Fuel economy has become a big factor in choice of vehicle. For those with families or large cargo carrying demands, SUVs have been a popular choice for the last decade or so. However, the traditional truck-based SUV is generally heavier and more off-road capable than most people need. That has led many drivers to car-based, or ‘crossover,’ SUVs that ride and drive more like cars, and generally get better gas mileage.

One attractive new crossover is the Saturn Outlook. With an aggressive front end, pronounced wheel fender flares and an attractive profile, the Outlook looks the part of a rugged SUV, but its car underpinnings make it a civilized, economical and comfortable vehicle.

The interior is very spacious, and there’s plenty of room in all three rows of seating. The second row slides to adjust leg room for the third row, allowing enough room in the back for adults to sit comfortably. The second row can have either two seats or a bench. Behind the third row, the cargo area is modest but expands when you fold the third-row seats into the floor. Cup holders abound, and there is an available dual sunroof that gives the Outlook a very airy feeling and allows you to look out. The Outlook is a good minivan substitute for those wanting utility but not an actual minivan. Saturn must think so, too, because it has discontinued the Relay minivan.

The heated front seats are supportive, but the cloth version felt a little cheap; the leather seats were much nicer. Rear vents ensure passenger comfort throughout the cabin, and an available DVD player can entertain second- and third-row passengers. The dual automatic climate control is simple to use, and the audio system is fairly straightforward but uses a number of smallish buttons. Fake wood trim accents the dash, center console and door panels and adds a touch of warmth. A leather-wrapped steering wheel has a nice feel and both tilts and telescopes. Dual front, side and side curtain airbags combine with stability control with rollover mitigation, ABS and traction control to provide excellent passenger safety.

Power comes from a 275-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 that provides plenty of muscle. That power is distributed via a 6-speed automatic transmission to either the front wheels or all four wheels. Gas mileage is 16 city, 24 highway for the front-wheel drive, 16/22 for the all-wheel drive. Despite the heft, the Outlook handles and rides well for an SUV, though the steering is a bit overboosted and the braking reminds you of how much heft you’re hauling around.

According to Richard Hicks, a salesman at Lou Fusz Saturn, “The Outlook is an American-made vehicle that drives smoother than its competition, and is also less expensive.” Prices for the ‘09 Outlook start at just over $30,000 for a front-wheel drive XE and can exceed $40,000 for a fully loaded four-wheel drive XR.

Another appealing car-based SUV is the Acura RDX, which adds a bit of luxury to the smaller SUV mix. The RDX offers aggressively attractive styling, with projector beam headlights and a sporty profile. The 2.3-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine spits out 240 horsepower via a 5-speed automatic to all four wheels that can transfer power front and back and left and right to provide excellent handling. Gas mileage is 17 city, 22 highway. The ride is smooth and comfortable, yet fairly taut. Acceleration is quick and braking good, but the steering is overboosted and a bit vague at low speeds.

The RDX offers dual automatic climate control and a nice sounding audio system. A navigation system is optional. Overall fit and finish are excellent. Heated front leather seats are comfortable and mildly bolstered. There’s plenty of rear seat room, and a decent sized cargo area, but no third row seating. A tonneau cover allows you to keep valuables in the cargo area out of sight. Folding the rear seats is a two-step process that requires folding the seat bottom forward, then lowering the seatback. With the second- row seats down, there’s plenty of cargo carrying capacity, and with them up, there’s as much passenger room as in a much larger SUV. Vehicle stability assist and ABS, along with front, side and side curtain airbags, ensure passenger safety.

Steve Brown, GM at Frank Leta Acura, says of the RDX, “It offers a great ride, and great handling and performance. It’s a real performance crossover with a significant price advantage over its competition, which is part of why it’s been the best-selling luxury crossover.” Prices for the RDX start around $34,500 and can reach the high $30,000’s with all the goodies.

Robert W. Paster is also an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.