The Saturn Outlook is a smooth-riding crossover SUV with a powerful 3.6-liter V6 engine and a smooth six-speed transmission. It seats up to eight. It comes standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available for more stability in foul weather.
Called a crossover because it straddles the line between car and truck, the Outlook offers the passenger and cargo capacity of a big SUV with ride quality and fuel economy more like that of a car. While a Chevrolet Tahoe is built on a pickup truck platform, the Outlook is built with a unit-body chassis like that of a car. As a result, it offers a smoother ride and nimbler handling. And because its structure is much lighter than that of a truck (by about 600 pounds), it gets much better fuel economy.
Outlook is only one inch shorter than the Tahoe, but offers much more legroom in the third row, thanks to its front-wheel-drive layout, as well as its long wheelbase with short overhangs and wide track.
Outlook gets an EPA-rated 17/24 miles per gallon City/Highway with front-wheel drive and 16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive. That's significantly better than what many truck-based SUVs get.
We found the Outlook offers good acceleration performance, a smooth transmission, and a solid and comfortable ride. The Outlook benefits from GM's latest 3.6-liter V6 engine with variable valve timing and, for 2009, direct injection. It’s rated at 281 horsepower in the XE and 288 horsepower in the XR, thanks to its dual exhaust. Its six-speed automatic transmission provides good flexibility for good fuel efficiency and responsive performance.
The interior shows attention to detail, and the standard cloth seats are of a high quality and look stylish even in gray or black.
All the latest safety bits come as standard equipment, including large curtain airbags that protect the outboard passengers in all three rows of seating.
With lots of passenger and cargo space, teamed with pleasant ride and handling, the Outlook makes a lot of sense for families. In fact, it is a far better choice than a large, thirsty truck-based SUV for anyone who doesn’t need the excess towing capacity.
In addition to the engine upgrades, the 2009 Outlook adds some new available equipment. New features include a Bluetooth wireless cell phone link, real-time traffic information for the navigation system, a Bose surround sound audio system, and 20-inch wheels. A rear-view camera that projects its image on the rearview mirror is also new. And maximum towing capacity is upped from 4500 to 5200 pounds.
Saturn calls the Outlook a mid-size SUV, but it's bigger than most mid-size SUVs and just slightly shorter than a Chevy Tahoe full-size SUV.
The Outlook looks sleek and modern, certainly by SUV standards, though it doesn't have the boldness of the Ford Edge.
The grille, with a wide chrome bar and Saturn logo, proudly announces itself, and stands out against a black background. The black air dam at the bottom slices a rigid horizontal line across the chin, and its contrast against the body color can makes the fascia look like it disappears. Large trapezoidal openings for the fog lamps look like wicked eyes a cartoonist might draw, and above them the similarly shaped headlamps fill the corners of the vehicle; fog lamps are unavailable on the XE, leaving big black holes there. A character groove down the center of the hood finishes it all off. In short, the Outlook presents a good-looking face.
From the side, the nose is conspicuously short and rounded. The styling invites the eye rearward, as the roof sweeps straight back and appears as a thin sliver at its trailing edge. The dark rear glass takes over, wrapping around about 40 percent of the greenhouse, finally stopped by a wide sloping C-pillar. The fender flares are fat, and the six-spoke alloy wheels are clean and unpretentious, with six beefy lugs in the hub. The available sunroof has two panels, an opening front panel and a fixed rear panel.
At the rear, the Outlook loses some of its style. The black dam matches the front, making the SUV look like it has super high ground clearance. The taillights are ordinary, and the chrome over the license plate doesn't add anything. We find the look of the XE with its body-colored trim cleaner than the XR with its chromed door handles and roof rails.
The Saturn Outlook features standard eight-passenger seating, and third-row seating is relatively generous. Measured against the Tahoe, a full-size SUV of similar length, the Outlook offers 33.2 inches of third-row legroom versus the Tahoe's skimpy 25.4 inches. The Honda Pilot has 30.2 inches. We put a 6-foot, 3-inch fellow in the Outlook's third row, and he said it was fine. Saturn claims the third row fits three, but three adults most likely won’t fit. Plus, the seat bottoms are too low to provide enough adult thigh support for long trips. Despite these shortcomings, the Outlook’s third row is more useful than most.
The second row also fits three. Legroom is fairly generous, but it trails some competitors. The Outlook offers 36.9 inches of second-row legroom, while Tahoe has 39.0, and the Honda Pilot has 37.4. The second-row seat slides rearward, however, providing more legroom when the third row is unoccupied or when kids in back are small enough that you can get away with squishing them a little. Three adults will fit comfortably across on the standard bench seat, but two occupants will be more comfortable on the available second-row captain’s chairs.
