The first thing that struck me about the Outlook was its size. At 201.1" long and 78.1" wide, Outlook is just an inch smaller and narrower than a Cadillac Escalade. With roof rail height at 72.6", Outlook is a couple of inches shorter than Escalade, too, but not much. For such a large vehicle, Outlook is surprisingly sleek looking, and its size only becomes apparent up close.
There's a windswept quality to the design. All of the sharp edges have been softened and rounded, almost like an SUV has been put though a massive sandblaster and eroded down to its core. There's still a hint of truckishness in Outlook's proportions, with that big greenhouse and long hood. The front wheels have been pushed forward so there's only moderate overhang, but the back wheels are not pushed all the way to the corners, so there's a bit more Outlook hanging out behind the rear wheels than is the fashion in most crossovers these days. Speaking of wheels, my test vehicle wore the standard 18" machined aluminum wheels that come with the upscale XR package, connected to a wheelbase that measures 118.9" long and a track of 67.1" front and rear.
The design intangibles are tricky. The softer edges, the friendlier features that separate the Outlook from the Acadia and Enclave make Outlook subtly less crisp than those other versions of the same basic vehicle, and to my eye, a little less attractive. Your eye may see it differently.
In the Driver's Seat
Outlook's big exterior dimensions translate into a spacious interior. GM got the formula right. This is one vehicle that delivers a comfortable seat for an adult passenger in every position -- from the driver's seat to front passenger to each middle row seat to the third row, I was able to sit comfortably with enough leg, hip and head room for a long ride, and I'm on the big side at over 6' tall. My test vehicle was equipped with a bench seat in the second row, resulting in an 8-passenger configuration. Second-row captain's seats are available as a no-charge option for the 7-passenger setup. GM makes a big deal about the "Smart Slide" operation of the second row, which provides easy access to the third row and helps to apportion leg room in the cabin according to use. It works well when you're carrying a full load of passengers -- middle-row passengers can give up a little bit of excess legroom to third row passengers by sliding the second row forward a few inches and allowing it to lock in place. It's smart and flexible -- and it would have given my siblings and I one more thing to fight over during family road trips.
Up front, the instrument panel is functional and neatly laid-out. I'd prefer a higher quality of material selection on the dashboard, and I rail in vain against the fake wood trim, but I like where everything is placed and operation was simple and intuitive. My test vehicle came with optional touch-screen navigation ($2,145), which I highly recommend. It's well-integrated with other control functions, and works wonderfully.
On the Road
Under the hood lurks a 3.6 liter V6 that produces 275 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque on regular unleaded gas. GM's new six-speed automatic transmission is the only option, and it's a good one. You get smooth shifts, quiet operation and really refined performance -- nice. My test vehicle had all-wheel drive, and there's also a front-wheel drive version available.
When you head out on that road trip, you can load up 1443 lbs of passengers and cargo. If you carry seven passengers, make sure they don't average over 200 lbs each; with eight passengers, they have to be under 180. Maybe that's not an issue in your family -- it is in mine. You can even tow up to 4500 lbs with your Outlook (though I wouldn't advise it if you're carrying a full load of 200 pounders). There's room for 19.7 cubic feet of luggage behind the third row, 68.9 cubic feet with the third row folded and 116.9 cubic feet with second and third rows folded.
I'd also look at the competition. There's the excellent Honda Pilot and the superb Toyota Highlander (which has the advantage of an available hybrid powerplant). The Ford Freestyle and Chrysler Pacifica are stylish family haulers, and the Mazda CX-9 is a slightly sportier solution to the equation. If I really needed all that space, I might consider a full-sized SUV like the Chevy Suburban or Toyota Sequoia. I might even (gasp) look at minivans, like the Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest. Yes, there is still a place in this world for the minivan.
When faced with global competition, I think GM is taking a wise tack and making sure that they're on solid ground on the home front. The Saturn Outlook is obviously a vehicle designed for American tastes, needs and roads. If it suits your needs, it is a smartly designed and engineered vehicle that will certainly be up to the task.