2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura Expert Review:Autoblog
The anticipation surrounding the reinvention of GM's Saturn division had been building for months. The buzz started in earnest back in 2005, when the Sky appeared on the show circuit and it was announced that the car on display was in production trim. Joining it was the Aura concept, said to foreshadow an upcoming production sedan from Saturn. Fast-forward to the 2006 New York Auto Show, where Saturn took center stage for General Motors. Division general manager Jill Lajdziak teamed with Bob Lutz to preside over what was effectively the brand's coming out party.
Given what we knew Saturn to be up until that point, the Aura (and the Outlook and Sky) took the division and stood it on its head. Here was a real car with, y'know, sheetmetal. And that sheetmetal was formed in such a manner to actually be pleasing to the eye. A look inside revealed an interior that had obviously been designed by people who like cars, and more importantly, like sitting in them. The icing on the cake came in the form of the optional 252-horsepower 3.6L V6 mated to a new 6-speed automatic. Clearly, Saturn was no longer what we had previously understood it to be.
Read the full review after the jump.
The Aura's overall styling is attractive without being ostentatious. Up front, the oversized wraparound headlamp assemblies dominate the car's face. Each one houses a pair of projectors as well as the turn signals in an "eyebrow" that sits above them. An Opel-style grille spans the distance between the headlights and reinforces the new corporate look that appeared first on the Sky. The lower front fascia contains a large center opening which is flanked by smaller ones that also house the car's foglamps.
Walk to the side, and you'll find that the new sedan cuts a nice profile. Chrome trim accents the glass in the car's rounded greenhouse, and it's also used on the door handles and the rub strip running along the body. Modest fender bulges add some visual muscle and are ably filled by fourteen-spoke 18" wheels wrapped in 50-series rubber, which really do look terrific. The now ubiquitous GM badge takes up residence in its spot aft of the front wheel well, and the shark-like "dorsal fin" antenna for the satellite radio is centrally-mounted on the roof's leading edge. (This would later become a car wash casualty. It was, however, soon recovered and put back in place.)
The car's rump is no less pleasing than the rest of the package. Metallic accents segment the LED taillamp assemblies, lending some added flair. The chrome strip running the width of the trunklid is home to all the badging, with "Aura XR" on the left and '3.6" on the right. The square Saturn badge sits on the upper portion, directly in the middle. Finally, a pair of exhaust tips peek out from below the bumper cover.
GM has made great strides with its interiors of late. The Aura is the latest example of the company's drive towards cabins that are both visually appealing and not challenging for the driver to use. Our tester's interior, like the exterior finish, was black. Simulated wood trim strips ran the width of the dashboard, down the center stack, and onto the center console. All four door panels also got a dose of the imitation tree, and overall, the effect is pleasing to the eye.
The center stack is refreshingly uncluttered, featuring the corporate audio system, HVAC controls, and a small storage unit where the ashtray would have been. Our XR was essentially loaded (the only thing missing was the panoramic sunroof), so we had the premium sound system (CD Changer, XM, MP3 compatibility) and climate control. The audio system, with its big round volume dial and smaller tuning dial, is a snap to acquaint yourself with and equally easy to use. The presets let you mix and match bands (AM/FM/XM) to create truly convenient and/or themed groups of stations. If you want to use your MP3 player, an auxiliary jack is included.
The climate control system's two major input devices are easy-to-use dials as well, and like the radio, the system is very straightforward. The storage unit right beneath the HVAC controls is home to a power outlet and a small cubby deep enough to store a pair of glasses. The center console houses the car's shifter, cupholders, and a spacious storage bin whose lid is also the center armrest, which slides forward and was comfortable to use.
Backseat passengers ride in comfort, with a reasonable amount of legroom and their own stereo controls with wireless headphones. The magazine pockets for the back seats use a cargo netting type of material.
The entire cabin experience is pleasant overall, but there are areas that could be improved. The woodgrain, while it looks nice enough, sounds hollow in spots when you tap it. We worry about squeaks or rattles in the future. The center storage bin's hinge felt very flimsy, and its plastic latch sounded brittle and junky (appallingly so, actually). We questioned how well it'd hold up to daily use/punishment.
The trunk was spacious, and could be made even more so by flipping down the back seats. It swallowed up a rather imposing double stroller with ease, much to our surprise. A pair of cargo nets on either side of the trunk keeps groceries and small packages in check.
