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Saturn's 2007 Outlook full-size crossover SUV is terrific.

Just like the very similar GMC Acadia.

The combination of space, handling, comfort and utility is hard, maybe impossible, to find in any other SUV. Mazda's exciting CX-9 is a bit more fun to drive, feels slightly more upscale inside and does a better job seating second-row riders. But it tows less, and it's a little smaller, mainly narrower. The extra 2 inches of width in the Saturn and GMC vehicles is the difference between a little tight and just right, especially if you're a big person or take long trips.

•Transmission update. New programming in the six-speed automatic transmission is a big improvement. The vehicle no longer loses power and stumbles when you jump the throttle while underway, as when passing. Upshifts are especially crisp. But the transmission is quick to unlock the fuel-saving lock-up clutch and downshift on modest grades. Too fussy. And while there's no stumble on the downshift, there's still a delay, as if the gearbox is mulling it.

The change was installed in new vehicles beginning in February, and dealers are supposed do the recalibration free, usually when you come in for service, says Pete Nico, who is what Saturn's parent, General Motors, calls the vehicle line director. He's the guy where the buck stops for the Outlook and Acadia, as well as the mechanically similar Buick Enclave, just going on sale.

The fix applies to Acadia and Saturn Aura XR sedan, which use the same six-speed automatic.

The transmission was jointly developed with Ford Motor. Though the companies manufacture the transmissions separately and tune them independently, the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX SUVs using the gearbox have a similar stumble.

Ford spokesman Nicholas Twork says Ford is "looking at ways to reduce that" stumble. But Ford plans no full-bore correction like GM's, he says, because it believes its version shifts "quite a bit better" than GM's.

•Seating. Choose a bench in the middle for eight, buckets for seven. You pay more to get less. Middle buckets are a $495 option, if you already have leather. If not, stand back. You need to upgrade to leather and heated seats, adding $1,275 to the $495 you thought you were spending.

Front seats are uncommonly comfortable. Middle row is good, but too close to the floor for adult comfort. Third row is surprisingly good.

The second row is clumsy to shove forward for access to the third row. The cushion pops up with a jerk as you push the seat forward. The idea is to open more room for the seat to move forward, but the cushion releases so roughly that it always feels as if you broke something. When you slide the second row back, you have to push down the cushion separately. The Mazda CX-9 slide system is elegant by contrast.

Middle seats in the second and third rows have no head restraints. The head restraints that are there don't adjust up and down to fit the occupants. Those are potential safety hazards.

•Details. Floor vents are plentiful and well-arrayed. As a result, the interior heats and cools evenly, gently. Pockets and cupholders in door panels give useful storage where it's most needed. Generous floor-to-ceiling height lets preschoolers walk upright in the second row, reducing parental bending and contorting to get Junior seated and buckled.

Grab handles are on door pillars, not the ceiling, so kids and short adults can reach them. Leather-covered steering wheel is close to perfect size, shape and thickness.

If GM had designed its minivans as thoughtfully, it wouldn't be getting out of the van market.

•Ride, handling. The standard 18-inch diameter tires ride smoothly, giving the vehicle a luxurious feel. But they have taller sidewalls, which wiggle more in hard corners, and they come with a softer-riding suspension. As a result, they lose the sporty edge noted in the Acadia, which mainly was tested with optional 19-inch tires. The 19-inchers, available on Outlook and Acadia, come with a thicker front stabilizer bar and different suspension tuning, so the handling is snappy. But the ride will be too stiff for some people.

•Steering, brakes. Well-done. Hard to gripe. Could be a first for a GM truck. But the turning-circle diameter is a fat 40.4 feet, bigger than the full-size, truck-based Chevrolet Tahoe.

Other considerations:

It's a brand-new model and first-year bugs are a threat in the auto world. Already Outlook and Acadia have been recalled to fix a potentially faulty airbag system. A minor matter flaw easily and permanently fixed, Nico says.

The 2008 version, according to Nico, gets two useful upgrades.

The all-wheel-drive system will be tuned more like the high-performance setup on the Acura MDX. Instead of cutting power to an inside wheel in a turn to keep you pointed correctly, it overdrives the outside wheel. Still keeps you aimed where you intend, but digs in and drives you out of the corner under power instead of limping around.