Getting into the Outlook is very easy. Access to the third row is much easier than in most vehicles, thanks to a design called Smart Slide. Using a massive lever on the either side of the 60/40 split seat, each side of the second row slides way forward on rails, and then the seatback tilts until it touches the back of the front seat. It's an easy one-handed operation, opening a wide path to the third row. Smart Slide also comes with the captain's chairs.
Cargo capacity with both rows folded is 115.9 cubic feet. With the third row in place it's 68.6 cubic feet, and behind the third row it's 24.1 cubic feet. Those are healthy numbers, and there is enough room behind the third row to fit a week’s worth of groceries. The third row easily folds flat, from either the second row or through the liftgate.
The rest of the Outlook interior is aces. The standard cloth interior is comfortable and classy and the leather looks even better. We really liked the XE’s cloth, though the leather-wrapped steering wheel in the XR is sweet. The wood trim in the XR is way prettier than that in GM's past, and the analog instruments are tidy. All the other things are present, and right. There are cup holders galore, a deep console compartment, DC and 115-volt AC outlets.
The dashboard is attractive and cleanly designed. It features a nice mix of sturdy plastics and soft touch surfaces that are appropriate for the Outlook’s price. The XR model has woodgrain trim that adds a touch of class. The instrument panel features nicely lit white numbers on a black background. The center stack is attractive with easy-to-use climate controls. Separate HVAC controls are provided for the second row on the back of the console between the seats.
New for 2009 is a rearview camera that projects its image on the rearview mirror when the navigation system isn’t chosen. The smaller image on the rearview mirror is right in your line of sight when looking at the rearview mirror to back up. However, in a messy Chicago winter, the camera lens became speckled with dirt and salt, making the small image hard to see. A larger image on the navigation screen would have been easier to see and more helpful.
The Saturn Outlook offers a nice ride and it feels stable on the road. To gain interior space, the Outlook uses a long wheelbase with short overhangs as well as a wide track. Pushing the four wheels out to the corners like that also results in a better ride and more stability on the road. The overall weight of 4,900 pounds contributes to that smooth ride, though that weight pales in comparison to that of a 5500-pound Tahoe.
The 3.6-liter engine adds direct injection for 2009, improving from 275 to 288 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque to 270 in the XR model with dual exhaust. The XE model has single exhaust, and is rated at 281 horsepower and 253 pound-feet of torque. The 3.6-liter V6 engine has always handled the Outlook’s weight well, but it now feels a bit more responsive at low- and mid-range speeds. The torque peaks at a conveniently low 3400 rpm, so the acceleration happens early. We never felt the need for more power. The acceleration was always there, and at 80 miles per hour it felt very smooth and extremely quiet.
The Outlook’s fuel economy easily beats that of traditional SUVs and compares well to smaller crossover SUVs. The Outlook's EPA-rated 17/24 mpg City/Highway (16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive) is comparable to that of the Ford Edge with its similar and comparable V6, but the Edge is smaller and only seats five.
Steering and handling is above average for a vehicle this size, a benefit of the Outlook’s car-like structure. It’s far more direct and responsive than in any large SUV, especially GM’s big SUVs, which are notorious for their numb and sloppy steering.
The six-speed automatic transmission works well, and we usually left it in Drive. However, a button on the side of the shift knob can be pressed with your thumb for manual shifting when driving in changing terrain or in traffic. We enjoyed using the manual feature and liked the tight gear changes.
The all-wheel-drive system sends 60 percent of the power to the front wheels and 40 percent to the rear on dry pavement, and adjusts that ratio when the sensors detect slipping. That 60/40 split is more balanced than most; some systems are heavily balanced to the front, some as much as 95/5. The Outlook's system is better balanced than those.
It's not uncommon to detect a difference in the ride, between a front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive version of the same vehicle, and it's usually the front-wheel- drive model that's smoother. In this case, we think the front suspension of the AWD model felt tighter and less jouncy, firmer and more comfortable at the same time. That contributed to the good handling.
The Saturn Outlook is an attractive and practical vehicle that seats eight people more comfortably than most. Its legroom and Smart Slide feature make entry to the third row a snap. It gets much better fuel economy than a comparable truck-based SUV yet its V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission deliver responsive acceleration performance. Unless you need heavy duty towing capacity, the Outlook makes much more sense than a large, truck-based SUV.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from Southern California. Kirk Bell contributed from Chicago.