2004 Saturn VUE
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Never mind that its new V6 is from Honda, the Saturn VUE from General Motors is far more appealing with that engine, which replaces a lackluster GM V6.
The new V6 is the biggest news for the 2004 version of the VUE—as is the hot new Red Line version, which comes only with that engine.
The 3.5-liter 250-horsepower V6 replaces a 3.0-liter 181-horsepower V6. It makes the VUE the most powerful compact sport-utility vehicle—even beating the new BMW X3, which has a top rating of 225 horsepower. Also, the V6 works with a five-speed Honda automatic transmission.
The standard VUE has a 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine with 143 horsepower. It provides adequate acceleration for those not in much of a hurry. It comes with either a 5-speed manual gearbox or smooth continuously variable automatic transmission, which provides variable drive ratios instead of conventional gear changes.
The 4-cylinder version provides an estimated 21-24 mpg in the city and 28-29 mpg on the highway. Figures for the V6 are 19-20 in the city and 25-28 on highways. Front-wheel-drive versions get the best economy.
All versions of the 2004 VUE have items including a larger fuel tank (16.3 gallons vs. 15.5 gallons), dual-stage front airbags, front seat belt pretensioners, improved interiors and available XM satellite radio. There's also an optional 6-way power driver's seat and DVD rear-seat entertainment system.
Red Line Strategy
You get a VUE Red Line by equipping a VUE V6 with front- or all-wheel drive with the $1,995 Red Line package, which turns the VUE into a practical family vehicle that's fun to drive.
Red Line Package
The Red Line is offered in Onyx Black, Silver Nickel and Electric Lime paint. I drove a Red Line in Electric Lime, which drew decidedly mixed reactions. Older folks generally had a thumbs-down reaction to that paint, but younger ones seemed to like it—or at least approved of the Red Line's racier appearance.
No matter what color or trim level, a VUE should continue to look good because of its rust- and dent-resistant body panels.
The V6 version is offered with an optional leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel and shift knob and light argent-finish interior trim plates. It also gets new body color door handles.
Optional are head-protecting side-curtain airbags.
The VUE V6 accelerates smoothly and quickly. The engine is a proven commodity; it's also used in Honda's Pilot sport utility, Odyssey minivan and Acura MDX.
The Honda automatic upshifts smoothly and downshifts quickly. Towing capacity jumps from 2,500 to 3,500 pounds with the new V6.
Entertaining Red Line
The VUE V6 has standard anti-lock brakes and traction control, which are optional for the 4-cylinder VUE. Stopping distances are short, and the pedal has a linear feel.
Easy In and Out
The front seats should provide more side support, but have handy fold-down armrests. There are no grab handles above doors to ease entry and exit for elderly passengers.
The tailgate lacks separate-opening glass, but its large release handle makes it easy to open. The cargo area is roomy, and the 70-30 split rear seatbacks fold fairly flat to enlarge it. The front passenger seatback even folds forward to accommodate long objects.
The hood is held open by an old-fashioned prop rod, but fluid filler areas are easily reached in the engine compartment.
Long-neglected Saturn needs a shot in the arm, and has more to brag about with the new V6 engine and Red Line.