Upon its debut last year, the Saturn Outlook immediately stood out as something to pay attention to, at least in the world of crossover SUVs. Here was a multi-passenger Saturn that was appealing on the basis of its own virtues and not reliant on the old gimmicks like dent-resistant panels or no-haggle pricing. Like many SUVs today, the Outlook is a fully modern, car-based crossover that's designed to blend the friendly driving traits of a car with the stylish shell of a sport-utility. What's more, the Outlook's sizable dimensions place it at the large end of the crossover spectrum, and that means it can potentially serve as a minivan replacement as well.
In fact, the 2008 Saturn Outlook might be the best hope for minivan-averse families. The Outlook seats up to eight people, and there's enough room for the ones in the rearmost row to be full-grown adults. The space advantage also extends to cargo carrying, where the Outlook's 117 cubic feet of maximum volume dwarfs the 90-something found in most competitors. If that's not enough, the Outlook also trumps the competition in regards to maximum towing capacity.
Thankfully, all that utility doesn't result in an unpleasant daily drive. While the Outlook is far from exciting to pilot, there's enough performance to get the job done. GM's 270-horsepower V6 engine gives decent pickup (0-60 mph in 8.2 seconds) and its six-speed automatic shifts smoothly. The steering is numb, but the Outlook handles with ease and delivers a comfortable ride on its fully independent suspension. Additionally, buyers living in less friendly climates have the option of ordering all-wheel drive.
Before settling on the Outlook, be mindful that it's up against some tough competition. The recently introduced Mazda CX-9, redesigned Toyota Highlander and well-regarded Honda Pilot are highly competent all-around picks in this class, and the value-priced Ford Taurus X rivals the Outlook for interior comfort. Additionally, style-conscious shoppers should also be aware of this Saturn's two closely related siblings, the slightly pricier GMC Acadia and the more upscale Buick Enclave. Even alongside its highly qualified peers, the 2008 Saturn Outlook is a prime choice, especially for bigger families or those with lots of gear to haul.
The 2008 Saturn Outlook is a large crossover SUV with seating for seven or eight passengers. There are two trim lines: XE and XR. The base XE offers standard features like 18-inch wheels, full power accessories, heated exterior mirrors, cruise control, air-conditioning with rear controls, GM's OnStar service, an MP3-compatible CD player and satellite radio. The XR adds roof rails, foglights, variable-effort power steering, a power driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with remote audio controls, wood-grain interior trim, dual-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a trip computer and a garage door opener.
Options, depending on the trim level, include 19-inch wheels, xenon headlights, a dual-pane sunroof, a power liftgate, remote engine start, rear parking sensors, premium audio systems, a rear DVD entertainment system and a navigation system with a back-up camera. Comfort features include leather first- and second-row seats (with a vinyl third row), front seat heaters, a power passenger seat and driver memory positioning. If you order second-row captain's chairs, seating capacity drops to seven but you gain an optional center console between the seats.
The Outlook's cabin is both functional and pleasing to the eye. The faux wood in XR models is convincing enough, and the overall quality of interior materials is impressive. However, many of the buttons on the dashboard are a bit too small and similar-looking, making them hard to find and operate.
The first- and second-row seats should be comfortable for almost anyone. The third row may not match the best minivans, but it still offers enough space for most adults to fit fine -- more than can be said of the third rows in other crossover SUVs. Additionally, access is easy thanks to the second row's "Smart Slide" feature, which flips the cushions up as the seatback slides forward, creating a wide path of entry. Luggage capacity is 19.7 cubic feet with all seats up and a class-leading 117 cubic feet with all rear seats down.
The standard power plant on the Outlook XE is a 3.6-liter V6 rated at 270 hp and 248 pound-feet of torque. The XR model's dual rear exhaust boosts those numbers to 275 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent through a standard six-speed automatic transmission, and both trims are available as either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Properly equipped, the Outlook is capable of towing up to 4,500 pounds.
While the 2008 Saturn Outlook doesn't fall anywhere near the fun-to-drive camp, it's easy and pleasant to drive, especially considering the vehicle's size and 4,700-pound curb weight. Ride quality is forgiving without being wallowy. The economy-minded six-speed automatic transmission can be sluggish with downshifts, but the V6's 275 hp is sufficient for dealing with nearly all performance demands.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes, rollover-sensing stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side-curtain airbags and GM's OnStar service. In crash tests, the 2008 Saturn Outlook scored an optimal five out of five stars in both front- and side-impact evaluations conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Following its debut last year, the 2008 Saturn Outlook simply gains satellite radio as standard equipment. New options include a 115-volt power outlet, a second-row floor console for seven-passenger models and a rearview back-up camera.