2009 Saturn VUE Expert Review:Autoblog
We attended the New York-area "GM Collection" event this week, which is basically an opportunity for journalists to drive a variety of 2009 models up at Bear Mountain, an hour or so outside Manhattan. What we didn't know going in was that GM would bring along three production-spec examples of the '09 Saturn Vue 2 Mode Hybrid, and that this would be the first opportunity to take the new gas-electric 'ute for a spin. Bear in mind that this impression is based on about 25 minutes of shared time with the car (we buddied up with Jalopnik's Wes Siler). The official full-dog-and-pony-show media launch event is set to take place in December, and we'll be on hand for that as well. For now though, follow the jump to see some initial impressions of the new Saturn hybrid.
All Photos Copyright © 2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
The Vue 2 Mode Hybrid is pretty self-explanatory: it's a Saturn Vue, and it's the first non-GMT900 ride to get the 2 Mode hybrid setup. It'll slot above the existing Saturn Vue "light" hybrid (née Green Line) in the lineup, targeting drivers who desire fuel economy on par with the four-cylinder hybrid, but want more power and/or towing capacity. The 2 Mode Vue's gas engine is a direct-injected version of the widely-used 3.6L "high feature" powerplant. In this case, it makes 262 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque and only front-wheel-drive is available. (The AWD Vue Red Line we reviewed last year, by comparison, made 257 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque with the non-DI version of this engine. Its EPA rating was 16 city/22 hwy.)
It works in concert with the hybrid sysyem, which incorporates a pair of 55 kW electric motors, a 300V battery, regenerative braking and the 2 Mode transmission, which sports two electronically variable modes and four fixed mechanical gear ratios to optimize efficiency at both lower, around-town speeds and highway velocity. Unlike the light hybrid system in the other Vue Hybrid, the 2 Mode can run in EV-only mode at low speeds, in addition to doing all the other stuff you expect, such as killing the engine when stopped. The result is a projected fuel economy rating of 28 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. This, with a 3,500-pound tow capacity and a projected sticker price of around $33,000.
Appearance-wise, it looks just like a Vue XR. Only the Vue XR doesn't have three hybrid badges (one on each fender and one on the tailgate) and four hybrid decals (one on the windshield, one on the rear window, and the gigunda things that span the lower door panels). Short of getting a full "HYBRID" bus wrap on the thing, you can't really announce your greenie status any more unless you head to the Toyota store.
If you've driven a conventionally-powered 3.6L Vue, you're not really in for anything earth-shatteringly different. When you twist the key, the car powers on, but the engine doesn't fire (a green car icon in the instrument cluster tells you the car's good to go), and at low speed it'll stay in battery mode if you keep a light enough foot on the gas pedal. Punch it, and the Vue pulls strongly and accelerates at a reasonable clip, either under engine power alone or while getting an assist from the electric motor as well. Like we said, it feels basically like the gas-only XR. At 4,265 pounds, it's almost 200 pounds heavier, though.
Interior? The tach's replaced by an "efficiency gauge" that shows you how you're using the powertrain (battery on one extreme, engine on the other) and also incorporates a separate gauge that indicates the battery's level of charge. If you opt for the nav system, then you get an animated powertrain graphic on that screen, as well. The rest is no different than its sister vehicles. The battery is stored under the rear cargo floor and does not intrude into the cabin space at all. There's no spare tire as a result – the Vue 2 Mode just comes with a compressor kit.
So, first impression? Nice ride. It does all the hybrid stuff you want/expect it to, and it performs well when called upon. The projected mileage numbers are good, but the FWD Escape Hybrid does better; it's less muscular, though, and only tows 1,000 pounds. If you're really set on a Vue and don't need the towing capacity that the 2 Mode setup affords, the light hybrid Vue costs almost $5,000 less and delivers very similar fuel economy at 25 city/32 highway, according to the EPA. One thing's certain: you've got some choices now, which is certainly not a bad thing.
We'll come back with more detailed impressions after Sam gets a longer look at the car in December.
