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One of the most anticipated new vehicles around our office this year has been the Saturn Outlook. It might not be the sexiest of sports cars or manliest of SUVs, but this new version of the family-hauler is a hugely important vehicle for GM, and the first of a trio of nuevo minivans to come to market. While Joe Wiesenfelder was knee-deep in writing his review of the Outlook, Kelsey Mays and David Thomas took the Outlook out of the garage and onto the Chicago streets to see if they agreed with Joe’s assessment.

DT: You certainly notice the transmission lagging when you try to pass on the highway, but overall I don’t see why Joe devoted so much of his review to this single aspect of the Outlook. Perhaps his rant will actually get GM to fix the problem, but I don’t see it in any way influencing the shoppers who will be looking at the Outlook: large families.

KM: Transmission performance, accelerator lag, torque curve — for most buyers, it all adds up to one question: Is the Outlook quick enough? Those taken to large SUVs will say no, as it lacks the low-end grunt a V-8 delivers. But anyone used to a minivan’s get-up-and-go will come away satisfied. Once the Outlook’s 3.6-liter V-6 revs past its dowdy beginnings, the SUV scoots as well as any mom-mobile.

DT: Exactly. And with that out of the way you get to the important stuff, like all that seat and cargo space. I spent the first part of the ride jumping from the second-row captain’s chairs — quite comfy — to the third-­row seats. You don’t get a lot of leg or headroom back there, but most vehicles with a third row offer even less space, and at least these were relatively easy to get to. The fact that the third- and second-row seats fold completely flat is a major bonus. I also thought the standard rear doors opened wide enough for instant access and wouldn’t be a major step down from a minivan’s sliding doors. Of course, they’re not as convenient in tight parking spaces.

KM: My only reservation involves the second-row chair, which performs an origami-like rigmarole every time you slide it forward to access the third row. There are just too many moving parts. Think it will stand up to 120,000 miles of hyperactive kids shoving it around while they climb in back? Neither do I. Up front, Joe noted the Outlook’s upscale dashboard, which features high-quality textures and finishes, if not the best materials. It’s the stuff of GM’s large SUVs, like the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, and it won lots of praise during our drive. Too bad the adherence to quality has yet to trickle down to midsize cars like the Saturn Aura and Pontiac G6, whose interiors still leave much to be desired.

DT: I agree; the interior was definitely a step above most of GM’s lineup and several steps above its current minivans. The Outlook also has a good-looking exterior. I don’t know how they made such a big vehicle look so sculpted, but it looks good from every angle. It’s futuristic and handsome at the same time. I’d even take it in white.

KM: Those great looks will cost you, though. Even the base two-wheel-drive Outlook XE costs $28,000. A well-heeled version can exceed $40,000. That’s a lot of scratch for people used to spending thousands less for a minivan, if this is indeed GM’s answer to minivans. It begs one question: Would you rather have a modestly optioned Outlook XR or a loaded Honda Odyssey?

DT: That’s misleading. You can still option out an Odyssey for just under $40K, and there’s no AWD option. The Odyssey starts at $25,645 and the Outlook at $27,255. Your overall point of the Outlook costing more than everything in the minivan segment is valid, though. You’re paying for the better performance and packaging with the Saturn. That’s what a lot of people have been waiting for, and money isn’t an issue. That could potentially be a huge group of buyers no one has satisfied yet — think Chrysler Pacifica and Ford Freestyle shoppers. They want minivan utility with SUV looks. The Outlook offers that along with a better daily driving experience.

Joe points to the smaller Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot SUVs as more of the Outlook’s competition, but because of its size I’d say the Saturn will draw buyers from both segments.

KM: Fair enough, though there are a handful of AWD minivans on the market. GM evidently hopes the crossover draws from the minivan and SUV crowds, because all indications suggest the General’s own minivans and midsize SUVs have been hung out to dry. Make no mistake: GM badly needs the Outlook and its siblings — the GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave — to succeed. After driving the Outlook, I think the company has a fighting chance.

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