By on October 13, 2010

DH writes:

A cherry 2008 Saab 9-7 with the 5.3L V8 and a very clean Carfax sheet is now in the capable hands of my lovely bride at a price that would shame even Jack Benny. It will tow what we need it to, it will carry what we ask of it and even looks cool enough that our 11 year old son will allow us to drop him off in front of his junior high.

Eventually it will need consumables. Rather than replace shocks / struts, tires, brake pads etc with OEM stuff, what can be done to improve the ride and handling of this solid axle SUV? Where would you go and to whom would you turn to inquire if it can be improved upon if one spends a bit more on things that need to be replaced anyway? Is this excrement polishing?

Sajeev Answers:

It’s absolutely not excrement polishing, if the whole family enjoys the TrollBlazer. That said, the word “improve” is in the eye of a beholder. Porsche it shall not be, but SUVs can be stupid fun to drive with just a change of dampeners. I found out, and was suitably…shocked.

So do yourself a solid, and get a set of performance dampeners aimed at street going SUVs: any mild Koni, Bilstein or Tokico shock will suffice. Do some research on for the best a “high performance all-season” tire for your needs. Switch to a more aggressive semi-metallic brake pad for maximum “whoa” for minimal “dough.”

If you want to go further, give it a shot: a set of lower springs along with firmer shocks can make for a more street-savvy SUV. The key is to go conservative in your lowering to not screw up the geometry associated with minimizing suspension/drivetrain bind. I’m not gonna speculate on what’s your wisest move in terms of springs, that’s why places like the Trail-Voy Forums have a home on the Internet. Give it a good read.

Send your queries to [email protected] Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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23 Comments on “Piston Slap: Trollblazer, Massaged. Or not?...”

  • avatar

    The key is to go conservative in your lowering to not screw up the geometry associated with minimizing suspension/drivetrain bind

    Sajeev: Boy, you’re not kidding! That is a point I couldn’t emphasize enough for any hot-rodder/modifier.

    Back in the day, I replaced my 1964 Chevy’s standard springs (like my avatar, Impala SS convertibla, 283, 2 bbl, Powerglide) with front and rear springs spec’d for a 1964 Chevy 409-equipped station wagon! They raised the car 2 inches, and the problems cascaded from there: Upper ball joint extensions and other stuff I can’t remember, but the worst was the center bearing where the driveshafts came together. I should’ve studied geometry before doing this. No matter what I did, from shimming the bearing mount ever higher, the issue never went away and went through universal joints all too regularly. It always had a shimmy when starting from a dead stop. Never again!

    So, to the inquiring mind who wrote in:


    Of course, that was almost 40 years ago, and TTAC wasn’t dreamed of, yet!

  • avatar
    Alex L. Dykes

    Just be careful with any mods that increase engine output. Our 2002 GMC Envoy is on it’s third, yes third transmission in 100,000 miles. Thankfully we purchased the extended warranty. We rarely tow anything with the vehicle and it has mostly highway miles on it. Sadly my GM rumour mill tells me that this is not an uncommon complaint with the GMT360 vehicles. Beware.

    • 0 avatar

      Nope, sadly it is a common occurance. Met a few GMT360 owners over the years (dealership waiting room mostly, waiting for -another- repair on one of my own trucks) who have had there’s replaced as well, some more than once like yourself. Sad…. as they are sharp looking trucks.

    • 0 avatar

      I think in 2003 they reduced the power output of the engine in first gear so that the transmission wouldn’t be under so much stress.  GM also deleted a bunch of standard equipment across their fleet that year…

    • 0 avatar

      I wonder if an auxiliary trans cooler would help. It certainly can’t hurt….

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Nope sure couldn’t hurt.  If I ever order a new vehicle I’ll order the “towing package” if one is available (as long as it comes with a trans cooler) even though I have no intention of towing.  Just makes the transmission more durable.

    • 0 avatar

      A shadow of the 9000 2.3Turbo with 4AT raises from the grave… History repeats itself, even if the SUBJ is as remote from anything SAAB as they come.

  • avatar

    Even if you do slap a set of new dampers and springs on it to improve the street handling, you still have to factor in what kind of tires it has, and what job the SUV still has to perform in terms of its utility. Want to tow a load with stiff springs and low profile tires that improved your handling? The novelty might wear quickly when this trucks ability to tow diminishes.

    With trucks, it’s all about compromises and to get one thing, like handling, or off-road prowess, you have to give up another.

    I don’t think this is as simple as Sajeev makes it out to be.
    Good luck.

    EDIT: The formatting on comments sure has been weird lately.

    • 0 avatar

      Springs yes, but aftermarket shocks aren’t likely to change towing capabilities.  Low profile tires were never discussed, I certainly don’t recommend them. More to the point, there are plenty of (somewhat) more aggressive tire options in the factory size.
      Even more to the point: Bilsteins, upgraded rubber compounds and better brake pads are damn near compromise free.The only downside is the fact that you have to pay money for them.

    • 0 avatar

      Some Edelbrock IAS shocks might do something to improve the handling, but probably nothing significant to the point where you’re going to round a corner and feel sprightly doing it. It’s still a lumbering SUV built more towards the utility end of the spectrum. Brake pads will help haul it to a stop, but that still isn’t going to help it round any corners with aplomb.
      High performance all seasons, depending on what part of the continent that they live on might be a bonus in the warmer months, but could make it “handle” worse once the roads turn white.

