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The Saturn Outlook lived up to its billing as a flexible utility vehicle by placing in not one but two categories in an issue of Consumer Reports set to hit newsstands today.

The Outlook, a three-seat-row vehicle built at General Motors Corp.'s Lansing Delta Township Plant, ranked third among midsize SUVs behind the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Honda Pilot in the August issue of Consumer Reports.

The Outlook ranked second behind the Mercedes-Benz GL450 among large SUVs. Consumer Reports also included the Outlook in the large SUV rankings because of its roomy interior.

The Outlook is the best-performing high-volume GM vehicle in years, said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Conn.

The rankings are based on a set of 50 tests and evaluations that measure characteristics such as acceleration, braking, handling, comfort, interior noise and the ease of use of controls and displays.

"It's extremely competitive in terms of the way it drives," Champion said about the Outlook. "It has nice steering, good handling and reasonable fuel economy. The interior fit and finish is up to the competition. It's very roomy inside. It just does what the market is looking for in many ways."

Durability is the remaining question for the Outlook, which was launched late last year and has not been on the market long enough to judge its durability, Champion said.

"With the Outlook, they seemed to have got it all right," he said. "The only thing we cannot say at the moment is whether it's going to hold together."

The ranking in Consumer Reports is significant because the magazine and its Web site are a popular tool for people shopping for cars.

"Our research tells us that Consumer Reports is the most influential by far of all the third-party surveys and rankings that are done," said GM spokesman Tom Wilkinson.

The Outlook represents a key shift for both the Saturn brand and GM lineup. Trying to reverse declining sales, Saturn began launching a series of redesigned and all-new vehicles last year, including the Outlook. Saturn sales were up 30% through May of this year to 103,935 vehicles.

The Outlook also is part of a family of GM vehicles, including the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave, which fit into a growing category known as crossovers. These vehicles have the space of traditional SUVs, which are built on heavy truck frames but have better handling and fuel economy because they're built on lighter car frames. The Outlook front-wheel-drive model gets an estimated 18 m.p.g. in city driving and 26 m.p.g. on the highway.

"I think there's a lot of interest in the whole crossover segment because of the fuel prices being higher," Wilkinson said. "We're certainly seeing a lot of interest in them."

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