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An appealing alternative to traditional full-sized SUVs

What it is. The Saturn Outlook is the latest model in a line of large General Motors “crossover” SUVs. It fits into the three-row segment pioneered by the Acura MDX in 2001 and expanded the following year with its mechanical sibling the Honda Pilot.

The Outlook is a foot longer than a Pilot, and it occupies about the same footprint as a Chevrolet Tahoe. Those enlarged crossovers are aimed at people who want a minivan’s usefulness without the psychological baggage that comes with owning a minivan. While General Motors is exiting the sliding-door minivan business, the Outlook and its nascent brethren let GM keep its hat in the versatile people-mover ring. The Outlook and similar GMC Acadia will soon be joined by a Buick version, the Enclave. A Chevrolet entry is expected for 2009.

A base front-wheel-drive Outlook starts at $27,990. Our all-wheel-drive XR model came with a sticker price of $36,799. The Acadia is priced about $2,000 higher, despite being essentially identical. We found typically equipped Outlooks priced in the mid-$30s, while similar Acadias reached the low $40s. In either configuration, the engine is a 275-hp, 3.6-liter V6 paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Initial impressions. On the road, the multi-valve V6 accelerates the 5,000-pound Outlook with pleasing alacrity. The six-speed transmission shifts smoothly, but it is slow to downshift on slight uphill grades. GM has promised a software fix to remedy that flaw. Handling is surprisingly agile, with very little body lean in corners and quick-responding, well-weighted steering. The ride is supple and controlled, even on winter-ravaged New England roads. We haven’t officially measured fuel economy yet, but according to the onboard computer, we’ve been averaging about 16 mpg.

The cockpit offers a good driving position and the seats are comfortable. Interior fit and finish is markedly better than the traditional GM issue has been, but hard surfaces and sharp edges are evident here and there. Visibility is good except for the view aft, where a high sill on the tailgate window creates a long blind spot in back of the vehicle. (No back-up camera is available.) The cabin is quiet and well isolated, allowing for easy conversations between first- and third-row passengers. Buyers can choose either seven- or eight-passenger seating by selecting a three-person bench or a pair of captain’s chairs in the second row. The second-row seats can slide fore and aft. The third row is truly usable, and it is easier to access and more accommodating than those in a full-sized Tahoe or even the Chevrolet Suburban. The optional panoramic sunroof is a nice feature.

CR's take. Overall, the Outlook beats the larger body-on-frame Tahoe in nearly every area except towing and off-road. It drives almost as well as the sporty and more expensive Cadillac SRX. The Outlook is right on target for family use. Because it’s an all-new vehicle, reliability remains a wild card. We will see how the Outlook ranks against other new minivan alternatives such as the Hyundai Veracruz and Mazda CX-9 when we publish a full road test in the August 2007 issue of Consumer Reports and in July on

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