2004 Saturn VUE

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2002 Saturn VUE

This 2002 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2005.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 6

Bottom Line:

Late but pleasant sport-utility addition to the Saturn vehicle family.
Pros:
  • Comfortable
  • Smooth CVT transmission
  • Dent-resistant body panels
Cons:
  • Bland styling
  • Average handling
  • Artificial feeling power steering

The late arrival of Saturn's new VUE sport-utility vehicle shouldn't be surprising. After all, General Motors has pretty much neglected its Saturn division since its arrival about a dozen years ago—despite outstanding loyalty of Saturn owners.

For the most part, GM has just updated Saturn's aged small 4-cylinder coupes, sedans and wagons. The addition of a midsize sedan with a V6 in 2000 didn't do much to juice up the Saturn line because it was bland and derived from a GM European trim. Other Saturn cars have had All-American "in-house" designs, although they've always been average.

However, Saturn's attentive dealers and no-haggle pricing policy has helped generate unusually high loyalty that GM finally intends to take full advantage of with future trims.

All in the Family
The VUE has the same general look and feel of other Saturns. Saturn loyalists should almost immediately feel at home in it.

The new sport utility has the conservative styling of Saturn cars—and the same noticeable gaps between the plastic body panels that are needed to let the plastic expand and contract with temperature variations.

But at least these are dent-resistant and no-rust panels, which is a definite asset for sport utilities destined to spend much of its life in crowded, slam-bang shopping center parking lots.

Versatile
The VUE is a sensible Saturn "move-up" trim. It has considerably more room than other Saturns and is plenty versatile. For instance, the rear seatbacks and even the right front seatback flip forward to expand cargo capacity. Clever features include a collapsible plastic holder for grocery bags and dual storage areas for 1-gallon milk containers in the cargo area.

Variety of Trim Levels
The VUE isn't one of those "one-size-fits-all" sport utilities. It comes in a variety of trim levels. There is a front-wheel-drive 4-cylinder trim with a rather balky 5-speed manual transmission—or with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that is the first to be used in an SUV.

The CVT is unusually smooth because it has variable drive ratios instead of conventional gear changes.

There also are two all-wheel-drive trims. One has a 4-cylinder engine and the CVT transmission. The other has a more powerful V6 and a conventional, responsive 5-speed automatic transmission.

As might be suspected with a Saturn, the VUE isn't suited for rough off-road use, partly because the all-wheel-drive system lacks low-range gearing.

All Saturns have been affordable, and the VUE is no exception. Its base prices go from $16,325 to $18,860 for the 4-cylinder trims. The V6 version costs $22,575.

Affordable
Popular options are expected to include a $725 power sunroof, $575-$595 anti-lock brakes, $395 side-curtain airbags and a $500-$790 AM/FM/cassette with an in-dash 6-disc CD changer.

Even the entry VUE has features that include air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, an AM/FM radio, intermittent wipers and a rear window defroster.

The V6 version adds items such as cruise control, remote keyless entry—and power windows, locks and mirrors. Many Saturn buyers are expected to want those power items, so they're in a $1,360 Power Package for 4-cylinder trims.

Average Performance
The fairly smooth 2.2-liter 4-cylinder generates 143 horsepower and provides adequate acceleration if you're not in much of a hurry. It works well with both the manual and CVT transmissions.

The 3.0-liter 181-horsepower V6 allows much stronger acceleration to 60 mph, but average 65-75 mph passing times even with only a driver aboard.

Saturns never have been hot rods, so it's doubtful that VUE buyers will expect neck-snapping performance—especially those in the sport-utility market.

Both engines are noisy during hard acceleration, but that's always been the case with Saturn motors. At least the 4-cylinder engine is quieter than one might expect.

Saturn owners aren't a gas-guzzling crowd, so they should be satisfied with the VUE's fuel economy. The 4-cylinder provides an estimated 21-23 mpg in the city and 26-28 on highways. The V6 provides 19 and 25—and loafs at 75 mph.

The VUE's unique electric power steering replaces hydraulic boost. It's generally acceptable, but takes getting used to. It's vague at the on-center steering wheel position and has an artificial feel both in town and on highways. Saturn said in April that it's working on improving the steering.

Pretty Comfortable
The VUE is a generally "soft" vehicle. Its all-independent suspension provides a smooth ride that stops short of being mushy. Handling is average, with a fair amount of body sway in turns. The brakes are controlled by a pedal with a decent, progressive action and do fine during normal stops.

There are large, easily gripped outside door handles and a low floor that makes it easy to get in and out. However, some elderly folks may wonder why there are no grab handles above any door to ease entry and exit.

The generally quiet interior has a no-nonsense design. It looks like it has too much inexpensive plastic, but occupants sit high. The windshield is big, although its large pillars occasionally block a driver's view when, say, the VUE is turning corners. Gauges can be read quickly and climate controls are large. However, radio controls are too small for easy driver operation.

Roomy
There is good room for four 6-footers, or for five such persons on shorter trips because the center of the rear seat isn't high and hard, as is the case with many sport utilities. But the front seats should be larger and provide more support.

The hatch is easy to open, thanks partly to a large release handle. The big cargo area has a low floor and the 70/30 split rear seatbacks fold fairly flat if you want to load more items.

Front and rear cupholders are conveniently located. And rear windows roll all the way down, letting kids in the back seat more easily reach for food and beverages in drive-thru lanes at fast-food outlets.

The VUE isn't outstanding, but provides plenty of versatility and comfort. Saturn could have done worse in its first try with a sport utility.

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BB05 - 9/1/2014 12:04:11 PM