All Photos Copyright © 2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Quality, versatility, style and just the right size.
This is the second year for the second generation of the Saturn Vue, a sweet spot in terms of reliability. Completely redesigned for the 2008 model year this latest Saturn Vue is based on a German Opel, and it offers quality fit and finish, a versatile interior, tasteful style, and solid value in a compact crossover utility vehicle. It represents a vast improvement over the first-generation Vue. It drives nice and handles well. And many find it's just the right size.
The Vue is stylish outside, while inside is a versatile cabin that offers several alternatives for hauling people or cargo. The interior is attractive and European in style, modern and classy, with comfortable seats.
The 2009 Saturn Vue is available in three trim levels, with three engines, two transmissions and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The standard four-cylinder engine delivers an EPA fuel economy rating of 19/26 mpg City/Highway. Equipped with the V6, the Vue is rated at 17/24 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive, and with all-wheel drive it's rated 16/23 mpg. Properly equipped, the Vue V6 is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds. We found it delivers more than sufficient power and acceleration performance, especially with either of the two V6 engines.
Saturn has given the Vue a generous level of safety equipment. The Vue comes standard with a full complement of air bags, traction and stability control, and anti-lock brakes.
Since the Vue was all-new for 2008, changes for 2009 are minor. Brake Assist now comes standard on all models, there is an enhanced Driver Information Center, the Convenience Package for the XE model now includes heated seats, there is an available Chrome Package for the V6 models, there are some new colors, and a few other small changes.
With lots of standard features, good power, decent fuel economy, a commendable level of ride and handling, and a versatile interior, the Saturn Vue represents a vehicle that's full of space and storage, easy to use, easy to drive, and easy on the eyes.
The 2009 Saturn Vue comes in a choice of XE, XR and Red Line trim levels. Three powertrains are available: The 2.4-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine, a 3.5-liter V6 engine, and a high-feature 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing. The four-cylinder engine has a four-speed automatic transmission, and the two V6 engines are mated to GM's six-speed automatic. All three trim levels are available in front-drive and all-wheel-drive versions, but the four-cylinder engine is available only with two-wheel drive.
The availability and content of the various option packages is somewhat dependent upon the trim levels, but, basically there is a Preferred Package with eight-way power driver's seat, leather wheel, heated power mirrors, lighted visor vanity mirrors, and automatic temperature control ($1,020); a Convenience Package with rain-sensing wipers, heated washer fluid, remote starting and a universal remote for gates, garage doors and home lighting ($920); a Premium Package with leather seating, leather shift knob, and heated front seats ($1,075); and a Chrome Package, with front and rear lower fascia moldings ($195). Other options include a DVD navigation and CD/MP3 player system ($2,145) and a high-end stereo system ($325). Also available is a trailer towing package ($350), power sunroof ($850), fog lamps ($150), cargo cover ($85), cargo divider, and a stereo/six-CD upgrade ($295).
Safety features include OnStar Safe and Sound emergency communications, ABS, Bake Assist, traction control, and StabiliTrak electronic stability control. This version of StabiliTrak includes a trailer-stabilizing system that automatically applies the brakes when it detects the trailer swaying behind the vehicle.
The exterior design of the Vue is based on the European Opel Antara and is crisp, sporty and modern from every angle. In our opinion, the new Vue is the best-looking, most together vehicle Saturn has ever offered.
The Vue has a distinctly Saturn grille, a much busier under-bumper and skid-plate area to add visual interest, multi-element headlamp units sweeping around the front corners, a forward-leaning rear door, big wheel arch accents, an arching roofline with well-integrated roof bars, and a forward-leaning rear side window and D-pillar to give a much more sporty and modern impression.
Sizewise, the Vue is right in the heart of the segment with all of the other domestic and imported five-door, five-seat crossover SUVs, exactly 15 feet long overall on a 106-inch wheelbase. The Vue uses the same underpinnings as the European Opel Antara, tuned for America, which means simple, effective MacPherson strut front suspension with coil springs, and independent rear suspension with trailing arms, coil springs, and lateral locating links.
