Big SUVs are gas guzzlers. Minivans are unhip. What’s a mother to do?
General Motors, which last year announced it would stop producing minivans, offers a viable alternative for families with its new generation of large crossover SUVs: Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia for 2007 and Buick Enclave for 2008.
Designed with SUV style and minivan practicality on a carlike unibody chassis, the new entries are large vehicles that seat eight while shedding considerable weight compared with similar-size truck-chassis SUVs. Fuel mileage and drivability are improved without sacrificing comfort or safety.
I drove the Outlook, the first big SUV for the Saturn division, and was impressed by its refined ride and handling, engine power and interior design. Outlook is the midrange craft in the GM trio, with Enclave coming in at a more modest price and the luxurious Acadia on top.
The front-wheel-drive test vehicle was pricey, though, with a bunch of optional features that pushed the total above $40,000. All-wheel drive adds another $2,000.
But Outlook delivers the goods and compares well against such strong competitors as Honda Pilot and Toyota Highland. For one thing, cargo space is huge for the slightly bigger Outlook.
The 275-horsepower V-6, a new engine for GM, provides more power than other vehicles in its class with fuel mileage that is comparable.
A good package all around that should enlarge GM’s piece of the growing crossover pie.
PERFORMANCE: The double-overhead-cam 3.6-liter engine is strong and tractable, with variable valve timing that evens out power and torque response. Outlook still is a heavyweight at 4,700 pounds, but the 275-horsepower engine provides good motivation. Fuel mileage was good for this size vehicle, especially with such a powerful V-6. I was less impressed with the new six-speed automatic, which was sometimes hesitant and unpredictable. A lag in downshifts was disconcerting, as well as an occasional abrupt clunk.
DRIVABILITY: Outlook provided a pleasant drive to Prescott on a Saturday afternoon, showing off its superior highway manners, climbing grades easily and cornering nicely. The rack-and-pinion steering has a good, linear feel. Even more-expensive luxury SUVs would be hard-pressed to improve on Outlook’s drivability. It comes standard with side-curtain air bags for all three rows, electronic stability control, traction control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes.
STYLING: The look is all SUV, with a brawny front-end, bold wheel arches and overall truck shape. Minivan drivers may miss the low entry height as this vehicle is taller and the sliding side doors. Saturn styling cues are evident in the grille and headlight design.
INTERIOR: GM has upgraded its interiors across the board, and Outlook benefits with sophisticated style and materials. Seats are roomy and comfortable, and the interface between the video display navigation system and the audio/climate controls is less awkward than most. The middle and third row of seats fold easily into the floor for a huge cargo area. The middle row reclines and moves fore-and-aft. The third row is tight on legroom unless the middle row is moved forward.
BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable vehicle with superior drivability and decent fuel mileage, Outlook nails the essence of what a crossover should be.
SATURN OUTLOOK SR
Vehicle type: Eight-passenger, four-door crossover SUV, front-wheel drive. Engine: 3.6-liter V-6, 275 horsepower at 6,600, 251 pound-feet torque at 3,200 rpm. Transmission: Six-speed automatic. Wheelbase: 118.9 inches. Overall length: 201.1 inches. Curb weight: 4,700 pounds. EPA rating: 18 city, 26 highway.
HIGHS: Refined ride, powerful engine, attractive interior. LOWS: Clunky transmission, pricey with options, tight rear seat.
Base price: $29,555. Price as tested: $40,539.
* Navigation system, $2,145. Sunroof with rear skylight, $1,300. * DVD entertainment, $1,295. * Heated leather seats, $1,275. * Convenience package, with park assist, power lift gate and remote start, $1,045. * Touring package with polished alloy wheels, chrome exhaust tips, $895. * Shipping, $735.