Starting with the 2000 model year, Saturn (a division of General Motors) offered a midsize family sedan. Known as the L-Series, that Saturn sedan never quite achieved serious sales success. Even when Saturn's smaller cars and SUVs were selling reasonably well, the L-series seemed to be standing apart from the intentions of family-sedan buyers. It was dropped after the 2005 season.
With its new Aura sedan, launched as a 2007 model, Saturn has greater hopes for success - and a several-day test drive has demonstrated that those hopes deserve to be fulfilled. Competing against the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima,and Volkswagen Passat, the Aura rides a 112.3-inch wheelbase and measures 190 inches long.
Following up on a 2005 concept vehicle, new Saturn "design language" has been used for the Aura, led by a chrome grille bar. An optional four-panel sliding panoramic roof gives occupants an expansive view overhead. Trunk space totals 15.7 cubic feet.
Two trim levels are offered: entry-level XE and upscale XR. In the XE sedan, a 224-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine mates with a four-speed automatic transmission. In XR sedans, a 3.6-liter V-6, rated at 252 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque, drives a six-speed automatic.
Standard XE tires are 17-inch size, but XR sedans roll on 18-inch rubber, surrounding 14-spoke cast aluminum wheels. The radio antenna is integrated into the rear window.
Automatic climate control is standard. So are curtain-type airbags and seat-mounted front airbags, as well as all-disc antilock braking. Options include power-adjustable pedals, heated front seats (fabric or leather), and an eight-way power driver's seat. OnStar Turn-by-Turn navigation is available, too.
Enjoyable to drive, the Aura looks good and is priced about right for what you get. Roomy inside, it looks like a big car but isn't really all that large. In fact, it's easy to drive and to judge.
Exceptionally quiet on the road, the Aura is far different from early Saturns with their noise engines. The Aura XR delivers a comfortable ride, though some bumps hit hard. Steering feel isn't as light as some rivals, contributing to better road feel and sense of control.
Eager and effective performance emanates from the 252-horsepower engine, though stop/go driving can reveal some driveline looseness: a slight jerk may be noticed when starting off after a series of halts. Transmission shifts aren't particularly crisp, tending to ooze from one gear to the next at least part of the time.
Instruments are interesting in appearance, deep-set and illuminated for easy reading. A-pillars are on the thick side, but otherwise, visibility is good due to ample glass area.
An Aura XR sedan stickers for $24,595 (including destination charge), while the XE can be driven home for $4,000 less. Later in the 2007 model year, Saturn will launched a Green Line hybrid-powertrain version of the Aura, with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine. This will be GM's first hybrid passenger car.