Our first impression inside the Saturn Vue was extremely positive. The European-inspired look is clean, modern and classy in terms of design, appearance, materials and function. There's a good balance of brightwork to panels from the left door across the instrument panel and dashboard to the right door, and the heating/air conditioning vents are big, round and nicely done.
The driver's bucket seat is comfy, containing but not restrictive. The seating position at front left is commanding and comfortable, and everything is within easy reach. Arranged ahead of the driver is a lovely array of multi-colored instruments surrounded by brushed-metal rings. The instrument panel is pleasant to look at and easy to read and use, night or day. Saturn has chosen brushed metal over shiny chrome, which avoids problems with fingerprints and sun reflections, and for that we give high marks. The steering wheel is a work of art, with radio and cruise control buttons built in, a thick rim with lovely stitching and a nice set of metallic accents in the lower half. The steering wheel offers tilt adjustability, but does not telescope.
The touch-screen for the AM/FM/XM radio and the navigation system is big and bright and high enough in the center of the dash to be read quickly and safely, yet low enough to stay out of the glaring sunlight most of the time. It's one of the easiest systems to use of all the competitors in this segment, with big markings and good contrast. There's no wood in here, but the plastics, metals and fabrics are all very touchable and good-looking. Down below, the shifter is a single-gate model, surrounded again by brushed metal.
There's 56 cubic feet of cargo room just inside the easy-lift tailgate with the 60/40 second-row seats flopped down. There's a huge glovebox, an under-seat box under the front passenger seat, more storage in the second-row console, and, hiding under the cargo floor is a whole network of nooks, crannies and cubbies built into the spare tire carrier assembly, and some almost-hidden storage way up front in the compartment.
In the cargo compartment floor are two sets of rails into which fit a set of six sliding chocks to help secure cargoes of all shapes and sizes, with more tie-downs in the floor and in the seatbacks. Fold the front passenger seat down, and you can easily carry a one-man kayak inside the Vue with room left over for wetsuit, paddles and a whole lot more gear.
Compared with other five-seat crossover utility vehicles from the Japanese, Korean, European and domestic competition, the Saturn Vue behaves more like a European vehicle. That makes sense, given its German Opel roots.
The power steering is not overboosted or mushy, and has good but not great road feel. The ride is taut without being jarring, and body roll control is right up there with the best of the other Europeans, including BMW and Land Rover, so the Vue invites spirited driving, especially through long sweeping curves. Isolation from the world outside is very good.
We were very impressed with the acceleration performance from the available 3.6-liter V6. Paired with the new six-speed transmission, this engine makes the Vue smooth, quiet, and authoritative without a lot of noisy cabin intrusion. The 257-hp V6 engine is near the top of the class in terms of power and torque. It'll accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about seven seconds flat. In sixth gear, the engine sound all but disappears, providing a relaxed, easy cruising mode.
We like brakes that start braking right at the top of the pedal travel, and the Saturn Vue's brakes delivered on that, with lots of braking power at the initial stab of the pedal and even more with more pedal travel, very linear and effective.
The Saturn Vue is a nice compact crossover utility vehicle, certainly one of the best in its segment. It boasts very good performance, real room for five, storage possibilities galore, and tons of personality. Built in Mexico to a very high quality standard, it's the best Saturn product so far, and we recommend you add it to your looking list.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Detroit.
Saturn Vue XE FWD 4-cylinder ($23,280); XE AWD V6 ($25,955); XR FWD 4-cylinder ($25,395); XR FWD V6 ($26,435); XR AWD V6 (28,435); Red Line FWD V6 ($28,935); Red Line AWD V6 ($30,935).
Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.
Options As Tested
Convenience Package ($920); Premium Package ($1,075); navigation with AM/FM CD/MP3 ($2,145); Advanced Audio Package ($325).
Saturn Vue XR AWD V6 ($28,435).
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