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When the Saturn Vue was first introduced for 2002, it looked ahead to a time when sport-utilities would be known for people-friendly street transportation, not boulder-bashing off-road adventure. Five years later the world has finally caught up, and car-like compact sport-utilities like the Saturn Vue are everywhere.
In the meantime, the Vue has matured into a capable, practical five-passenger package that is available in a surprising number of different configurations.
New for 2007 is the Saturn Vue Green Line, featuring a hybrid powertrain that includes a 170-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine matched with a battery-powered electric motor. The Green Line offers improved fuel economy (by about 20 percent over the standard 143-hp Vue) and cleaner air emissions, and it delivers this hybrid goodness for a price premium of $3225 over its comparable, gas-powered model.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Saturn Vue Red Line emphasizes pure driving performance on the street. This is an option package that features an aggressive suspension calibration and 18-inch tires, and it can be matched with either a four-cylinder or V6 engine.
In the middle you'll find the front-wheel-drive Vue models powered by either a 143-hp 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine or the 248-hp V6. In addition, the Vue V6 is available with four-wheel drive (4WD) to deliver improved traction and stability on the highway in every kind of weather.
A comprehensive makeover of the Saturn Vue for the 2006 model year delivered a more upscale appearance, notably in the interior. Overall, the Vue is now more refined than competitors like the Jeep Compass and Dodge Nitro, more street oriented than competitors like the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute, and more affordable than competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
The entry-level Saturn Vue ($17,995) is powered by a 143-hp 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine matched with a five-speed manual transmission. A step up is the model with a four-speed automatic and a higher level of standard equipment ($19,770). Front-wheel drive is standard for both models. Power windows, air conditioning and cruise control are also standard, as are a four-speaker AM/FM stereo and a vehicle anti-theft system.
The Saturn Vue V-6 ($22,270) is defined by its Honda-built, 248-hp V6 engine, and it's matched with a five-speed automatic transmission. An all-wheel-drive model ($24,230) is also available. All models are distinguished by a comprehensive level of convenience features, including power windows, air conditioning, and cruise control, as well as a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, an upgraded vehicle anti-theft system, and cosmetic improvements like a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and upgraded seat fabric.
The Vue Green Line ($22,995) is hybrid-powered, with a 170-hp 2.4-liter engine and a battery-operated electric motor plus a four-speed automatic transmission.
Options include leather upholstery ($755), XM satellite radio ($199), and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1140). A package includes a six-way power-adjustable driver seat as well as seat heating for both front seats ($595). A sliding moonroof ($725) is available. Both an AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 player ($150) and a six-disk CD player with iPod compatibility ($650) are available as options.
The Saturn Vue Red Line option package ($2,495) delivers aggressive performance on the street, and it can be matched with either the 143-hp 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine or the 248-hp 3.5-liter V6. The suspension is calibrated for aggressive cornering and includes 245/50R18 Bridgestone Turanza all-season tires. The Vue's electric power-assisted steering is tuned for a a heavier, sporting feel. The Red Line also features a unique exterior appearance package and unique interior trim.
Safety features include front-seat airbags with seat-belt pre-tensioners, while optional curtain-type airbags ($363) protect both front- and rear-seat passengers from head injuries. The Vue V-6, Vue Green Line and Vue Red Line include standard front-wheel disc brakes with rear drum brakes plus an anti-lock feature and traction control, but the electronics are an extra-cost option ($600) for the Vue four-cylinder models. The center position of the rear seat comes with a three-point shoulder belt, a standard feature rarely seen in this price class. OnStar is standard for all models, and the service includes automatic request for emergency assistance when an airbag deployment is registered. Overall, the Vue has an excellent reputation for safety, and it has earned five-star ratings in both front- and side-impact crash tests.
The Saturn Vue is a five-passenger vehicle with a rear seat that folds flat to increase cargo space plus a one-piece rear liftgate. It's built around a car-like unit-body frame, which increases structural integrity and reduces weight. And also like a car, it has independent suspension at every wheel.
The Vue is a bit larger than both the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, as the Saturn's 106.6-inch wheelbase is some three inches longer. This dimension gives the Vue a useful advantage in passenger volume, as it offers 113.0 cubic feet of passenger space compared to the Escape's 99.2 cubic feet and CR-V's 103.8 cubic feet.
