Saturn is known for its friendly dealerships and the Vue is its sport utility. The Vue is a practical vehicle. Saturn built the Vue on a long wheelbase, resulting in a roomy interior with back seats that recline slightly for comfort. The seats, including the front passenger seat, fold flat for hauling an eight-foot ladder or other cargo, and a cargo organizer aids organization.
The 2005 Saturn Vue gets upgraded trim inside and out, and it benefits from recent improvements that have brought more refinement and made it more enjoyable to drive. All-wheel drive is available for improved traction and stability in winter weather.
The Vue is best equipped with the powerful 3.5-liter V6 and smooth five-speed automatic transmission both built by Honda. Performance with the 250-horsepower V6 places Vue is among the quickest in its class. Standard is a four-cylinder engine with a manual transmission. For 2005, this engine is available with a traditional four-speed automatic transmission. Either way, forward progress with the four-cylinder is lethargic.
The Vue is a compact SUV about the size of a Honda CR-V, smaller than midsize utilities like the Ford Explorer but slightly larger than the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 or Jeep Liberty. Saturn stands out from this crowd with its unique styling and innovative plastic body panels, which resist dents and eliminate corrosion.
In terms of safety, Vue rates five-star scores, the highest given by NHTSA, for driver and passengers in the goverment's frontal and side-impact crash tests. Curtain airbags are available for head protection in an accident.
The Saturn Vue is distinctive and visually striking, but it is not necessarily a head-turner. Its exterior design is more sensible than sensational, with looks that are modern and practical, and strong lines that avoid the bubble effect that curvy, cutesy imported mini-utilities share. In terms of size (and price), the Vue sits between the Honda CR-V and Pilot. It's larger than a Toyota RAV4, smaller than a Highlander.
The front end is thick and snubbed, with headlamps that ride high atop an exaggerated grille. From the side, the Vue is boxy and nondescript, except for its high beltline. Its large, back-end liftgate with floodlights provides easy and efficient access to the rear cargo area.
V6 models feature fog lamps, while Vues with the V6 and AWD ride on larger (17-inch) aluminum wheels. Chrome accents at the front end, once exclusive to the V6, now brighten all Vues, while non-Red Line V6 models have acquired new chrome door handles and belt line molding.
Polymer body panels provide a rugged, dent-resistant exterior without the clutter of lower-body cladding. Gaps between body panels are more pronounced on Saturn vehicles because these polymer panels expand and contract with temperature. Car-height bumpers offer enhanced protection from parking lot damage and help create a smoother appearance. The spare tire is mounted inside the vehicle, which reduces potential damage from low-speed rear impacts.
The interior of the Saturn Vue has improved greatly over the past two years, with generally better-quality materials than were used in 2003 and before. The new color scheme that debuted for 2004 gives the interior a nicer ambience. Chrome accents brighten the instrument panel and new white-faced gauges that are backlit at night give it a sporty look. The steering wheel was redesigned for '04 as well. The improvements continue for 2005, with a new seat fabric for four-cylinder models, a new satin-nickel panel around the shifter, and a sun visor extender for the driver.
The seats use a nice combination of vinyl and fabric, and your passengers will assume the vinyl is leather. A Comfort Package combines heated front seats with six-way power and lumbar support for the driver.
Getting inside Vue is easy, thanks to wide door openings and a low step-in height. Despite the Vue's high beltline, visibility is good, providing a panoramic view. Big mirrors afford good visibility rearward.
The switchgear is well designed and easy to operate. Heating and air conditioning controls are straightforward and easy to operate, but look like they came from a compact car. The window switches are located on the center console, making them harder to find quickly than if they were on the door. The Vue's interior is still not perfect. The flimsy lid for the center console is still here and we felt a rough edge on the inside door handles. But overall, the '05 Saturn Vue has a nice interior.
The stereo is nicely designed and attractive. Audio options include AM/FM/CD with MP3, six-CD changer with MP3. XM Satellite Radio is a great option to have when traveling because the stations don't change as you drive across the country. Around town, XM Satellite Radio is nice to have for listening to the 24-hour news and sports broadcasts, or for staying tuned into your favorite types of music (classical, jazz, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s). You still get ads, but fewer and less obnoxious than what you hear on AM and FM.
The rear seats recline slightly (7 degrees) for comfort by pulling on a latch behind the seat. There's lots of rear-seat headroom, though the seating position is low enough to make our knees ride a little high. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system allows back-seat passengers to view a movie on a fold-down, 7-inch LCD screen. The system includes remote control and dual wireless headphones, so rear passengers can listen to CDs or watch a movie while front-seat passengers can either listen to the DVD program or to the car's regular audio system.
