America's ongoing obesity epidemic leads me to believe we collectively should sacrifice seconds on dessert or find even bigger vehicles.
Enter the 2007 Saturn Outlook: A sleek, stylish and accommodating crossover SUV that feeds the needs for the big and husky as well as garners admiring approval from the artificially sweet and thin.
The Outlook, which went on sale in January, is an all-new people hauler that can carry up to eight regular-sized Americans, not just eight Nicole Richies or Paris Hiltons, an important difference for parents with kids (and their friends) heading into high school. In direct competition with the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, the Outlook holds its own.
After driving an Outlook XR for a week and testing out all three rows, I can tell you that this vehicle is phat. Terminally uncool, I had to look it up at Urban Dictionary.com and learned it means "pretty hot and tempting" and that it went out of style 10 years ago. Stretching almost 17 feet, the Outlook is the first of General Motors Corp.'s three big crossovers from the Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant to hit dealerships. The GMC Acadia is entering showrooms now and the Buick Enclave will arrive this summer. The Outlook combines power and control, making it easy to maneuver on the open road or in a tight squeeze like a drive-through.
But the real story of the Outlook is inside its spacious cabin.
Not a humdrum family hauler
Hopping into this Saturn is much easier than jumping into a comparably super-sized SUV. By using car-like construction for the Outlook's body, Saturn lowered the floor, so it's just one step to climb aboard. Many eight-person SUVs need running boards and a rope ladder to pull yourself up. The Outlook's lower entrance height also could help save parents' backs -- their kids may not need assistance to climb into an Outlook.
Sliding behind the wheel, I felt as satisfied as my third turn at the buffet. The seats are comfortable and the instruments are well laid out. The dials and buttons are easy to reach, turn or push. The dash wasn't overbearing or intimidating. It is pushed down and away from the driver, making it feel more car-like. The lines are graceful and the faux wood trim tastefully accents components throughout. Its overall appearance is understated and well made.
During any given week, I may drive a number of much more expensive vehicles than the $35,000 Outlook (yes, a tough job that I love). But whenever I moved from a plush, pricey sedan back to the Outlook, I never felt like I was stepping down to a humdrum family hauler.
GM's Vice Chairman Bob Lutz has said the carmaker is in the midst of an interior overhaul. The Outlook is among the most recent examples of fresh, plush interiors that show significant improvements over models only a few years ago.
The second and third rows are comfortable and offer lots of space. The optional second-row captain chairs, which I prefer over bench seats, are very accommodating for U.S.-sized adults, and they articulate forward to provide easy access into the third row. The additional space allows those climbing into the back seat the ability to simply step toward the back row instead of crawling over a folded seat head first, leaving all the world to see a new moon rising.
The folding system, called Smart Slide by GM, is so easy to use, I could flip the seat up with one hand and never let go of my double cheeseburger.
Even the third row offers a big bench seat where I could comfortably sit. While I would be hard-pressed to wedge three of my big-boned family members into that row, two adults could easily relax back there without needing a marriage license.
Furthermore, the Outlook's third row can disappear, folding flat to offer more storage space. The second row, which can also come as a 60/40 splitting bench seat, can fold flat. With both rows down, the Outlook has 117 cubic feet of space -- enough to carry a weekend's worth of Home Depot projects.
When the third-row craze arrived for automakers, it seemed more of a cosmetic addition than a useful one. Take good storage space and stuff it with a useless third row that hardly fits a pair of Ken and Barbie dolls, much less real people, was the philosophy for many carmakers. Kids loved them, but not big kids, and certainly not adults.
A good Outlook
The Outlook may be big inside, but it drives like a much smaller vehicle.
Powered by GM's 3.6-liter aluminum block engine, it accelerates quickly and smoothly through its six-speed transmission. Even when driving 70 mph, it had enough pep left to easily pass those annoying gravel trucks along Interstate 75 that pepper everyone with paint-chipping pebbles. While I didn't get a chance to test the Outlook's towing abilities, Saturn claims it can pull up to 4,500 pounds.
The engine pushes 270 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque with a single exhaust and 275 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque with a double exhaust. The new Hydra-Matic transmission provides better gas mileage than a four-speed, another important consideration in a family hauler. While American families may have healthy appetites, their vehicles shouldn't.
The single exhaust engine gets 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. The dual exhaust engine gets 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
The Outlook's smooth ride is a product of its long 118.9-inch wheelbase, 18-inch tires and independent front and rear suspension. Its variable speed rack-and-pinion steering lets you feel the road while on the highway or around town as it adjusts to the vehicle's speed. Go faster, the steering becomes tight, slow down and it loosens up.
Typically, driving big SUVs and trucks somehow brings out the aggressive driver in us all. Perhaps it was the car-like feel that caused the Outlook to never feed my road rage. When I passed that gravel truck, I smiled and waved all five fingers instead of one.
Surprisingly, the Outlook wears its weight, all 4,936 pounds in the all-wheel drive model, well.
While its shape is SUV boxy, it defies the stereotype because of its low-riding body. It looks more like a sports ute than a wagon on steroids -- the other common version of large crossovers.
Designers drew long clean lines along its body, stretching its look.
Its flared fenders add to an aggressive stance and the face is the new look of Saturn -- shiny mouth-like grille and sparkling headlamps, first shown on the Saturn Sky roadster. A few cues, such as the glass wrapping around the back corner of the wagon, add a dash of panache.
One of the best things about this crossover is how it redefines a confusing segment.
The Outlook is not a car and it's not an SUV, despite GM calling it one. It's designed for those who need to move a family or two around town or on vacation. It's spacious, versatile and fun to drive.
And that's not a bad Outlook.