EXPERT REVIEW

Star-Telegram.com's view


The crossover frenzy shows no signs of abating, with even more new models introduced at the recent New York auto show.

With so many on the market now, consumers can get quite confused when trying to sort them out and find which ones are worth considering.

Two that are certainly worth a look are the 2007 Saturn Outlook and its near clone, the GMC Acadia.

These two new models from General Motors Corp. arrived this past fall.

Along with the Buick Enclave, which later this year as a 2008 model, and a Chevrolet version, whose details are yet to be announced, these vehicles eventually will replace GM’s entire lineup of conventional truck-based midsize SUVs — the Chevy TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy and Buick Rainier, all of which are variations of the same vehicle.

This new lineup also is based on a single vehicle platform, but unlike the TrailBlazer and its siblings, the Outlook and its kin are car-based crossovers, the new breed of sport utility that consumers now seem to prefer more than the truck-based models that created the SUV genre beginning in 1990 with the introduction of the Ford Explorer.

Last year, crossovers overtook sales of the truck-based SUVs for the first time, and these vehicles are quickly becoming the family haulers of choice for many urban and suburban American consumers.

The casualties are such vehicles as the Ford Explorer, which almost single-handedly created the segment, the GM models, and the Dodge Durango.

Sales of crossovers, which usually get better fuel economy than the truck-based SUVs, continue to climb even as gasoline gets more expensive.

The fuel savings aren’t that significant in many cases, so there are other factors involved in consumers’ apparent wholesale shift to the crossovers. Some observers believe that the traditional SUVs were a fad that has cooled, and the crossovers have given consumers a new breed of family car that is, in most cases, more stylish and more carlike.

For this report, we tested the Outlook, the second sport utility in the Saturn lineup (the other is the compact Vue).

Our test vehicle was the uplevel Outlook XR front-wheel-drive version (base price $29,555 plus $735 freight).

The Outlook gives Saturn dealers their first midsize SUV. And by starting off with a crossover, rather than a version of the aging TrailBlazer platform, Saturn definitely is looking to the future.

And for the GMC Truck division, which is now paired with Pontiac, the Acadia is the first crossover in a lineup that has never had anything but real truck-based products.

The Outlook and Acadia are quite similar, built on the same architecture and assembly line. Yet each has its own unique styling cues and interior packages so they are somewhat differentiated from each other.

There is seating for up to eight people, and GM believes that many consumers who might have considered buying a minivan in the past will choose these crossovers instead.

Both come with GM’s 3.6-liter V-6 engine with variable valve timing, which the automaker says has been designed to deliver optimum fuel economy with low emissions and “exceptional smoothness.”

There are two configurations of this engine for the Outlook: The entry-level XE model (base price $27,255 plus freight) comes with a single exhaust outlet, and in that model, the engine is rated at 263 horsepower and 244 foot-pounds of torque.

On our XR test model, though, the addition of a second exhaust outlet raises the engine’s ratings to 267 horsepower and 247 foot-pounds of torque, the same as the Acadia.

In both vehicles, the engine is connected to a six-speed automatic transmission in the Outlook.

Both vehicles are offered with either front- or all-wheel drive. There is a $2,000 premium for all-wheel drive. In the Outlook, the XE model with all-wheel drive begins at $29,255, while the XR version starts at $31,555.

EPA fuel-economy ratings (using the 2007 formula) are 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on the highway with the standard front-wheel-drive arrangement, and 17 city/24 highway with all-wheel drive.

Rather than the traditional body-on-frame truck-style SUV arrangement, the Outlook and Acadia are built on a “body-frame integral” structure reinforced with high-strength steel, GM says. That’s another way of saying that it has unibody construction, the hallmark of crossover utility vehicles, in which body and frame are integrated in one unit.

The Outlook and Acadia have a long wheelbase with wide tracks, GM says, something that also is common with sport utilities these days. This helps give the vehicles more stability and lessens the possibility of a rollover.

That doesn’t mean that the truck-based models are inherently unsafe; they’re not, especially now that most come with electronic stability control.

Truck-based models will remain the choice of off-road driving aficionados. Most crossovers are considered “soft-roaders,” which means they have limited off-road capabilities, although they are able to handle many of the dirt roads that might be found in national and state parks.

Besides having lower ground clearance, crossovers such as the Outlook aren’t offered with serious four-wheel-drive systems that include low-range gearing.

The all-wheel drive is intended to give the vehicle increased traction on slippery roads, but it’s also sometimes valuable on dry pavement, particularly during cornering.

The system is fully automatic and no driver action is required to activate it.

The Outlook and Acadia come with a front suspension that includes MacPherson struts, a stabilizer bar and aluminum steering knuckles, GM says. At the rear, the vehicles have a compact, linked ‘H’ suspension design. Suspension mounting points are isolated to help reduce noise and vibration. This suspension setup goes a long way toward giving these vehicles a soft carlike ride, something you won’t find on the truck-style SUVs.