The Vue is a good vehicle for carrying cargo. The standard 70/30 split folding rear bench seat provides versatile stowage of longer items while carrying rear passengers. Even the front passenger seat folds flat, providing room for an eight-foot ladder or lumber. The nearly flat load floor in the rear is a result of the compact all-wheel-drive system. Of particular note are the configurable cargo spaces. A cargo organizer folds out of the floor to corral smaller objects; it's important to fully snap it closed when put away, however, or it will make a small rattle that disturbs the Vue's otherwise quiet ride. There are hooks for grocery bags and two compartments sized specifically for gallon jugs, a welcome convenience on late-night food runs. Tie-downs provide for the safe transport of a wide variety of goods. Three power outlets provide opportunities to plug in toys or tools. The rear hatch is easy to open and close.
Saturn offers accessories to customize Vue's storage space. A Pet Net ($202) keeps dogs (or whatever else) securely in the cargo bay. You can also buy an interior bike rack ($157), and/or specific roof rack accessories for carrying canoes ($60), kayaks ($120), surf boards ($75), sail boards ($75), bicycles ($90-$95), and skis ($100).
GM's OnStar security and information service has been upgraded for 2005 with new Gen6 har
Saturn added more sound-deadening material starting with the 2004 models, so noise, vibration and harshness have been reduced. Ride quality is generally good, though still not great. Sharp bumps, such as pavement transitions and expansion joints, are transmitted into the cabin and there's a general lack of smoothness around town.
Handling has been improved more decisively. Saturn recalibrated the steering for 2004, addressing a big complaint we had with the 2003 model. Gone is the torque steer we objected to on earlier V6-powered models.
Handling is good over a variety of driving terrain. The speed-sensitive power steering offers precise, easy steering in parking lots, yet adjusts for good road feel and stability on the highway. The electronic steering automatically boosts power assistance during emergency avoidance maneuvers.
When equipped with the V6, the Vue offers strong, smooth power with quick and smooth shifting. The 3.5-liter Honda engine produces 250 horsepower and 242 pound-feet of torque. Saturn says the Vue can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 7 seconds, which is pretty quick. Yet EPA fuel economy ratings are 19/25 mpg for the AWD V6. Variable-valve timing enhances high-end power, low-end torque and fuel efficiency.
The V6 is mated to a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with grade logic control engineered by Honda. This automatic transmission offers reduced hunting between gears on hilly roads. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds, enough to pull a snowmobile, personal watercraft, or a small boat. And the Vue V6 can be flat towed, making it a more attractive choice for RV owners.
The 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that comes in the base Vue is rated at 143 horsepower and 152 pound-feet of torque. While the V6 Vue is quick, the four-cylinder model is not. The base Vue with five-speed Getrag manual covers Saturn's 0-60 test in 11.0 seconds, a lethargic pace by anyone's standards. The four-cylinder delivers better fuel economy, however, with an EPA rating of 23/28 mpg City/Highway.
The four-cylinder is also available with an automatic. Gone for 2005 is Saturn's VTi continuously variable transmission which, until last year, was offered as an option on four-cylinder Vues. In its place Saturn now offers a more conventional electronically controlled four-speed automatic, namely, the proven Hydra-Matic 4T45-E from General Motors. We haven't yet tested this combination, but we don't expect it to run any quicker than the four-cylinder Vue with a five-speed manual. EPA fuel economy estimates with the Hydra-Matic are 22/26 City/Highway.
Vue's available all-wheel-drive system improves traction and stability in slippery conditions. It's particularly valuable on snow and ice. It works automatically with no input from the driver, and is designed to withstand extremely cold weather. The Vue is not designed for off-road driving, however.
Vue gets rear drum brakes instead of the preferable disc brakes. An anti-lock brake system is standard with the V6, and optional ($600) on four-cylinder models. We recommend ABS because it helps the driver to maintain control of the steering in a panic stop.
Saturn Vue benefits from recent improvements that improve its driving characteristics. The interior is clever and versatile and continues to improve with higher quality materials and sound-deadening measures. Performance with the upgrade 3.5-liter V6 puts Vue among the quickest in its class and makes for a refined powertrain. But the Vue can hardly get out of its own way with the base model's four-cylinder engine. Saturn stands out with its unique styling. Curtain airbags are available for head protection in an accident and we strongly recommend getting them. The best thing about the Vue is that it's backed by Saturn's highly regarded sales and service people. You should expect them to be friendly and easy to work with.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Detroit; nctd.com correspondent Tom Lankard contributed to this review.
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