Palo Alto, California With its new GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook twins--along with the forthcoming Buick Enclave--GM is right on target in the family-size-crossover category, a segment that's skyrocketing now that fuel economy, the efficient use of space, and some semblance of behind-the-wheel fun are fashionable again. These vehicles effectively will replace GM's minivan lineup, since the company has all but confirmed that it plans to ditch its uncompetitive minivan platform once and for all.
The Outlook and the Acadia are both all-new unibody vehicles, and GM is quick to point out that they provide similar interior space and passenger-hauling capability to a Chevrolet Tahoe or a GMC Yukon, along with improved fuel mileage (18/26 mpg on front-wheel-drive models) and a 4500-pound towing capacity. Both models seat up to eight passengers, depending on whether the second row is outfitted with a bench seat or captain's chairs. The third-row seats are roomier than most, and there's still nearly 20 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row in place.
The Outlook and the Acadia may not be as much fun to drive as the new Mazda CX-9, but four-wheel independent suspension, a relatively low center of gravity, and GM's willing new six-speed manu-matic help make both the Saturn and the GMC far more nimble than a full-size SUV, and that's all that will matter to most people. Power comes from a 3.6-liter V-6 with variable valve timing--the same engine used in the base Cadillac CTS and STS, but uprated with slightly more horsepower and torque. We still prefer the linear steering of the Tahoe and the Yukon to the wooden, slightly numb rack-and-pinion setups on the Outlook and the Acadia, but the crossovers' incredibly stiff chassis and good wheel control almost make up for any shortcomings.
Interior quality in both vehicles is along the lines of the new Chevrolet Silverado--which is to say, much better than past GM offerings but still not as refined as we'd like--and wind noise is noticeable for its near absence. All in all, GM's new crossovers represent exactly what most buyers of people movers both need and want: a vehicle with all the practicality of an SUV and few of the drawbacks.