly useless for people with two legs and a head……..It seems the second row was shoved a few inches forward to make room for the basically useless third row just so the marketing guys can say the truck can seat seven. And it can, but only for a few minutes, then those riding in the third row begin to choke on their kneecaps.

It’s been mentioned in previous reports that the Saab designers were very concerned with the safety aspect of the 7-seat configuration. This obvious lack of practicality would seem to nail the 7-seater to the wall-o-death. Questions will be asked if it ain’t.

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Needless to say, the sheetmetal will receive the Saab treatment, most prominently in the front, where it’s most needed. Like Saab, history teaches that a visual appreciation for a Suuby is a bit of an acquired taste. However, the designers at Suuby have really decided to test their customer loyalty with this, the vehicular equivalent of a bashed crab.

It’s been rumoured that the rear of the 9-6x will be quite similar to that of the Tribeca and on that front, I’ve little to complain about. The rear-end belies the Alfa Romeo background of the designer.

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In terms of actual driving, Edmunds liked the Tribeca as a cruiser and whilst they do directly say that it isn’t underpowered, they then explicitly explain how the vehicle is underpowered when carrying a load, especially if there’s a hill involved.

All Tribecas are powered by a 3.0-liter double-overhead-cam horizontally opposed six-cylinder that makes 250 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 219 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. And all Tribecas use a five-speed automatic transmission with a Sport mode and a manual mode Subaru calls SportShift.

The B9 isn’t underpowered, but another 30 hp and torque that peaks a little sooner in the rev range would be nice. At the test track, it accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds, and covered the quarter-mile in 17 seconds flat at 77 mph, which is about the same performance as we’ve measured for a V6 Highlander.

When the Tribeca is loaded down with family, friends and all their fitment, however, the 3.0-liter is taxed, especially up grades. Keeping the transmission in Sport mode helps the engine stay above 3,500 rpm, which is where it makes its power, but you still have to plan way ahead if passing is on your agenda.

Saab engineers are nothing if not capable of getting a little bit more out of a drivetrain. Of course, it will depend somewhat on the relationship GM has with Fuji, but here’s hoping that the 9-6x will be tweaked a little to up the hp and more importantly, the torque curve.

In terms of handling, Edmunds once again like the car, although they do wish for more and refer to Subaru’s sporting heritage as a missing character trait for this vehicle. Given that the S in SUV is suposed to stand for Sport, I don’t blame them.

All-wheel drive is standard, as it is on every Subaru. The system, which Subaru calls Variable Torque Distribution (VTD), is tuned to normally send 55 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels, but it responds to driving and road conditions on the fly, continuously redistributing power to the car’s four tires as needed.

The B9’s structure feels tight and its around-town ride is pleasant, but this truck isn’t the sporting drive we’ve come to expect from Subaru. Despite its big wheels and tires and aggressive stance, it’s more of a cruiser. Slow steering, a fair amount of body roll and a mushy brake pedal keep you from wanting to drive it with any kind of zeal.

Like Saab did with the 9-2x, let’s hope there’s more precise steering as standard and some tweaking of the soft-ass suspension setup to make the model more aggressive.

In conclusion, whilst Edmunds liked the B9 Tribeca, it found room for improvement at nearly every turn. Here’s hoping that Saab can capitalise on those deficiencies and build the 9-6x into a formidable entrant into the sector.

Again, you can read the entire Edmunds review of the 9-6x here.

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