You've probably seen a pine tree that got damaged by drought or cold, trying hard to make a comeback. Portions of the tree are dead -- but others are vibrant and green, clearly determined to live.

GM's Saturn division is like the green parts of that tree.

Fresh spring buds reveal the life force within, from the absolutely striking Sky roadster and Aura sedan to the new Outlook crossover SUV -- Saturn's largest vehicle and latest offering.

With three rows of seating and room for up to eight people, the Outlook is intended to give buyers an alternative to a traditional large SUV -- or diaper-duty minivan. It has as much or more seating and cargo capacity as either, but better on-road manners and fuel economy than a truck-based SUV -- and no "breedermobile" minivan stigma. The Outlook also stacks up impressively against similar vehicles like Toyota's Highlander and the Honda Pilot -- actually besting them in several key areas, including power, maximum towing capability and interior volume.

It's also more handsome than either of those two -- but that's admittedly a judgment call. You'll have to decide that one on your own.

Meanwhile, here are some key facts to know:

All '07 Outlooks -- from the base XE with front-wheel-drive ($27,990) to the range-topping XR with all-wheel-drive ($32,290) -- come standard with GM's new 3.9 liter DOHC V-6 with variable valve timing. This is a potent engine, developing 270 horsepower in base XE models; 275 in XRs -- which get a freer-flowing dual exhaust system.

In both cases, the Outlook offers considerably more power than its two chief competitors. The Honda Pilot, for example, musters up only 244 horsepower from its 3.3 liter V-6. The Highlander starts with a four-cylinder (2.4 liters, 155-hp) and tops out with a 3.3 liter V-6 making just 215 horsepower.

In addition to the extra ponies, the Outlook also comes with an extra gear. All models get a standard six-speed automatic transmission -- whereas both the Pilot and the Highlander have five-speeds. The Outlook handily out-muscles both when it comes to towing, too. Properly equipped, the Saturn can pull 4,500-lbs. -- which is as much or more towing capacity than many small (and even a few mid-sized) 4x4 trucks.

The Pilot and Highlander both max out at 3,500-lbs. -- a feat several mid-sized passenger cars can match.

Even the snarky-looking and otherwise very appealing Mazda CX-9 has to take a back seat to the Outlook on power (263 hp) and towing capacity (3,500 lbs.) Price, too. The base CX-9 starts at $29,035 -- more than two grand higher than the base Outlook XE.

Outlook's cargo volume is a class-leading 116.9 cubic feet with the second and third rows folded down -- and almost 20 cubic feet (19.7 to be precise) behind the third row (with all the seat in their "up" position). Accessing the third row seats -- for people or just to get stuff you might have put there -- is made easier via "SmartSlide second row seats that tilt forward as they slide. No extra charge for third-row seating, either.

Hard to fault on any of that.

Likewise the standard equipment package -- which includes 18-inch rims, traction and stability control. side-impact and curtain air bags, plus all the "necessaries" -- AC, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, rear seat HVAC controls and a decent stereo rig with six-speakers, CD player and MP3 capability.

Base models even get a year of OnStar service for your favorite price -- free.

If you step up to the higher-trim XR, you'll get the dual exhaust (and the additional 5 horsepower), along with projector-beam headlights, dual-zone AC, leather interior trim, chrome-trimmed roof racks and body-colored side mirrors with turn signal repeater lamps.

Major options include GPS, captain's chairs, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, power rear liftgate, remote start, Park Assist -- and an oversized skylight/sunroof combo.

Again, much to laud.

GM even gets to crow about the Outlook's best-in-class gas mileage -- which is indeed (by 1-2 mpg) slightly better than any other 8-passenger-capable crossover/SUV in its segment. The Pilot, for example, is good for 18 city/24 highway; the V-6 Highlander, same deal. An Outlook XE FWD comes on at 18/26 (17/25 for an AWD-equipped version).

Not a huge margin -- but enough to claim bragging rights.

But it's the Outlook's overall execution and attention to detail that will really impress you -- especially relative to what GM was building even as recently as 3-5 years back.

The interior layout is classy and coherent, highly "finished" -- even elegant. Detail touches abound -- from the contrast orange backlighting for the scale portion of each gauge in the main instrument cluster, to the nicely tactile way the "+" and "-" buttons for making driver-controlled gear changes when the six-speed automatic's put into manual mode are built into a button on the shifter handle -- right where your thumb naturally falls.

The materials used -- and craftsmanship that's evident in the way everything's put together -- are light years beyond the borderline Soviet-like industrial quality interiors often found in GM's mid-1990s stuff. No shiny Mattel Toy plastics with huge gaps between panels; no exposed hardware. No cheesily screened-on dot matrix appliques. The wood trim is deep and lustrous; the leather soft and pliable -- with stitching as nice as anything else in this class. The climate control and audio systems are fully integrated with the overall design -- not generic, one-size-fits-all units hamfistedly plugged into crude-looking slots. Everything's flush-mounted --and "high and tight."

And on a functional level, how about some applause for the intuitive rotary-style controls for the headlights and stereo -- which can be operated without even looking at them? So much better than buttons that have to be tapped (and looked at while you tap them). The seats (all rows) are great; good support, lots of adjustment -- and the adjustor mechanism are easy to use, too. You''ll notice lots of little things that shows how much thought went into the Outlook's cabin -- like multiple cubbies for various odds and ends. Not one but two molded-in beverage holders built into the second row door panels -- along with the same intuitive, rotary-stye knobs for the second-row heat/AC control.

The outlook's just as encouraging when you step back outside. Unlike some previous GM efforts (like, for instance, the clumsy-looking Chevy Trailblazer EXT) the Outlook is proportionate and balanced. It carries its size well, both looking and feeling smaller than it actually is. And the exterior has the same "finished" look that defines the interior -- with detail touches that include subtle pleats pressed into the sheetmetal, Sky-like front-end treatment with cat's eye swept back headlight assemblies and v-grille, etc.

No Ugly Betty here.

In my week with the Outlook, the only flaw I could find was a noisy power steering pump -- which also seemed to transmit some vibrations through the steering wheel itself. However, this particular Outlook was a press car subject to all sorts of abuse -- so I'd be inclined to attribute the noise/vibration to maltreatment at the hands of scores of automotive journalists, rather than a design defect.

Bottom line: It looks great, it has an exceptionally nice interior, it's roomier and more powerful by a considerable margin than its chief competition -- and even beats higher-end models like the Mazda CX-9 in key areas like power/roominess/towing capability, despite costing substantially less.

That makes it a must see in my book.