Soccer Moms who adopted fossil-feasting truck-based SUVs for their parental duties know the truth: the genre is falling from fashion faster than Sony’s PS2. Style-conscious sprog schleppers now want a spacious rug-rat mover that doesn’t drain tanker trucks or scream mommy-van. For them, crossovers are The Next Big Thing. They’re eyeing vehicles like the new Saturn Outlook, the first of GM’s all-new Lambda platform-based crossovers (the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave are set to follow). The Outlook replaces the TWAT-winning Relay minivan– which isn’t exactly a tough act to follow. Still, will the Outlook break a leg?
It’s immediately obvious that the Saturn Outlook is more of a pseudo-SUV (a.k.a. soft-roader) than a bold moving crossover. Although the Outlook rides four inches lower than the latest Chevrolet Tahoe, it’s just as wide and sits on a wheelbase that’s three inches longer. GM’s designers have done an excellent job disguising the vehicle’s mass, using muscle-bound curves and a hidden D-pillar (creating wraparound rear glass) to make the Outlook appear light and sleek. The result falls right into the genre’s sweet spot: a handsome, rugged-looking vehicle bereft of the bluster blighting traditional SUV’s.
That said, the Outlook’s mean mugging schnoz doesn’t convey the new Saturn (Opel) design language as well as the Aura or SKY. The Outlook's cliff face front end contains far too many design elements– creases, folds, bumps, lighting elements, etc. — to form a coherent whole. The Outlook’s back end ends just as abruptly, with very little overhang or bumper protection (GM will sell lots of replacement lift gates.). But the rear's design, complete with an up-tilted butt in the grand French tradition, is far more effective.
The Outlook’s interior is replete with pleasing plastics and padded door panels and armrests (with honest-to-god stitching). The materials are deployed judiciously, creating a calm, quality feel; at night, amber LED lighting (a la Audi) bathes the center stack and shifter in a warm glow. Unfortunately, the Outlook’s fake wood fails to blend with the elegant polymers (those of you with a satin-nickel addiction will find less than a nickel-bag of fix here). Available touch-screen DVD navigation, heated memory seats, dual moon roofs, xenon lights, remote start and power liftgate are sure to please the Coach purse crowd– and push the Outlook's sub-$30k starting price well into the low-40’s.
Given the Outlook’s relatively svelte-looking sheetmetal, the interior packaging is exemplary. The middle and rear seats comfortably accomodate normal-sized adults– not just bi-lateral amputees. Even better, GM’s innovative Smart Slide system ensures that the center row moves out of the way faster than Paris Hilton facing a bar tab. Even with all eight passengers aboard, the Outlook's got more useable rear cargo capacity and legroom than the new[ish] GMT900 SUV's. Unless you need to tow more than 4500lbs., the case for height flight is compelling.
The Outlook pits GM's 3.6-liter VVT six against 4936 pounds of SUV (all wheel-drive). As you might imagine, the 270-horse (275 in XR trim) Outlook isn’t exactly what you’d call fast; zero sixty takes over eight seconds. But neither is it particularly slow. The six-speed clutch-to-clutch automatic makes excellent use of the Outlook’s 251 ft.-lbs. of twist. In-gear grunt is always available for ambling, [well-timed] passing and highway cruising. You can find a little extra oomph by shifting manually with the up/down thumb rockers on the console-mounted shifter, or just go easy on the go-pedal and wait your damn turn.
At speed, the Outlook’s helm weights-up nicely, with admirable on-center feel. The massive 255/60-19 tires [XR Touring] will outgrip the seats (lateral bolstering and super-size-me American physiques don’t mix). The Outlook’s aluminum intensive suspension– coil over strut (front) and linked H-arm (rear) — delivers a competent compromise between corner control and the need to keep the kids’ Big Gulps from spilling. Obviously, the Outlook’s weight does it no favors in the bends, but SUV refugees will enjoy the inherent advantages of the vehicle’s stiffer chassis and lowered ride height.
The Outlook’s 13” vented four wheel disc brakes are perfectly sufficient for stop-n-go urban assault duty; use them in anger and they fade faster than K-Fed’s fame. More importantly for the Outlook’s target market, the crossover offers standard OnStar, Stabilitrak, side airbags and three-row head curtains– providing the passive protection kiddy chauffeurs have come to expect. And the front-drive Outlook’s 18/26 mpg (17/24 for all wheel drive) keeps more in the college fund than the Yukosubtaholade, Aspango or Exploragator.
The Outlook is an excellent choice for SUV refugees seeking a vehicle with better mileage and more efficient packaging that stil isn’t afraid to get its feet wet (with optional all wheel-drive). Or people who just can’t bring themselves to buy a minivan.