When you settle into the driver's seat, you're faced with GM's three-spoke corporate steering wheel, which in this application is equipped with integrated shift paddles. With GM's setup, both paddles have identical functions. On either one, you press the "+" button that peeks over the lateral spoke to shift up. To downshift, you pull back on either paddle in the standard manner. The main gauge cluster is clean and simple: tach, speedo, fuel gauge, and temp. A multifunction display at the bottom of the speedometer shows your odometer reading, fuel consumption, and other standard trip information. The gauges themselves feature white numerals and yellow increment markers. The needles are white, and are mounted in the middle of carbon-fiber-look circles.
Twist the ignition key and the backlit gauges do a left-to-right sweep as the 3.6L purrs to life and settles into a quiet idle. Head onto the road and the V6 exposes its delicious nature with swift acceleration that's accompanied by a satisfying techno-mechanical growl from its engine compartment. We distinctly remember thinking that the sound was not unlike what one would expect to hear emanating from a foreign car. The logo on the steering wheel reminds you that yes, it's really a Saturn.
The Aura accelerates as if it wants to get away from Saturn's old image as quickly as possible. It is plenty quick, and whether you're letting the Hydra-Matic 6T70 pick the gears or you're tapping through changes with the paddles yourself, it's very satisfying. Other cars may have more power, but the truth is that the 3.6 delivers what it has with aplomb. On the highway, it's all too easy to quietly stray into Expensive Ticket Territory, because the 3.6 wants to run, and the car's good manners and solid road feel encourage you to keep giving it a little more.
Duck off an exit ramp and you'll be happy to learn that the Aura is as comfortable on the curvy stuff as it is the interstate. Handling was completely predictable thanks to a chassis tuned to provide a nice balance between comfort and sport. If thinks threaten to get out of hand for any reason, the Standard StabiliTrak is on hand to help get the situation back in check.
The automaker has an ad out that shows people looking at the new Saturn lineup, doing double-takes, and saying, "That's a Saturn?" It's a great spot because it's completely accurate. When we had the Aura, it got noticed, and people spoke up. At work, at the car wash, at the drive-thru – it made no difference. The conversation was fundamentally the same:
"That's a Saturn?"
"Yeah. The new one. It's called the Aura."
"Man. That's actually nice. I didn't know they had something like this."
Those words should be music to Saturn's (and GM's) ears, because it means that the automaker's gotten something right. Before you can fully shed your old image, you need to do something to break it. With the stylish Aura, Saturn is doing exactly that. It's changing people's expectations and raising their level of interest. This is a good car, and the best part of it all is that we're just in round one. If the General addresses the issues and continues to improve upon this great starting point, it won't have to worry about bringing the new, improved Saturn to the people. The people will simply come to them.
Our tester stickered at $26,919 including destination charge, and we'd have no problem recommending it to a friend shopping for something in this class. Heck, if we were the ones doing the buying, it'd make our short list of candidates right now, too.
All photos Copyright ©2006 Alex Nunez / Weblogs, Inc.
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We recently spent a week with Saturn's latest addition to the stable, the Aura Green Line, which afforded us the opportunity to size it up relative to its Aura XR sibling that we tested last year. The Aura XR was impressive, with attractive styling, some real pop underhood courtesy of the 3.6L V6, and a nicely-rounded, comfortable driving experience. A lot of he same basic good stuff carries forward to the Aura Green Line. Autoblog's Aura Hybrid also looked pretty sharp and comported itself well overall. Follow the jump for a brief rundown of some of our observations of the Green Line compared to the XR, and keep an eye on AutoblogGreen in the coming days, as our colleague, Sam Abuelsamid, will be posting a complete full-length review of the car.
The Aura Green Line combines the the same mild hybrid system and 2.4L Ecotec engine used in the Vue Green Line that we reviewed last year. Good for 164 horsepower, it's paired with a 4-speed auto (the paddle-shifted six-speed would be nice here, General) and moves the Aura around ably. When warranted, the car gets an electric boost to help out with acceleration. It's no match for the XR's 3.6L V6, which is smoother, quieter, and much more powerful, but that said, the Green Line powertrain lets the car perform well both locally and on the interstate. The little green "eco" light appears quite readily and will remain illuminated as long as you keep your right foot light on the throttle. It becomes a bit of a game while driving to see how long you can keep it going, and unlike the '07 Vue Green Line, the Aura GL has an info center display in the gauge cluster that shows you both instant and average fuel economy. This means you can really keep tabs on how you're doing, and see a number to correspond with the light on the instrument panel.
