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The Saturn Vue stands out among the compact SUVs with its unique styling and innovative plastic body panels, which resist dents and eliminate corrosion. Inside, it's roomy and practical.
Similar in size to the Honda CR-V, the Vue seats five. Back-seat riders are made more comfortable with seatbacks that recline slightly for comfort. The seats, including the front passenger seat, fold flat, providing enough space to haul an eight-foot ladder. In back, a cargo organizer keeps things from rolling around.
The Vue is one of the quickest SUVs in its class when ordered with the 3.5-liter V6. Built by Honda, the V6 generates 250 horsepower and the Vue enjoyable to drive. Acceleration performance is decidedly tepid with the standard four-cylinder engine, however. The Vue comes standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available for improved traction and stability in winter weather.
The interior trim has been improved for 2006, and the front and rear styling has been revised for a more pleasing appearance.
The Saturn Vue boasts brisk performance with the available V6 and decent handling.
Ride quality is good, but 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 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. Handling has been improved more decisively. Gone is the torque steer observed on 2003 models.
When equipped with the V6, the Vue offers strong, smooth power with quick and smooth shifting. The 3.5-liter Honda-produced engine makes 250 horsepower and 242 pound-feet of torque. Saturn says the Vue can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.5 seconds, which is quite quick. Yet EPA fuel economy ratings are 20/28 mpg, 19/25 for the AWD model. 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 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, lethargic performance by anyone's standards. The four-cylinder delivers better fuel economy around town, however, with an EPA rating of 23/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.
The four-cylinder is also available with an automatic. We haven't 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 four-speed Hydra-Matic are 22/26 City/Highway. The V6 with the five-speed automatic gets better fuel economy on the highway.
Vue's available all-wheel-drive system is only available on V6 models, improving traction and stability in slippery conditions. It's particularly valuable on snow and ice, working automatically with no input from the driver, and is designed to withstand extremely cold weather. The Vue was 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 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 numerous improvements inside and out. The interior is clever and versatile and continues to improve with higher quality materials and sound-deadening measures. The V6 and five-speed automatic makes for a refined powertrain and puts Vue among the quickest SUVs in its class. The standard four-cylinder engine lacks sufficient gusto to get the with the program. Curtain airbags are available for head protection. 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 correspondents Tom Lankard and Steve Siler contributed to this review.