Road Test Rewind: Bigger is Better in Saturn's Outlook

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2007 Outlook XR

Saturn entered a new market segment a little over a year ago when the brand began building the Outlook crossover sport-utility. The company best known for selling small cars and sport-utilities now has a full line-up of vehicles of all shapes and sizes. The full-size Outlook offers something that no Saturn has in the past: lots of style and a vast amount of space. Just how useful all of that space would be was top of mind when received an all-wheel-drive 2007 Outlook XR for a week-long road test last summer.

Make no mistake, the Outlook is one large SUV. It looked huge parked next to our 2005 Vue Red Line. The compact Vue is dwarfed by the Outlook in every dimension, but don't let that scare you away if you're in the market for a comfortable people mover. The eight-passenger Outlook passed the all-important "will that fit in my garage?" test with flying colors. While the Outlook looks big, it's less than a foot longer than Saturn's Aura midsize sedan and about four inches shorter than Relay minivan it replaces.

Climbing inside is easy, because unlike taller truck-based sport-utes, the Outlook rides closer to the ground thanks to an advanced unibody platform design. GM's "Lambda" architecture was engineered from the start to exhibit car-like characteristics and maximize interior space.

Before stepping on the brake pedal and shifting the console-mounted gear selector into drive, I adjusted the rearview and side mirror into position. If you had forgotten that you were in a large SUV, looking into the rearview mirror or turning your head towards the back of the cabin reminds you of all the space at your disposal. While smaller on the outside, the Outlook has as much interior space as the larger truck-based Chevrolet Tahoe.

With all of the controls properly adjusted and everyone buckled up, I cautiously headed into out of the driveway and up the street. I feared it would be a nightmare to navigate through rush-hour traffic, but was happy to discover before even leaving our neighborhood that the Outlook was very easy to drive. For a vehicle of its size, the Outlook's handling seemed agile and its turning radius felt tight. It didn't take long before I was comfortable zipping down the road and negotiating through stop-and-go traffic.

Helping the Outlook move along on its way is a 275hp 3.6L V6 that's mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. The engine features four valves per cylinder along with variable valve timing technology to improve power and fuel economy. The engine provides brisk acceleration and plenty of passing power on the highway. Even with the air conditioning cranking out cool air in 90+ degree weather, the motor never skipped a beat as the 4700 lbs crossover climbed the mountains along Interstate 81 in southwest Virginia. Fuel economy averaged nearly 20mpg with roughly a 50-50 split between around town and highway mileage over hilly terrain. A front-wheel drive model should deliver even better results.

Saturn has come a long way in the design and craftsmanship of its new vehicle interiors, and the Outlook's cabin is no exception. Compared to our '05 Vue, the Outlook is whisper quiet (the all-new 2008 Vue features similar sound deadening improvements). Engine and wind noise are nearly non-existent. Our test vehicle was equipped with cloth seats that were comfortable even after a four-hour road trip. We weren't particularly fond of the cloth's fabric pattern, but that was just our personal preference. The seats seemed to be well made and durable. Leather seating areas are offered as part of an optional premium trim package.

The Outlook's handsomely sculpted and muscular exterior carries over inside with a dashboard that features crisp, clean lines constructed of high-grade materials. At night, amber lights cast an ambient glow over the center console. Much like in an airplane, each seat had its own overhead light should someone need to read or find something in the dark. The lights cast a focused glow that won't disrupt the driver or even passengers who might be sleeping in one of the Outlook's roomy rear seats. Thirsty passengers won't have a hard time finding a place to store their drinks either. We counted at least 10 cup holders throughout the cabin.

The instrument cluster features five gauges and a driver information center (DIC) that has become standard issue in all new Saturns. One nice feature that I hadn't noticed on other Saturn DICs in the past was its integration with the vehicle's speed control system. When you set the cruise control, the DIC displays exactly what speed you've set the cruise control on. Nice touch.

Atop the center stack is a storage bin that came in very handy holding the pen and small pad of paper used to jot down notes for this review. Beneath the bin are a set of air vents with both directional and on-off controls. Continuing down the stack you'll find GM's multi-functional "black tie" radio. An in-dash navigation system is offered as an option. While the radio was positioned within easy reach of both the driver and passenger, it could also be adjusted using convenient steering wheel mounted buttons. Below the radio sat an automatic three-zone climate control system that quickly cooled the interior and kept it comfortable at all times. There's a lot of air to condition in the Outlook, and the rear vents provide plenty of relief to passengers in the second and third rows. At the bottom of the stack was a series of buttons that among other things, controlled the heated seats, deactivated the electronic traction control, and operated the power rear liftgate. The power liftgate isn't an option I would've ever considered buying, but after using it for a week, I was addicted to the feature. I wouldn't recommend getting one without it.

Speaking of options, our Outlook tester wasn't equipped with many. However, it did include two notable features: a 110v power outlet and a rear ultrasonic backup assist system that took the worry out of parking in tight spaces. It also featured a remote start system that proved to be popular when we showed off the Outlook to friends and family.

Our evaluation vehicle was equipped with the standard second-row bench seat. Captains chairs are an option. GM's "Smart Slide" second-row seats worked much smoother than on previous models I had sampled at autoshows. By the end of the week, my wife and I were calling them "slip-and-slide" seats because they were so easy to maneuver. With the middle row seat moved out of the way, climbing into and out of the third row was virtually effortless.

Once in the back, the second row seat just as easily slid back into position. Tall passengers need not worry about head or leg room. At a height just over 6 feet, I was concerned that either my head would either brush against the headliner or my legs would be cramped by the middle row's seats. Neither was the case. I could wear baseball cap and swing my legs side-to-side with room to spare. There's also surprisingly a lot of space behind the third row seats. Helping to make good space even move valuable, Saturn has included a number of convenient storage compartments, including a pop-up storage tray made popular in first-generation Vues.

Giving back the keys at the end of our evaluation period was difficult. During our week with the Outlook, my wife and I put about 600 miles on the truck. We drove it just as we would one of our own Saturns, and came to appreciate all of the extra space, creature comforts, and car-like ride and handling. If you're in the market for a new crossover, minivan, or SUV, take a look at the Outlook. You'll see how bigger can be better.

Click here to browse through photos from the Outlook test drive.

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