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Saturn continues to flesh out its lineup with the addition of the 2007 Saturn Outlook, an urban-friendly sport utility vehicle capable of seating up to eight adults.

Inside, the Outlook will offer two seating plans, one for seven passengers, the other for eight. In the former, the first- and second-row seats are buckets, the third row a three-person, 60/40-split bench. In the latter, a three-place, 60/40-split bench replaces the second-row buckets.

Saturn promises ample room for adults in all seating rows, with special emphasis on the rear-most bench. With comparable room to the Honda Pilot, the Outlook's third row can accommodate three passengers but will likely be more comfortable with two. Where the Outlook really shines is in third-row legroom, topping the Pilot and Chrysler Pacifica by three inches or more. Teenagers will appreciate that.

And hauling their gear will be easy with the Saturn's big cargo bay. The Outlook easily grabs bragging rights in cargo space, a benefit of its long wheelbase, significantly longer than that of the Pacifica, Freestyle, and Pilot. Indeed, the Outlook offers a cavernous 117 cubic feet of cargo space with the second and third rows of seats folded flat, and an equally impressive 20 cubic feet behind an upright third seat. The competition's best with all seats folded is the Pacifica's 93 cubic feet. With the third seat up, the best the others have to offer is the Pilot's 16 cubic feet.

Stylistically, the Outlook breaks with Saturn tradition inside and out. And this is a good thing. Dominating the front end is a substantial bright-finish bar that fills the upper portion of the grille, a fixture repeated on the sporty new Saturn Sky sports car and the handsome new Aura sedan. Saturn hopes to make this bright design cue an iconic signature for its brand. Centered in the bar is the Saturn logo. Notches in the tops of the front fenders hold projector-beam headlights, with HID lights optional.

Thankfully, the Outlook's flanks and glasshouse have been spared the awkward lines of the Saturn Vue, instead following more traditional SUV lines. Gentle flares outline the wheel wells, which are filled with blackwall tires on standard 18-inch or optional 19-inch alloy wheels. A mild bulge lines the lower door panels. The beltline runs straight back from the base of the windshield to wrap around the visually pillarless rear glass. The standard spoiler houses an LED center rear stop light. Slit-like taillights trimmed in chrome bridge the seam between the fenders and the one-piece liftgate. A minimalist rear bumper rests on a blacked out under-panel. The XR's dual exhausts exit through rectangular tips.

Inside, in place of earlier Saturns' piecemeal, layered-look dash, with elements piled one on top of another, the Outlook's fully integrated dash sweeps smoothly from door to door, its three levels flowing cleanly into the door panels. The XR will have a wood grain inset that carries through the rear door panels. Depth-wise, the center stack stays true to the Saturn motif, bulging slightly from the dash plane and ending above the center console. The screen for what will be an optional navigation system blends well in the vertical panel also housing the climate control head. Analog instruments look to be well organized. The Smart-Slide second-row seat flips the seat bottom up against the seatback and slides forward to facilitate access to the third-row seats. Cloth upholstery is standard, leather optional.

Powering the Outlook are variations on the 3.6-liter V6 that started life doing double duty in the Cadillac CTS and STS and that will also be available in the all-new, 2007 Saturn Aura sedan. The engine in the up-level Outlook XR will make 267 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque, benefitting from variable valve timing and dual exhausts. In the base XE, the same engine with a more-restrictive, single exhaust is slightly less powerful but should offer higher fuel economy, with 17/25 city/highway miles per gallon for the XE, while the more powerful XR earns estimates of 16/24 mpg. Both models come with a six-speed automatic transmission and will be offered in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.

The Outlook's 200.7-inch overall length (from bumper to bumper) initially might seem to slot it into the mid-size SUV class with the likes of the Chevrolet Tahoe, Dodge Durango and Ford Explorer, along with some imports. But while many of those cast roughly the same size shadow as the Outlook, the Outlook rides on a different platform, what's called a unibody (or unit-body) instead of the body-on-frame platform more common to trucks and that underpins those others.

While a unibody chassis, which incorporates support in the internal body structure, cannot deliver towing capacity equivalent to a body-on-frame truck, it's generally several hundred pounds lighter, significantly stiffer, offers a lower step-in height and delivers a much more car-like ride and handling. So, while the Outlook is rated to tow 4500 pounds versus the Tahoe's 7700-pound rating, the Outlook will ride and handle better and get better gas mileage. Indeed, Saturn hopes the Outlook will draw buyers looking for the spaciousness and utility of an SUV but with more comfort and better mileage.

The Outlook will come with a full safety package, with front seat-mounted side airbags and full-coverage side curtain airbags included as standard equipment, antilock brakes, plus all the usual mandated safety features.

Scheduled to arrive in dealer showrooms in the fall of 2006, the Outlook will be built in Lansing, Michigan. We're guessing it'll start somewhere around $26,000, with upper level models starting around $28,000, but we don't really know.

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