The Vue compromises its cargo volume slightly in the process, however, as it has 30.8 cubic feet of cargo volume with the second seat in place, and 63.8 cubic feet of cargo volume when the second seat is folded flat. In comparison, the Escape offers 29.3 cubic feet and 66.3 cubic feet respectively, while the CR-V has 35.7 feet and 72.9 cubic feet respectively.
The Vue weighs as much as a mid-size car, ranging between the 3292 pounds of the Vue four-cylinder with manual transmission to the 3668 pounds of the Vue V-6. An Escape averages about 150 pounds lighter, while the CR-V is about 100 pounds heavier. Like the CR-V, the four-cylinder Vue can tow 1500 pounds, and like an Escape V-6, the Vue V-6 can tow 3500 pounds.
The Vue looks practical, not cute. A major makeover for the 2006 model year added new front and rear fascias, and there's more style overall than before. The high beltline is fashionable, but compromises visibility for kids sitting in the back seat. The one-piece rear liftgate is complemented by a low bumper with an integrated step pad, affording easier loading into the cargo area.
For 2007, standard wheel sizes have been upgraded to 16 inches for four-cylinder models and 17 inches for V6 models.
One important feature of the Saturn Vue is the use of polymer (plastic) body panels for the exterior. This dent-resistant construction has long been a part of Saturn's philosophical emphasis on practicality and durability. Unfortunately there's a downside to this feature, as the gaps between the body panels are a little large and unsightly, and there seems to be some shake and rattle of the panels as well.
The interior of the Saturn Vue has improved markedly from its generic look of 2002, and last year's makeover has provided a real sense of style. The dash area makes a good impression with a cockpit-style layout, wood trim, chrome accents, and white-face instruments that feature dramatic back-lit illumination at night. The three-spoke steering wheel has a sporting look and the thick rim feels good in the hands.
The Vue's wide door openings and low step-in height simplify access. From the inside, the high belt-line doesn't seem to impair the panoramic view, although it might limit visibility for kids riding in the back seat. Large, outside rear-view mirrors make it easy to negotiate supermarket parking lots. There's plenty of pockets and cubbyholes throughout the interior to stash maps and other items.
The standard seats nicely combine fabric and vinyl. The optional Comfort package includes heated front seats and a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat. Optional leather seat upholstery includes trim for the steering wheel and shift lever as well as the seats. The Red Line package includes seats that combine black leather upholstery with suede-like inserts, power-adjustable driver's seat, metal overlays for the control pedals, embroidered floor mats and even footwell lighting in amber or blue.
The switchgear is large and easy to operate, even while wearing winter gloves. Switches for the power windows are located on the center console, a requirement in the European markets where the Vue was designed to be sold.
The volume for the audio system is controlled with a large, central knob. Options include a six-disk CD and MP3 player. An input jack for a hand-held iPod comes standard. XM satellite radio is a worthwhile option for those who live in rural areas or who plan to travel cross-country.
Access to the rear seats is surprisingly good, although the bottom cushion of the split, folding-back 70/30 seat is thin and positioned a little low, a measure to deliver a truly flat cargo floor when the seat back is folded forward. One useful feature is the adjustable seatback, which allows you to recline for added comfort. The Vue has less rear-seat legroom than the Honda CR-V, but more than the Ford Escape.
The Vue's optional, rear-seat DVD entertainment system is a remarkable luxury in this price class, and it features a seven-inch LCD screen that folds down from the ceiling plus dual, wireless headphones. There are also two power outlets for portable electric devices.
The Vue is configured largely to enhance passenger space, as its 113 cubic feet of passenger volume indicates, yet there's still some 30.8 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the second seat. Once you recline the back of the second seat, the space expands to 63.8 cubic feet, and the one-piece liftgate and low rear bumper simplify cargo loading. Even the front passenger seat folds flat, making it possible to transport an eight-foot ladder.
The Vue also gets high marks for the way in which its interior space can be easily configured to transport all kinds of objects. A cargo organizer in the rear is usually stowed flat on the cargo floor, but it pops up to afford a selection of discrete compartments for small objects. Special hooks make it possible to secure plastic grocery bags, and there are two compartments designed specifically for one-gallon jugs. There's also a power outlet in the cargo area.
