2004 Saturn VUE

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2004 Saturn VUE

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Powerful new V6 and Red Line hot rod version make the VUE stand out more.
Pros:
  • Fast with smooth new V6
  • Good handling
  • Dent-resistant body
Cons:
  • Seats need more support
  • Small audio controls
  • Weird "Electric Lime" color

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.

Keeping Pace
Getting an engine from Honda may seem odd because Saturn always billed itself as an "All-American" car company. But the new V6 make sense because Saturn must change considerably to keep pace with today's vehicle markets.

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.

Dent-Resistant Body
The VUE seats five and comes with dent-resistant side body panels and front- or all-wheel drive with no low-range gearing for tough off-road driving. Base prices range from $16,775 to $23,610. All VUE trim levels have a good amount of standard equipment.

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
The standard VUE has generally pleasant ride and handling, but the hot rod Red Line version really stands out. It was developed with assistance of the GM Performance Division and is the first in Saturn's new series of Red Line high-performance vehicles; they're intended to improve the performance of Saturn cars and trucks and to make its vehicles more exciting—especially to younger buyers.

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
There's no horsepower boost with the Red Line package, but none is really needed. The option gives the VUE an aggressive custom look and improved handling. It contains specially calibrated steering, lowered performance suspension, hefty 50-series tires on large 18-inch alloy wheels, black air intakes, custom front and rear fascias, low profile ground effects, custom stainless steel exhaust trim, Red Line badge and monochromatic paint.

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.

Interior Improvements
Improved interior appointments of the latest VUE look particularly good in the Red Line version. New items include back-lit white gauge faces with chrome rings, painted-nickel-finish interior door handles and dark tinted rear door glass.

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 has a supple all-independent suspension, and the Red Line is the most entertaining version because its sport version of that suspension has shorter, stiffer springs to reduce body sway and to lower the center of gravity for sharper handling. The revised steering has improved on-center feel.

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
It's easy to get in or out of the VUE, which has room for four tall adults, or for five in a pinch. The large windshield provides good front visibility, although its posts occasionally partially block a driver's view. Rear windows lower all the way.

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.

Excessive Plastic
The new gauges can be quickly read, and controls are within convenient reach. Large, smooth climate controls make up for rather small audio system controls. Front console cupholders are positioned to avoid spills. There's a deep front center console bin, but it has a cheap plastic cover. In fact, the interior has too much marginal looking plastic.

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.

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BB04 - 9/15/2014 8:04:33 PM