The EPA rates the Aura Green Line at 28/35 city/highway, and over the week, we averaged right around 25 mpg -- just like we did with the Vue Green Line. The lowish number is probably attributable to yours truly's hellish 30-mile-each-way commute in mostly stop-and-go traffic. While it really puts the stop/start system to work, it otherwise doesn't play up to the Aura's strength as an economical highway cruiser. That trait that became apparent when I used the car as my transportation to and from the Greenwich Concours last weekend. In contrast to my weekday commute, the 60-mile round trip each weekend day was a breeze, and over the two days, the car's average fuel economy increased pretty quickly.
Our tester was equipped with the Preferred Package, which adds a power driver's seat, wheel-mounted radio controls, and heated electric outside mirrors. The cloth seating surfaces are fairly generic-looking, but the seats themselves are very comfortable and supportive. Parents who'd like a leather seating option (it's easier to keep clean) are out of luck: hides aren't available in the Aura Green Line -- a surprising omission, if you ask us. We also have to say that we found the light gray interior color to be on the boring side -- this is a matter of personal taste, of course, but it just didn't jibe well with the car's attractive Berry Red exterior, in our opinion. The available tan fabric and trim is far more complimentary, and is what we'd choose if we were buying.
A passenger commented on the car's backseat legroom and noted that the dugouts in the front seatbacks really make a difference in this respect. Trunk space remains ample, but some is sacrificed to make room for the car's battery pack. One thing we mentioned when reviewing the XR is that the center storage bin's lid and latches felt exceptionally flimsy, and we expressed concern over their ability to survive daily use. After driving the Aura Green Line, we can affirm that the bin's lid really is an egregious piece of crap. The latch on this particular tester had become off-kilter and didn't work properly. It's this kind of thing that detracts from what is otherwise a perfectly good car that we genuinely like. Fix it.
You'll find other hybrid sedans that top the Aura Green Line in terms of available equipment and fuel economy (think Altima and Camry), but the Saturn wins big in the window sticker competition, checking in at just $23,070 as tested. Throw in the $1300 federal tax credit it's eligible for, and once again, you have a very appealing value package in a car wearing the square Green Line badge.
Stay tuned for much more on the Aura Green Line from AutoblogGreen.
UPDATE: The full In the AutoblogGreen Garage review has now been posted.
All photos Copyright ©2007 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
A pleasant aura surrounds Saturn's new sedan.
Saturn has introduced an all-new mid-size sedan called the Aura. The 2007 Saturn Aura is the company's first truly credible entry in the most competitive segment of the automobile market. Compared with Saturn's last mid-size car, the unloved L-Series sedan and wagon that died quiet deaths back in 2004, the Aura is decidedly modern and fresh, with Euro character and aesthetic flair. Interestingly, the Aura has none of the plastic body panels that made Saturn famous in the 1990s.
The Aura is based on the same safe, solid architecture as the Saab 9-3, which sells for thousands of dollars more. Compared with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion, the Aura is well equipped with safety and comfort features.
Aura comes with a choice of two powerful V6 engines. (And a hybrid model is on its way.) The Aura is competitively priced: The base XE starts at less than $20,495 and comes with a 224-horsepower V6 and four-speed automatic. The more powerful XR features a 252-hp V6 and six-speed automatic. Both V6 engines offer good fuel economy, rated 20 mpg city and 28-29 mpg highway.
The cabin is tastefully done and laid out well. All the controls work very well and the sound setup is particularly convenient. Saturn's interior materials are still behind the leaders in the segment, but the design is pleasing. We preferred the cloth over the standard leather option, but we liked the Moroccan Brown leather that's available on the Aura XR model.
Underway, the Saturn Aura is quiet and handles well. We found it drives like a European family sedan, taut and responsive, with brakes, suspension and powertrain working together to respond to the driver's wishes. This is not surprising, given the Aura shares its structure with the German Opel Vectra.
The 2007 Saturn Aura comes in two trim levels, the base XE and the more powerful XR. All models are front-wheel drive.
The Aura XE ($19,845) features a 224-hp V6 engine, front-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, 17-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, keyless entry, automatic headlights, cruise control, and a six-speaker sound system with CD/MP3 player.
The Aura XR ($23,845) features a 252-hp V6 and a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control paddles on the steering wheel. The Aura XR also features automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, front seat heaters, a remote engine starter, an eight-speaker stereo with an in-dash six-disc CD changer, rear audio controls, a universal garage door opener, 18-inch wheels, and fog lamps. (The destination charge is $650.)
