The sincere-looking Saturn representative who'd just wrapped up his point-by-point rundown of Saturn's new crossover must've been amused by my eagerly cocked ear. "There's no difference at all," he cheerily responded. "This tire [pointing at one of the Goodyear Eagle RS-As] is such an ideal compromise for all-weather grip, ride quality, and rolling resistance that both the Acadia and Outlook have been tuned exactly the same for it."
Logical, I guess. But given that the two crossovers share powertrains, platforms, roofs, and doors, too, you wonder what Saturn's old motto, "A different kind of car. A different kind of company," might read like in 2007. "We're the slightly different front and rear fascia company" maybe? Not catchy. But after a day of hustling a front-drive XR version around Southern California, it's a good thing in this instance.
That's because the Lambda platform, shared by the Outlook, Acadia, and upcoming Buick Enclave, sprouts from a foundation of considerable vehicular virtue; this is one hush-quiet, comfortable-riding, and intelligently thought-out eight-people hauler. How quiet? With the Outlook at speed, you can almost hear your fingers rubbing against the leather steering-wheel rim. Muted, too, is the 3.6-liter engine and six-speed transmission combination (275 horses in the XR version, 270 in the single-exhaust base XE), which pours respectable torque on any acceleration occasion. Buzz and groan? Banished and gone.
What's also absent is having to spelunk yourself into the decent-size third-row seat. With a single lever pull, the second-row's Smart Slide mechanism pancakes it out of the way; the middle rows have four inches of seat travel to toy around with, and aft of the third row nestles a bigger-than-most 19.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
So what's "Saturn" here at all? Not the oatmeal driving experience, which its likely audience of harried families will find pleasantly numbing. It's the Outlook's value. Depending on trim and choice of front or all-wheel drive, Outlooks will start between $2000 and $3700 below the admittedly better-equipped Acadia. It's the bargain ticket into a genuine tier-one crossover-and that's definitely Saturn.