Saturn Outlook Review

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saturn outlook review

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.

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  • Flyerbry Flyerbry on Mar 03, 2007

    Frankly, all these anti-SUV comments are a bit over the top in my opinion. I own two 4X4 vehicles and the four wheel drive systems in both have been used extensively over the lives of both vehicles. Mine is a 99 Wrangler and yes it has been off road extensively to all those places a typical SUV wouldn't be taken. Have I gotten my moneys worth out of the 4WD drivetrain? You bet. I have even pulled a few vehicles out of the ditch during our snowy winters here in the midwest the past couple years. Our other 4X4 is a 2003 Trailblazer EXT which is my wife's vehicle. We have three children so we have a realistic need for a larger vehicle with usable space and seating beyond a typical five passanger sedan. Imagine a car with a couple car seats in the back seat and you'll know were I am coming from. Sure a minivan would do. We drove them before we bought the Trailblazer and still do on occasion. The problem with minivans for us isn't one of image, but one of the driving experience. Of all the minivans we drove both my wife and I absolutely hated how they drove. You also have to understand I used to drive a Blazer (before SUVs were all the rage) and I made the mistake of showing my wife how to use the 4WD. The next time it snowed and my wife was driving the Blazer was the last time it was my vehicle. She loves having 4WD for the stability it offers in bad driving conditions. My wife is also one that is able to recognize the difference between when an AWD system isn't working and a full-time system is making a difference. So when we were shopping for vehicles and she was drawn to the models with 4WD was I supposed to say "no honey, you can't have the advantages of 4WD..." Yeah right! I'm all about function, not looks which is why I can say we have gotten full use of the 4WD in the Trailblazer as well. Especially with all the snow we have had this past winter. One can argue that 4WD is only useful in certain situations and that would be a valid argument. At the same time, the folks on the road without some type of 4WD or AWD system were cursing the weather an awful lot around here recently. A lot of cars become impractical in those situations. My wife and I just saw the new Lambda-based vehicles a couple weeks ago at the Chicago auto show. We have been 100% happy with our Trailblazer since the day we got it but in comparison, these new vehicles are a whole generation ahead in terms of design and quality. The interiors are impressive - finally GM is offering some interiors that are equal to or better than most of the competition. I just hope is a trend that keeps going! As for the crossover design itself, there are many flavors of crossovers on the market. The most basic definition of a crossover in my mind is a unibody design that shares SUV-like characteristics. The advantage being lighter weight which results in better fuel economy at the expense of towing capability. What you get from GM to Ford to Mazda to Porsche to Cadallac in a crossover is all very different. The fact is every vehicle design is a compromise of one form or another. Just because one vehicle fits your needs and wants better than another doesn't mean your vehicle is the best and what everyone else chooses to drive is somehow a bad choice or a simple image-inflating purchase. There have been an abundance of narrow-minded comments in this tread that have completely ignored this fact. If a VW or Subaru or motorcycle or bicycle or (insert vehicle of choice here) gets you everywhere you want to go that's great! That means it's the right vehicle for you because it fulfills your needs. However, at the same time, to suggest to someone else that they prefer an SUV solely because of image when a minivan would suffice is pure ignorance. As far as the load floor question, I wondered about this as well. I also pondered how successful GM will be selling these in place of a minivan. Time will tell for sure but now having seen one of these vehicles with all the seats stowed away makes me think these really are a viable replacement for a minivan. I won't say the floor was perfectly flat, but it was pretty darn close. It is devoid of all the lumps and bumps that are present after folding all the seats down in our Trailblazer. The other thing to keep in mind when comparing to the various crossovers, SUVs and minivans it the usability of the third row. A full size adult can actually fit in the third row when there are lots of three-row vehicles that are only usful for small children in the third row. Even my sister-in-laws Christler minivan isn't as easy to access the third row as these Lambdas with their nifty flip-and slide second row seats. The first generation Durango was the first to offer the third row usability followed by the Trailblazer and now this Lambda trio. To get anything more you have to go to a full-size SUV. In my opinion, GM has brought a very nice vehicle to the market that should sell very well. I'm glad to see they are doing something right but I also think they have a ways to go befor the rest of their lineup is looking up.

  • WaterDR WaterDR on Nov 19, 2007

    Wow, that is the biggest paragraph I have ever seen! As an owner of a Suburban Z-71 that has now seen 100k miles and NEVER, not once, saw a shop (except for tires, brakes and oil), I must say that the new GM trio will find it's way into my garage. This vehicle is really nice and drives great and is SMALL. Yes, I said it....its S M A L L compared to my BIG ute. Keep in mind that these things have three full rows of seating. I must say, though, that the price is steep. Fully-loaded they run $45k. I told the salesmen that I think for $36k, it would be priced right - lol. Thing is, they are a hot seller and dealers are just not moving on these things around here. When I can use my GM card, and get 0%, I will be standing in line.

