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Outlook offers roomy, luxurious ride.
by Al Haas

The Outlook is Saturn's recently introduced large crossover SUV. Like its competitors, notably the Ford Freestyle, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, it is handsome, roomy, comfortable, strong and well-engineered.
Like its competitors, it is a useful idea whose time has come - and gone. Indeed, $4 gas and increased environmental concerns have placed large, thirsty SUVs on the endangered-species list.

Oh, there are still people who need a vehicle that will carry eight passengers and pull a boat or trailer - and have the wherewithal to keep it in gas.

Still, that has to be a small market compared with the number of people who lined up to buy these big guys when they were America's automotive love interests.

I've never been an apologist for any kind of gas guzzler, but I have been a bit annoyed by the way myriad op-ed pieces and cocktail-party conversations have transformed the Outlook and its fellow SUVs into icons for American wretched excess.

First of all, not all SUVs are gasoholics. There are small SUVs, like the Ford Escape Hybrid, that do quite well on petrol. Second, big SUVs aren't the only guzzlers. What about big pickups and large sedans? Their mileage is just as grim, but they don't seem to trigger nearly as much indignation from the social scientists hanging around the hors d'oeuvres.

Anyway, enough ranting. Let's get back to a pleasant week with the Outlook, which features handsome, rugged styling and an interior as richly appointed as it is roomy.

When a vehicle is close to 17 feet long, as the Outlook is, roominess isn't exactly a big surprise. But what does catch your eye is the way Outlook uses its expanses. The test vehicle was fitted for eight passengers. It had three rows of seats: buckets up front, a split-fold bench in the middle, and a solid bench in the back. Access to the third row is permitted by a clever mechanism that allows you to slide either half of the split second-row seat forward. As the seat slides forward, the device makes the seat cushion also spring forward, thus allowing the seat to get closer to the backrest of the front bucket.

That second-row seat also is adjustable fore and aft, for ideal legroom in both the second and third rows. I found that I had good legroom in both the second and third rows with a single setting, and I'm 6-foot-2.

I also found that the most comfortable way to exit from that third row was to drop to one knee, so it's probably not a good idea to put an elderly person in the third row.

The Outlook's interior also provides big-time storage. There's room for four carry-ons behind the third row of seats, plus a generous cargo bin under the floor. Fold down the second and third rows of seats and the cargo volume multiplies from 20 cubic feet to a whopping 117.

The Outlook is a pleasant driver. It dances rather gracefully for a big guy, and derives good oomph from its 3.6-liter, 270-horsepower engine. (The optional dual exhausts on the tester added five horses.) This V-6 just purrs, and when you add those contented cat sounds to a cabin rigged for silent running, you have yourself a pretty quiet ride.

You also have yourself a very well-appointed ride. The Outlook is nicely equipped in its base, rear-drive form, which starts in the high $20s. The upmarket, all-wheel-drive XR model I drove is heavily appointed at its starting price of $32,670. Tack on nearly $10,000 worth of options, as they did with the tester, and you feel like you have become the chauffeur for the last viceroy of India.

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Excellent
2008 Saturn Outlook

AWD XR

Base price: $32,670.

As tested: $43,280 (inc. shipping).

Standard equipment: 3.6-liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission, a plethora of safety features, including stability and traction control and enough air bags to ensure five-star frontal and side crash ratings. Also, luxury features such as automatic headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, power driver's seat, dual-zone air and satellite radio.

Options: Mucho decadence, ranging from seat heat and a navigation system to a DVD entertainment system, a trailering package and dueling skylights.

Fuel economy: 16 m.p.g. city, 22 highway.

Engine performance: Satisfying.

Handling: Good.

Comfort: Fine.

Styling: Properly macho.

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper, five years/100,000 miles power train.
 
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