Options for the XE include a Preferred Package ($375), which includes an eight-way power driver's seat, steering wheel radio controls, and heated power mirrors; a Convenience Package ($700), which includes heated front seats, remote starter, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and universal garage door opener; an Advanced Audio Package ($725), which includes an eight-speaker stereo with in-dash 6CD and rear audio controls; and alloy wheels ($400). Options for XE and XR models include an Enhanced Convenience Package ($425), which includes a six-way power passenger seat and power adjustable pedals; a Premium Trim Package ($1050), which includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather upholstery and heated front seats; a power sunroof ($800), which includes a sliding, multi-panel panoramic sunroof ($1500), premium floor mats ($100) and XM Satellite Radio ($199). Moroccan Brown interior trim ($100) is available on the XR.
Safety features that come standard on all models include anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes and traction control. XR models come standard with electronic stability control. Passive safety features that come standard include front seat belts with pretensioners and load-limiters, dual front air bags, front seat-mounted side-impact air bags (for torso protection in a side impact), and front- and rear-seat curtain air bags (for head protection in a rollover or side impact). Be sure to wear those seat belts because they are your first line of defense in a crash.
The Aura is the largest of all Saturn sedans, fitting in the mid-size category, where Saturn's last players, the L100 and L200 sedan and wagon, failed to make much of an imprint. The Aura is based on the same platform as the current Saab 9-3 and the Europe-only Opel Vectra, the latter with which it shares many of its styling cues.
In front, the Aura features a broad grille with a thick chrome insert flanked by almond-shaped, multi-element headlamp units. The nicely sculpted front bumper houses tiny fog lamps on the Aura XR. With big engines and front-wheel drive, the Aura has a requisitely long nose, but thanks to nice tapering of the bumpers, it doesn't look disproportionately front-heavy.
The bodysides are clean tastefully sculpted, with a healthy bit of chrome detailing on the door handles and window trim. The Aura rides on a long, 112-inch wheelbase, which contributes to an elegant, planted appearance. The rear door is particularly long, however, making it more difficult for your rear-seat passengers to climb in and out in tight parking lots.
All Auras XE models ride on 17-inch wheels; steel wheels with wheel covers are standard; attractive alloy wheels are optional. XR models ride on dressy 14-spoke, 18-inch machined-surface alloy wheels. A power moonroof is optional, and if that's not enough, a four-panel glass panoramic roof is also available, bringing the sun into both rows of seats. Both glass roofs come with sun shades. The sun shade for the panoramic roof is motorized.
The Aura's rear end is dominated by glitzy, high-mounted taillamps that mirror the headlamps' almond shape while incorporating two strips of fast-illuminating LED brake lights. The bumper is tall, which doesn't help loading cargo into the trunk in any way. The rear bumper has subtle cutouts to accommodate twin chrome exhaust tips.
The interior of the Saturn Aura is tasteful, if somewhat bland, with an assortment of materials of mixed quality. Control operation is straightforward and the ergonomic layout is ideal. Many secondary controls are shared with other models in the GM family, including the stereo, turn signal stalks and steering wheel.
Front seats offer reasonable support for most people, though we would like to see better lumbar support. We found the fabric upholstery to be of high quality. The quality of the optional leather on both the XE and XR seemed marginal, however, with the only exception being XR models equipped with the cool-looking Moroccan Brown interior featuring uniquely grained, embossed leather seating inserts. The available eight-way power adjustments for the driver made it easier to get comfortable than in the six-way manual seats. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, though it feels one size too large for this car. At least with leather-equipped cars, the steering wheel feels good in the hand thanks to soft leather wrapping, which is far preferable to the grainy urethane texture of the wheel of cloth-equipped Auras.
Ergonomics are quite good. The front-seat elbow rest cleverly extends into the B-pillar for an additional four centimeters of elbow room, to accommodate taller drivers who slide the seat rearward. The cover for the center console slides fore and aft for comfortable elbow resting on the inboard side. Outward vision through the windshield and side windows is good. The rear shelf, however, is quite high, blocking a fair amount of vision through the rearview mirror and increasing the size of the blind spots, especially for shorter drivers.
The deep-set, electroluminescent speedometer and tachometer are lovely, illuminated in a modern-looking amber shade. A trip computer/vehicle information display is nestled in the speedometer. However, the display is too small to show more than 16 characters at the same time. Therefore, only one aspect of the trip information (the trip odometer, standard odometer, fuel economy, the gear indicator for the manual mode for the XR's six-speed automatic, and so on) can be viewed at any given time. There has to be a way they could have gotten more information displayed at the same time.