Saturn's accessory catalog features some interesting items for the Vue. In addition, once the roof rack crossbars are installed ($238), there are special attachments to carry a canoe ($60), kayak ($120), sailboard ($75), bicycles ($90), or skis ($100).
Our drive in the new Saturn Vue Hybrid on the streets of Santa Monica, Caliornia, reminded us yet again that a compact sport-utility is the ideal town car. The Vue is small and maneuverable enough to wriggle into curbside parking places, large enough to carry a full complement of errand-runners, and comfortable enough to keep the whole exercise from becoming a chore.
The Vue Hybrid has special relevance here because it increases fuel economy as much as 20 percent over a comparable four-cylinder Vue, delivering as much as 27/32 mpg City/Highway on the EPA cycle. And because the price premium is just $3225 over four-cylinder Vue (less than $2000 when the Hybrid's added standard equipment is figured into the total), the potential payback in fuel savings will actually come before you're living in some retirement community and driving a golf cart all the time.
The Vue Hybrid is particularly notable for the relatively transparent interaction of the hybrid powertrain, something that neither the Ford Escape Hybrid or larger Toyota Highlander Hybrid can claim. The Saturn system is really designed to enhance fuel economy, not horsepower. During deceleration, fuel supply to the engine is cut off. When the vehicle is stopped, the engine shuts down and the electric system provides full power to the air conditioning and other accessories. When it's time to go, the electric motor provides a quick start when the brake pedal is released and the engine restarts. And when full-throttle acceleration is required, the electric motor provides extra power. Just as important, the regenerative brakes, which charge the batteries with electricity during deceleration, deliver smoother action than those of other hybrids we've driven. The Vue Hybrid is surprisingly light at 3466 pounds, and while it doesn't feel speedy, it's not slow, either.
The Saturn Vue model lineup begins with a practical, economical four-cylinder engine as part of its model lineup, and it delivers 23/29 mpg EPA City/Highway with a five-speed manual transmission and 22/27 mpg with the four-speed automatic. The 2.2-liter engine feels lively because it's tuned to deliver a broad spread of torque rather than peak horsepower. The five-speed transmission helps deliver sharp throttle response and excellent fuel economy, but the shift action is notchy and clumsy, so the four-speed automatic is a better choice, though you sacrifice a little fuel economy.
The Honda-built 3.0-liter V6 really wakes the Vue up. There's actually a bit more power than the chassis calibration can accommodate comfortably. Those who like to drive fast will appreciate the aggressive Red Line package. Where the V6 is most justified, however, is to compensate for the extra weight of the all-wheel-drive system. The V6 also makes it possible to use the Vue's 1500 pounds of towing capacity without being fearful of freeway on-ramps. The front-wheel-drive Vue V-6 delivers 20/28 mpg City/Highway; the all-wheel-drive Vue V-6 is rated at 19/25 mpg.
The Vue's electric-assisted power steering, standard on all models, has been much improved since the Vue's introduction, and it now feels accurate, although there's not very much road feel.
The Vue's all-independent suspension delivers a stable, comfortable ride, more like a big car than a small truck. Although the standard front disc brakes and rear drums do an adequate job for the four-cylinder Vue, any vehicle in this weight class really calls for four-wheel disc brakes, so we recommend the extra-cost option package, which includes ABS and low-speed traction control.
The all-wheel-drive system enhances stability and mobility in difficult weather conditions. However, the Vue is not intended for off-road driving.
When equipped with the Red Line package, the Vue has all the hallmarks of a real sporting utility, with a ride height that's one inch lower for improved steering response and 18-inch tires for mor
The Saturn Vue has evolved from generic utility device to full-fledged sport utility with the speed and luxury to match other compact SUVs. Though refinement still isn't the Vue's strong suit, it offers a very car-like blend of economy, practicality and comfort. Over the five years since its introduction the competition has become a lot better, but so has the Saturn Vue. Although few people understood the Saturn Vue's mission when it came to market in 2002, everyone can now appreciate the variety of choices it delivers in the market of compact sport-utilities.