  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.
  • Dukeisduke I subscribed to both Road & Track and Car and Driver for over 25 years, but it's been close to 20 years since I dropped both. I tried their digital versions with their reader software (can't remember the name now), but it wasn't the same. I let it lapse after a year.From what I've seen of R&T's print version, it's turned into more of a lifestyle thing like The Robb Report. I haven't seen an issue of C/D in a while.I enjoyed both magazines a lot when I was subscribing. R&T for the road tests (especially the April Fools road tests), used car reviews, historical articles, and columns like Peter Egan's Side Glances and Dennis Simanitis's Technical Correspondence. And C/D for the road tests and pithy commentary, and columns like Gordon Baxter's, and Jean Shepherd's (that goes way back to the early '70s).
  • Steve Biro It takes very clever or amusing content for me to sit through a video vehicle review. And most do not include that.Tim, you wrote :"Niche titles aren't dying because of a lack of interest from enthusiasts, but because of broader changes in the economics of media, at least in this author's opinion."You're right about the broader changes in economics. But the truth is that there IS a lack of interest from enthusiasts. Part of it is demographics. Young people coming up are generally not car and truck fans. That doesn't mean there are no young enthusiasts but the numbers are much smaller. And even those who consider themselves enthusiasts seem to have mixed feelings. Just take a look at Jalopnik.And then we come to the real problem: The vast majority of new vehicles coming out today are not interesting to enthusiasts, are not fun to drive and/or are just not affordable.You can argue that EVs are technically interesting and should create enthusiasm. But the truth is they are not fun to drive, don't work well enough yet for most people and are very expensive.EVs on the race track? Have you ever been to a Formula E race? Please.And even if we set EVs aside, the electronic nannies that are being forced on us pretty much preclude a satisfying driving experience in any brand-new vehicle, regardless of propulsion system. Sure, many consumers who view cars as transportation appliances may welcome this technology. But they are not enthusiasts. I don't know about you, but I and most car fans I know don't want smart phones on wheels.There is simply not that much of interest to write about. Car and Driver and Road & Track are dipping deeper into nostalgia and their archives as a result. R&T is big on sponsoring road trips for enthusiasts - which is a great idea. But only people with money to burn need apply.And then there is the problem of quality in automotive writing. As more experienced people are let go and more money is cut from publications, the quality and length of pieces keeps going down, leading to the inevitable self-fulfilling prophecy.Even the output on this site is sharply reduced from its peak. And the number of responses to posts seems a small fraction of what it used to be. This is my first comment since the site was recently relaunched. I don't expect to be making many in the future.Frankly Tim - and it gives me no pleasure to write this - but your post makes me feel as though the people running this site have run out of ideas and TTAC's days may be numbered.Cutbacks in automotive journalism are upsetting. But, until there is something exciting and fun to write about, they are going to continue. Perhaps automotive enthusiasm really was a 20th century phenomenon..
  • THX1136 I think that the good ole interwebs is at least partially to blame. When folks can get content for free, what is the motivation to pay to read? I'm guilty of this big time. Gotta pay to read!? Forget it! I'll go somewhere else or do without. And since a majority of folks have that portable PC disguised as a phone in their pocket, no need for print. The amount of info easily available is the other factor the web brings to bear. It's perhaps harder now to stand out. Standing out is necessary to continued success.In an industry I've been interested (and participated) in, the one magazine (Mix) I subscribed to has become a shadow of it's former self (200 pgs now down to 75). I like print for the reasons mentioned by another earlier. I can 'access' it in a non-linear fashion and it's easily portable for me. (Don't own a smarty pants phone and don't plan to at the moment.)I would agree with others: useful comparison reviews, unique content not easily available other places, occasional ringers (Baruth, Sajeev, et al) - it would be attractive to me anyway. I enjoy Corey, Matt and Murilee and hope they continue to contribute here.
  • Daniel J I wish auto journos would do more comparisons. They do some but many are just from notes from a previous review compared to a new review. I see where journos go out to a location and test drive and review a vehicle on location but that does absolutely nothing for me without any comparison to similar cars. I also wish more journos spent more time on seat comfort. I guess that doesn't matter much when many journos seem to be smaller folks where comfort isn't as important. Ergonomics are usually just glossed over unless there is something very specific about the ergonomics that tick the journo off. I honestly get more from most youtube reviews than I ever do about reviews written on a page.
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