Saturn, GM's newest division, launched its first Vue sport-utility vehicle as a 2002 model. Redesigned for 2008, it's considered by some to be a compact "crossover" vehicle rather than an SUV. In many quarters, crossover is the preferred term for SUV-like models that retain many characteristics of a passenger car and have little trucklike feel.
New European-inspired styling is just part of the picture. Saturn claimes the segment's widest range of powertrain choices. In addition to a regular four-cylinder engine or pair of V-6s, the Vue can be equipped with a hybrid powertrain or a high-performance V-6.
Specifically, the Vue lineup consists of:
* XE front-wheel drive model with a 169-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission.
* XE all-wheel drive with a 222-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic.
* XR all-wheel drive with a 257-horsepower (estimated) 3.6-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic.
* Green Line hybrid with a gasoline/electric powertrain that includes a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic. GM's next-generation two-mode hybrid will be available during the 2008 model year.
* Red Line performance edition with the 3.6-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic.
Manual transmissions are not available in the Vue.
Spring-rate and wheel-travel tuning comes in three levels: one for the performance-oriented Red Line, another for XE/XR V-6 models, and a third for the XE four-cylinder edition.
The Red Line's "aggressive" front-end look including a large lower air opening and projector-beam foglamps. At the rear are a special fascia, spoiler and chrome trapezoidal exhaust tips. The Red Line model also fearures a lowered suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels. Tap-up/tap-down transmission control also is included.
Seat-mounted side-impact thorax airbags for front occupants are standard, along with curtain airbags for both rows of seats, antilock braking, traction control, and GM's StabiliTrak stability-enhancement system. StabiliTrak includes Electronic Trailer Sway Control, which detects trailer sway that might be caused by improper trailer-weight balance or excessive vehicle speed. Wheb detected, StabiliTrak applies the brakes as needed, signals the driver to reduce speed, and, if necessary,reduces engine torque to slow the vehicle. GM's OnStar communications system also is standard.
Evolved from the PreVue concept that appeared at the 2006 New York Auto Show, the Vue features a tapered roof line. Charcoal-colored fender accent moldings, which incorporate "repeater" turn-signal indicators, are positioned vertically along the front door line.
Alloy 16-inch wheels are standard on XE models, while the XR edition rolls on 17-inch tires. All V-6 models include dual chrome exhaust outlets.
Standard equipment includes a CD stereo with MP3 capability and a flat-folding 60/40-split rear seatback. Assist handles are installed above each door. Vues may be equipped with an eight-way power driver's seat, automatic climate control, navigation system, heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, and remote start. Fabric upholstery is standard, wit leather seating optional.
With an optional towing package, a Vue can haul up to 3,500 pounds. Conversely, the vehicle itself may be towed with all four wheels on the ground.
Saturn has taken a strong leap ahead with the 2008 Vue, compared to its 2002-07 predecessor. This one is surprisingly carlike and civilized, for an SUV. Harsh surfaces barely faze a Vue XR, as its suspension deals admirably with imperfections. Strong performance emanates from the XR's V-6 engine, too. Expect an average amount of delay for a downshift when passing/merging, but then good response.
Handling qualities also have improved. The latest Vue takes corners with impressive ease and stability.
Seats are comfortably cushioned with good support and notable side bolstering. Passenger space is roomy enough, front and rear, with ample cargo area out back.
On the dashboard, the speedometer and tachometer are deep-set and not the easiest to read. Neither is the tiny fuel gauge.
During 2008, General Motors says it will have four more hybrids on the market, and 16 in the next four years. "We're a little bit late to the party," admitted Mark LaNeve,vice-president of vehicle sales, service and marketing. But "we'll be in the game in a big way."
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