Interior trim is mixed in quality but pleasingly designed, with padded materials covering the curvaceous dash top and door panels, but less impressive hard plastic most everywhere else. There are other materials as well, including generous swaths of silvery metallic or wood-grained plastic trim, made more attractive by chrome details in many well-placed locations. We would like to say that these materials are up to snuff compared with Toyota, Honda and even Hyundai, but in truth, they're not quite there. At least the panel fit is tight and among the best we've seen on an American product.
All controls, buttons and knobs feel upscale feel in their operation. Controls for the standard, six-speaker, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo as well as the optional, 240-watt eight-speaker sound system with six-disc changer include presets that are not band-specific; in other words, AM, FM and optional XM stations can exist in the same bank of buttons; no need to change bands. This makes a big difference when jumping around to your favorite stations in everyday use; most systems require pushing two buttons to do this rather than one. Also on the premium audio system are separate rear-seat audio controls with two infrared headphones. Best of all, all Aura stereos come with auxiliary input jacks for iPods and other MP3 players.
The Aura does not offer an optional navigation system, but it does come with a year of OnStar services, which now offer clever turn-by-turn directions. This navigational feature, offered on any vehicle with OnStar 7.0 and later, delivers the guidance benefits of a conventional, map-based navigation system with voice commands, but instead of requiring the driver to input the desti.
On the road, the Saturn Aura behaves very much like a European family sedan. In other words, it has a taut feel with good steering quality and an overall feeling that the brakes, suspension and powertrain are in agreement with each other. This is not surprising, given the car's structural roots, which are shared with the fine-driving Saab 9-3 and Opel Vectra.
The XE's 224-hp 3.5-liter V6 and four-speed automatic are good enough for most drivers, in our opinion. The base 3.5-liter V6 is much more powerful than the four-cylinders found in most of the base models of the Aura's competition. It could be a touch smoother and quieter under full-throttle, but the strong acceleration speaks for itself. Even better, the engine quiets back down to near silence as soon as cruising speeds are attained.
The XR's 252-hp 3.6-liter V6 is considerably stronger and more relaxed in character, thanks to a more sophisticated engine design. The six-speed automatic comes with optional Tap-Shift paddle shifters on the steering wheel to make manual shifting possible when the selector is moved from D to M. While the XR's engine and transmission are undeniably more enjoyable than those of the XE, they are not so much better as to warrant buying the XR on that basis alone, which is meant to be a testament to the quality of the base 3.5-liter engine rather than a criticism of the 3.6-liter motor. (The XR's Moroccan Brown leather option comes to mind, for example.)
Fuel efficiency is excellent for both models and compares favorably with other mid-size sedans. The Aura XE is rated 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Even more remarkable is the Aura XR's nearly identical 20 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway, in spite of its significant additional power. Credit the taller gearing of the six-speed automatic, which allows the engine to spin at a lower rpm at highway speeds.
The fully independent suspension splits the difference between ride quality and handling, both of which are quite good. While handling feels much like that of the Saab 9-3 with which it shares its architecture, the ride quality is more like that of a Toyota Camry, which is known for its smoothness. Furthermore, thanks to the use of sound-deadening materials everywhere from the firewall to the side glass and wheelwells, the interior is near-silent even at speeds over 75 mph.
The Aura's variable-ratio power steering is well weighted at highway speeds, offering plenty of road feel, while with just 2.8 turns, lock-to-lock, it's plenty helpful in low-speed parking lot maneuvers. Offsetting that, however, is a particularly wide 40.4-foot turning circle.
The Aura features four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. They felt good and worked well in normal driving.
Traction control is standard on the Aura XE, while the Aura XR is upgraded to Stabilitrack, GM's excellent electronic stability control system.
The 2007 Saturn Aura is a classy, mid-size family sedan that combines front-wheel-drive dynamics with contemporary styling, a decent interior and very good fuel economy. It is safe and easy to drive. For drivers on a budget, the XE model should be enough. Buyers looking for something more refined in the driving department, as well as more interior features will prefer the XR. Either way, the Aura's attractive price and good fuel economy make it a compelling choice for buyers looking at Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Steve Siler filed this report from Santa Barbara, California.
Saturn Aura XE ($20,495); XR ($24,495).
Kansas City, Kansas.
Options As Tested
Enhanced Convenience Package ($425) includes a 6-way power passenger seat and power adjustable pedals,; premium floor mats ($100); XM radio ($199).
Saturn Aura XR ($23,945).
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