2007 Saturn Outlook Review

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Jim Burt Jim Burt Editor
December 17, 2006
SLIDESHOW:

Saturn has a new spin on the minivan and mid-size SUV.

The Saturn Outlook is one of three declared General Motors full-size SUVs, which comes as the company has decided to cancel out its moribund minivans, and will soon probably announce no replacements for the venerable mid-size Chevy TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy SUVs.

While replacing two segments with one line of new vehicles may sound like a risky gambit, drivers of the Outlook will soon realize that they won’t be missing much in life without an Envoy or Chevy Uplander.

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The Outlook, which is joined in GM’s stable with the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia (a Chevy is said to be on the way) is not only the best designed, running, and packaged big crossover/minivan/mid-size SUV the automaker has ever kicked out of its product system, it also skunks the current competition from Chrysler, Honda, and Toyota among vehicles that have standard or optional three rows of seats. Though, for this discussion, I will exempt Chrysler’s, Toyota’s, and Honda’s minivans as vehicles that some people just won’t do without for certain kid-friendly design reasons.

Pretty is as pretty does

2001 Mercury Mountaineer

2001 Mercury Mountaineer

Walk around the Saturn Outlook from the outside, poke around the inside, and then drive the new SUV, and one is struck by the design and packaging harmony created by a design and product development system made over in recent years by vice chairman Bob Lutz. There are no visible flaws or compromises to gripe about. The interior details and execution is at parity with standard-bearer Volkswagen. Attention to detail is obvious. The Outlook, among the so-called Lambda-platform SUVs, are arguably the first high-volume vehicles to be produced from an absolutely clean sheet of paper under Lutz. The design, platform, engine, and transmission are all new. Memo to GM: More like this.

2007 Saturn Outlook

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The Outlook will carry up to eight adults — comfortably. I mean it. A new system by which the second row slides forward and collapses flat to make room for adult access to the third row is clever and useful. Seat height and rear-door access was suitable for loading a child into a car seat. The only rub is that GM passed on a sliding door. One of the big reasons parents opt for a minivan is that the act of loading and unloading kids in crowded parking lots can be impossible with a hinged door. GM is taking a calculated gamble that it will attract minivan buyers who don’t mind so much, plus former mid-size SUV buyers and those who don’t really need a full-size SUV. The reason for no sliding door is simple. Anything with a sliding door in the U.S. has to price against minivans no matter what. GM wants to price these babies against premium SUVs.

The unibody design of the front-wheel drive, or optional all-wheel-drive Outlook dropped its overall weight, compared with vehicles like the TrailBlazer and Tahoe, by eliminating the truck frame and other heavy-duty components needed to tow big loads or stand up to severe off-road conditions. Less weight requires less horsepower. Thus, the V-6 VVT, which produces 270-275 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque was perfectly adequate to pull the Outlook’s 4905 pounds, which included the all-wheel-drive system in my test car.

The new six-speed automatic transmission, was smooth and up to changing gears when the ride required. This is the transmission GM co-developed with Ford. Note to Ford: You may want to poach the engineers who programmed the software, because GM’s is better than the version you have in your new vehicles. The Outlook has been tested to reach 60 mph in 8.2 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 16.6 seconds at 84.5 mph.

2007 Saturn Outlook

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Outpointing the competition

Charting the competition for the Outlook is an interesting exercise. The obvious names include the Chrysler Pacifica, Ford Freestyle, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander. Hmmm. The Pacifica I’ll grant, and maybe the Freestyle too. But the current Pilot and Highlander are really mid-size crossovers that nominally seat seven. Though, I pity the poor souls who would have to sit in the way-backs of those vehicles — they are really only suitable for dogs, pee-wee soccer players, and in-laws who water their whisky. Honda is due to release a new Pilot in 2007, and we’ll see if GM’s Lambdas are better than the new model.

When its second- and third-row seats are folded flat, the Outlook offers 117.0 cu ft of cargo. And behind the third row, there is a very useable 19.7 cu ft of grocery/baseball equipment space.

2000 Daewoo Korando

2000 Daewoo Korando

Inside, the Outlook is one of the best examples of the interior design renaissance at GM. Instead of the previous layered dash of, say, the Vue SUV, the Outlook’s dashboard sweeps smoothly and cleanly from door to door. The XR version has woodgrain insets that are light years better than are found in, for example, the GMC Envoy. Analog instruments are neat and classy. Cloth upholstery is standard, while leather is optional.

Interior details I liked included a real dead pedal, which Saturn says was specially engineered to accommodate my high-heels; the AC outlet in the center console for either a cellphone charger or portable DVD player for the rear-seat passenger; electric fob-controlled rear gate; and perfectly executed cupholders in two different depths. The center armrest opens to reveal a cavernous storage hold, suitable for a purse, DVDs, or beer cooler (just kidding). There is a personal audio player slot in the base of the center console, and an MP3 jack in the stereo. The trip/vehicle configuration buttons are obscured by a spoke on the steering wheel, but that’s the only real interior gripe.

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The Outlook sports the new face of Saturn, first applied to the Sky roadster — a shield-shaped grille topped by a horizontal band of chrome. The SUV has an angular profile, though not severe. The wrap-around rear glass gives it a modern look. The fact that the platform was engineered for this kind of car means that proportions and packaging are more than correct throughout; it wasn’t cobbled off a car or pickup platform. It’s offered in two variants, XE and XR, either of which is available with front- or all-wheel drive. A wide range of prices make for dizzying choices; $27,990 for a base-model XE FWD up to almost $44,000 (!) for a loaded XR AWD with all the entertainment and navigation options.

The Outlook joins the new Aura sedan and Solstice roadster, a trio of the best GM has to offer these days. The Opel Astra is going to be rebadged a Saturn in 2007 to replace the Ion. The Saturn Relay minivan is going away. That gives Saturn a top-drawer lineup with which to head into the future. A good Outlook, indeed.


2007 Saturn Outlook

Base price: $27,255–$31,555
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6, 270-275 hp/251 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front- or all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 201.1 x 78.9 x 72.8 in
Wheelbase: 118.9 in
Curb weight: 4700-4905 lb
Fuel economy: 18/26 mpg (FWD), 17/25 mpg (AWD)
Safety equipment: Front, side, and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; tire-pressure monitoring system.
Major standard equipment: Keyless entry; dual-zone digital climate control; power windows/locks/mirrors; 18-inch wheels; six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system with MP3 audio; fog lamps; cruise control; roof rack; tilt and telescoping wheel
Warranty: Five years/100,000 miles

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