Standard features include power rack-and-pinion steering, GM’s StabiliTrak electronic stability control system with anti-rollover technology, and traction control.

Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard as well, as they work with the stability control system to help keep the vehicle on the road during panic maneuvers that might otherwise cause the vehicle to go out of control.

Among safety features, besides the stability-control system, are four-wheel anti-lock brakes, a tire-pressure monitoring system, and six standard air bags: two dual-stage frontal air bags, two seat-mounted side-impact air bags in the first row, and two roof rail air bags that cover all three rows of seating.

GM’s OnStar navigation/communications system is standard, and includes a one-year subscription to the basic “safe and sound” package.

Both vehicles can tow trailers weighing up to 4,500 pounds when equipped with the optional towing package.

On the Acadia are the signature raked GMC grille and dual halogen projector-beam headlights. The vehicle’s athletic exterior design includes a rear spoiler, polished aluminum roof rails, dual exhaust with chrome tips, and bright trim. Standard are 18-inch wheels, but 19-inch wheels are available.

The Outlook is less beefy-looking than the Acadia, which helps aim it at a different sort of customer. Where the typical GMC customer wants something that looks more like a truck, the Saturn buyer would be more interested in carlike styling and refinement.

With either vehicle, the interior can be configured for seven or eight passengers.

The second row can be either a 60/40 split bench, which can hold three, or a pair of captain’s chairs. The rear seat can hold three, and GM’s so-called Smart Slide feature on the second row of seats allows for easy access to the third row. Still, the third row will be used mostly for kids.

The Outlook and Acadia have a generous amount of cargo space behind the third seat – 19.7 cubic feet. In comparison, there is just 13.8 cubic feet of space behind the Explorer’s third seat, and 10.5 cubic feet behind the Toyota Highlander’s. There is a maximum of 117 cubic feet of cargo space if the second and third seats are folded.

The Outlook is quite capable of going head to head with the Highlander and the other popular midsize import crossover, the Honda Pilot.

In direct comparisons, I believe the GM models have the edge. The challenge, though, is to convince would-be import buyers that a GM vehicle has the same quality as a Honda or Toyota.

Time will tell, but for now, I would be comfortable giving the Outlook a chance, as it does seem to be very well built. Another plus is that Saturn’s dealers are well known for their great customer service – both during and after the sale.

Standard or optional on the Outlook are such features as heated outside mirrors, three-zone heating/air conditioning, an intermittent rear wiper, ultrasonic parking assist, a power liftgate, an extended-range remote vehicle-starting system, heated windshield washer fluid, an oversized dual sunroof, a DVD entertainment system, a GPS-DVD navigation system, and a Bose surround-sound audio system.

Our XR model came with a convenience package ($1,045) that included the power tailgate, rear park assist, remote start, heated wiper fluid and a 115-volt power outlet.

Other options on our vehicle included XM satellite radio ($199) and “premium paint” ($395). Total sticker was $31,929, including freight and options.

The Acadia comes with a head-up display that projects speed and other instrument readouts onto the lower part of the windshield in front of the driver.

G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; chambers@star-telegram.com.

At a Glance: 2007 Saturn Outlook

The package: Midsize, four-door, seven- or eight-passenger, front- or all-wheel-drive crossover utility vehicle. Highlights: This is one of two new GM midsize crossovers for 2007; the other is the GMC Acadia, and both are built on the same architecture. The Outlook is Saturn’s first midsize SUV, and is quite refined, has lots of power, and comes with a variety of standard and optional features. Disadvantages: No serious four-wheel-drive system offered for off-road use. Engine: 3.6-liter V-6 (single exhaust); 3.6-liter V-6 (dual exhaust). Transmission: Six-speed automatic. Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock. Power/torque: 263 HP/244 foot-pounds; 267 HP/247 foot-pounds. Electronic stability control: Standard. Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side-curtain, all three rows. Length: 200.7 inches. Curb weight range: 4,722-4,936 pounds. Cargo volume: 19.7 cubic feet (behind third seat). Trailer-towing capacity: 4,500 pounds. Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock. Fuel capacity/type: 22 gallons/unleaded regular. EPA fuel economy: 18 city/26 highway (2WD); 17/24 (AWD). Base price range: $27,255-$31.555 plus $735 freight. Price as tested: $31,929, including freight and options (XR model, 2WD). On the Road rating: 8.6 (of a possible 10).

Latest news

volkswagen-golf-r-2-0t-2022-01-blue-compact-exterior-front-angle
2022 Volkswagen Golf R Review: Practical Performance — for a Price
volvo-xc40-recharge-2021-02-badge-exterior-front-grille-headlights-suv-white
10 Biggest News Stories of the Week: Toyota RAV4, Volvo XC40 Fall Short as Car Shortage Goes Long
ford-fusion-2015-exterior-side-profile-oem
199,000 Fords and Lincolns Recalled for Brakelights, Rollaway Risk