      I don’t think there is enough tweaking to be had with this platform that’s going to make it handle as good as he hopes it to.
      Get an old 9-3 if you want something that’s going to be fun to drive and keep the 9-7 for hauling duties.

    • 0 avatar

      I lowered my then newish 1995 Explorer, one inch in the rear and inch and a half in the front.
      Just that change alone, made a BIG difference in the way it feels going around corners. It lost the tippy feeling, and felt much more planted. It’s got generic replacement shocks that are twice as stiff as the OEM ones were, and driveline wear is minimal. It finally got a set of ball joints and will eventually need u joints at 280,000 miles.
      It went from scary in corners to outright planted if you aren’t being foolish and wagging the tail, as it will oversteer on you, but fortuneatly it does not have the power to really do anything silly at big speeds. Yes it still a top-heavy overgrown station wagon, on a chassis that is prone to flipping, but I run the tires at 30 in the front and 32 in the rear to balance out the chassis and to reduce the oversteer that low rear tire pressure causes.
      Girlfriend made me a believer in the setup I have, we were coming back from a trip, she was driving, and someone cut her off, she cuts over quickly, got the tail wagging at 55mph, and she didn’t have the expereince to control it. It swings on around at once we start going backwards, she managed to stop it without hitting anything or anyone. It also did it while sitting bolt upright on brand new tires.
      Came to find out that the tire place had inflated the front tires to what I told them to, but not the back tires, they were filled to 26psi per the sticker. I fixed that problem and it never has felt squirrelly again.
      Offroad ability hasn’t really been hampered for what I use it for, which is light duty jeep trails, since it’s 2wd I don’t take it too far from some sort of road. but the stiff ride gets old after a bit.

    • 0 avatar

      Define sprightly. It’s all relative, since I think it will make the SUV far more sprightly than it was before.
      Nobody’s expecting it to defy the laws of physics, but aftermarket upgrades will make a noticeable difference.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Even more to the point: Bilsteins, upgraded rubber compounds and better brake pads are damn near compromise free.The only downside is the fact that you have to pay money for them.
    And there’s Sajeev’s best point.  Almost ANY car can benefit from those modifications.  If you’re going to go with good summer all seasons, keep the sidewall the same for the best ride, maybe upgrade the wheels for a little style, and then take the old factory wheels over to your local tire shop and have some winter rubber installed for maximum safety for momma and the kids.  I know that’s what I’ll do for my Baby when we start having babies.  She loves SUVs and I can’t talk her out of it.  (My ride however will not be an SUV.)

  • avatar

    Your best bet will to find Trailblazer SS, or 9-7x Aero suspension bits and the associated 20″ wheel package. Can be purchased new from a stealership, but I would guess that enough internet searching will find a totalled one somewhere.

    • 0 avatar

      I second that… the 97x Aero and TB-SS had the same suspension and it rocked, at the time it was released it got great reviews for handling.  Maybe not quite Cayenne territory, but surprisingly close.  I am sure duplicating or even slightly improving the stock SS suspension would be easy and satisfying with no real compromise anywhere else.

    • 0 avatar

      This is a great idea, at least on paper.  Never driven an SS/Aero, but I suspect the suspension will be great: mild not extreme.  Not thrilled with the idea of 20″ wheels, but that’s because I really hate impact harshness.

  • avatar

    Great choice with the 97X.  It along with the other short wheelbase GMT-360’s with the 5.3 or 6.0 V8s are fantastic SUVs.  They are extremely frugal with the gasoline, will scoot when you need them to, and are great tow vehicles.
    I would love to own a 97X Aero…

  • avatar

    Agree with Sajeev’s advice, but how about swaybar upgrades?  I have done them on alost every car I have owned and it made a huge difference…

    • 0 avatar

      My opinion: depending on the increase in size, their ability to restrict independent wheel movement (bump on left side only) can hurt ride quality in a conventional SUV with leaf springs.
      But since we’re only talking about replacing wear items with better stuff, the sway bars stay untouched. Unless they are hollow and are about to rust themselves into pieces. That’s not out of the question, I guess.

  • avatar

    Powerslot (slotted only) rotors with Hawk HPS (SUV) pads.  Excellent ‘whoa nelly’ ability.
    I have had them on a 93 integra for 3 years and an 02 solara for 1.

  • avatar

    I run a Road Master Active Suspension (RAS) on my ’10 Xterra.

    They have greatly improved handling. 

    When I bought the Xterra I came from a 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee.  I wanted something similar in size and capability.  The Xterra was one of the closest SUVs I could find for the price.  

    It is however a fairly tall SUV and its driving dynamics leave a bit to be desired.  I was suprised at how my 10+ year old Jeep, with aging suspension parts, handled a little better.  I suppose the Xterra’s extra umph didnt make matters better.

    I did some research and in the end I went with the road master.  Its about $300 and acts like a set of airbags / leaf stiffeners / sway bars – all in one.  Its simple enough to install on your own and is supposed to improve towing capacity.

    I have yet to tow, but the cornering of the Xterra has gotten much better.  Its no sports car by any stretch, but I no longer have to brake as heavily when entering a turn and it takes a bit more for body roll to be introduced.  I would compare the drive to that of a large sedan.

    The roadmaster will however raise the height – not much – about an inch.  But on the Xterra which was already tall to begin with I could no longer park in my work’s garage with the aftermarket roof rack on.  Its fine in the winter w/o the bike and kayak parts.

    If anyone wants to know more there are a bunch of reviews out there including this one I wrote:

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