- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The 2007 Saturn Outlook from General Motors has all the desirable attributes of a minivan, but without the stigma — or the cachet — depending on your viewpoint.

It’s one of a new breed of crossover utility vehicles that combine semi-carlike ride and handling, lighter weight and fuel economy with interior space that matches full-size SUVs and approaches that of minivans. GM offers three that have the same underpinnings: the 2007 Outlook and GMC Acadia, and the 2008 Buick Enclave.

A crossover, or CUV, is built like a car, with unit-body construction and, usually, with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It differs from the traditional truck-based sport utility vehicle, or SUV, with a body on frame and rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

The Outlook is available in two trim levels — the XE and XR, either of which is available with front-drive or all-wheel drive.

But make no mistake. It and its siblings are big vehicles. The tested front-drive Outlook XE had seating for eight, with nearly 20 cubic feet of cargo space out back. If you fold the second and third rows of seats, there’s 117 cubic feet of space back there — 7 feet long and about 4 feet wide.

At 4,700 pounds, the Outlook XE is no lightweight. But it weighs 837 pounds less than a full-size Chevrolet Tahoe, and has more passenger and cargo space. The Outlook has 154 cubic feet of passenger space to go with its 20 cubic feet for cargo. The Tahoe’s numbers are 153 and 17. At 16 feet 9 inches, the Outlook is an inch shorter than the Tahoe and the same size as the new Chrysler Aspen.

The 320-horsepower V-8 Tahoe gets 15/21 miles to the gallon on the EPA city/highway cycle. The 335-horsepower V-8 Aspen is rated at 14/19. But the 270-horsepower V-6 Outlook XE gets 18/26.

In interior space, the Outlook comes close to the Dodge Grand Caravan minivan, but trails the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. Because it’s designed like an SUV, with conventional swing-open doors and a tall ride-height, the Outlook is not as convenient to use as a minivan.

The Outlook’s floor sits 19 to 20 inches above the pavement, so it’s not particularly easy for youngsters or the elderly to climb inside. But the driver can see over traffic.

In most respects, the Saturn designers have nailed the CUV concept. With its new six-speed automatic transmission, the Outlook moves smoothly and rapidly away from stop signs and in freeway traffic. It cruises quietly on the highway and, with relatively tight rack-and-pinion steering and an independent suspension system, it tracks well around corners with a minimum of body lean.

The six-speed automatic has a sort of manual-shift mode, controlled by a button on the shifter. But its purpose is to prevent up-shifting beyond what the driver sets to help in towing and mountain driving.

Interior comfort is first rate, given the compromises involved in making space for eight. The front bucket seats, covered in a cozy cloth on the tested XE, felt comfortable and supportive, but had little lateral support. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and the sun visors slide on their support rods for blocking the sun from the side.

In the second row, divided one-third and two-thirds, there’s ample space for three adults, although the center-rear passenger has a harder seating surface and no headrest. Seatbacks recline, and the second row has a fore-and-aft adjustment of about four inches — a good thing because the seats need to be moved all the way forward to provide decent knee room for the third-row occupants.

Access to the third row, past articulated and easily folded second-row seats, is never easy on this type of vehicle. But on the Outlook, it’s about as good as it gets.

Three adults can sit in the third row with enough head and knee room, although they’d better be trim at the waist and fanny, and comfort is compromised because the seatbacks don’t recline and there’s no center headrest. The second- and third-row seats easily fold flat for cargo.

The Outlook’s interior is cleanly designed, with restrained use of faux wood trim on the dash, console and doors, and a pleasant combination of materials and colors. Instruments are lighted during the daytime, and the standard equipment includes air conditioning for both the front and rear passengers, with separate controls for the back seats.

There are plenty of cup and juice box holders, and the back of the front console has a 12-volt outlet as well as 115-volt inverter outlet.

The tested XE, with a good level of standard equipment that includes stability and traction control, antilock brakes, side air bags and side-curtain air bags along with remote locking, air conditioning and a stereo system with CD player, had a suggested sticker price of $27,990.

With a couple of minor options, including remote starting, it came to $28,945. However, it’s possible to push the XR price close to $40,000, and the GMC Acadia can be bumped to more than $46,000.

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