"We couldn't match them on the Nurburgring (race track, where Acura tested its system), but everywhere else we can give them a run," Nico says.

The optional navigation system will include a backup camera to show you what's behind. The '07 alert consists of beeps and warning lights.

Why would you choose Outlook instead of Acadia? Outlook is sleeker, smoother looking. It's styled less like a truck, more like an all-purpose wagon. Outlook's lineup is simpler. Two models, XE and XR, and some options. Acadia comes in three models, each with an array of options.

And Saturn dealers still use no-haggle selling. The price that's posted is the price you pay, theoretically. Now, that doesn't mean it has to be the window-sticker price. And it doesn't mean Saturn dealers won't throw in floor mats or mudflaps or cheap leases or low-interest loans to close a sale. Still, Saturn has a warmer, fuzzier image than GMC, and that could be all you need to come down in favor of the Outlook.

2007 Saturn Outlook

•What is it? Full-size crossover SUV; four-door, seven- or eight-passenger, available with front-wheel drive (fwd) or all-wheel drive (awd). Biggest, most-expensive Saturn. Manufactured in Lansing, Mich.

•How soon? On sale since December.

•How much? Base XE fwd starts at $27,990 including $735 destination. XR fwd stats at $30,290. Add $2,000 for awd. XR awd with everything tops $43,000. Test vehicle was well-equipped XR awd, priced $37,859.

•Who's the family? GMC Acadia, already on sale, and Buick Enclave, going on sale now. All are mechanically similar, based on what GM calls the lambda platform, and built at the Lansing plant.

•How many? No forecast from Saturn. The factory can build about 240,000 vehicles a year, shifting among Saturn, GMC and Buick versions as demand indicates.

•What's the drivetrain? 3.6-liter, overhead camshaft V-6 engine rated 270 horsepower at 6,600 rpm, 248 pounds-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm in XE with single exhaust; 275 hp at 6,600 rpm and 251 lbs.-ft. at 3,200 in XR with dual exhaust; six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode.

Front-drive models have traction control.

All-wheel drive normally sends modest power to the rear wheels, more under hard acceleration, all available power if the front wheels have no traction; uses sensors to anticipate when to send power to rears, instead of waiting for fronts to slip.

•What's the safety gear? Expected bags and belts, plus side-impact bags for the front seat and head-curtain bags for all three rows; anti-lock brakes and an anti-skid system.

•What's the warranty? Basic: 36 months or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Powertrain: 60/100,000. Corrosion: 72/100,000.

•What's the rest? Standard features on all models include air conditioning; AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with MP3 input jack; power steering, brakes, windows, locks, mirrors; tilt-adjustable and telescoping steering column; remote-control locks; rear-window and outside-mirror defrosters; fog lights; OnStar telecommunications service with one year free service.

•How big? As long and wide as a full-size conventional SUV such as Chevrolet Tahoe. Outlook is 201.1 inches long, 78.9 inches wide, 72.8 inches tall (including roof rails) on a 118.9-inch wheelbase.

Weights are listed as 4,700 pounds (fwd) and 4,905 pounds (awd).

Turning circle diameter is listed as 40.4 feet, curb-to-curb.

Cargo space is listed as 19.7 cubic feet behind the third row, 68.9 cubic feet with the third row folded, 117 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded.

Rated to tow up to 4,500 pounds. Rated to carry people, cargo and accessories weighing 1,493 (awd) or 1,698 (fwd) pounds.

•How thirsty? Fwd rated 18 miles per gallon in town, 26 on the highway, 21 in combined driving; awd is 17/24/20.

Under more-realistic 2008 regulations, ratings would drop to 16/24/19 for fwd, 16/22/18 for awd.

Trip computer in test vehicle showed 14.2 mpg in mix of 300 suburban miles, 50 highway miles.

Regular (87 octane) fuel is specified. The tank holds 22 gallons.

•Overall: Much better now that transmission's improved. Excellent SUV alternative for those who need space but don't tow heavy loads.

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