First Drive: 2008 Saturn Vue
By Shaun Bailey of Road & Track
Any compact SUV can be summed up as adequate transportation — it's a jack of all trades, but master of none. The 2008 Saturn Vue is just that. Among its competitors are the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, and its price range between $20,000 and $30,000 puts it squarely in the middle. So for all you poor souls who have to endure the practicality of a compact SUV, the question is, how does the Vue stack up to the competition?
From a driving standpoint, the Vue's all-new steel unit-body chassis is a huge improvement. The 3.6-liter V-6 AWD XR version I drove felt solid and rides more sportingly than the CR-V or RAV4. Saturn's Red Line edition is going to be even sharper and more handling-oriented, but we'll have to wait until the fall of 2007 for that. The Saturn Vue rides like a tall sedan, which is purely intentional. Compact SUV buyers should really be buying minivans, but nobody wants to drive one of those, so instead they buy something that looks like an off-road vehicle but drives like a sedan.
This shift to a sporting ride quality is a result of GM's global manufacturing plan. Opel, GM's European marque, tuned the suspension. In the past, the U.S. would have received different components for a more compliant suspension. The 2008 Vue will have the same suspension both here and in Europe, and a truly European ride quality when it goes on sale this summer.
The U.S. will get three engine choices: an Ecotec 2.4-liter inline-4 making 169 bhp, a 3.5-liter V-6 producing 222 bhp, or a 3.6-liter V-6 generating 257. Only the XE FWD will be offered with the 4-cylinder, but if it is optioned with all-wheel drive, the XE comes with the 3.5 V-6. All V-6 engines come standard with a 6-speed automatic transmission, while the base 4-cylinder receives only a 4-speed automatic. Although all Vues are manufactured in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico, we won't be offered the 5-speed manual that is sold to Europeans. It's a pity too, because that might make it appeal to U.S. car enthusiasts.
The XR I drove had standard 17-in. wheels, although 16-in. is standard on the other models. Base features include 4-wheel disc brakes, ABS and stability control with a rollover mitigation feature. A host of front airbags is standard, as well as curtain bags that extend to the rear passengers. The stability system incorporates anti-sway technology for towing safety, which keeps the vehicle straight in potentially dangerous situations. The Vue is rated to tow 1500 lb. with the inline-4 and up to 3500 lb. with either V-6. All Saturns are equipped with GM's OnStar system.
The nearly $3000 step up in price from the previous generation is mostly due to the additional standard safety equipment, but also the upmarket interior options. These include leather, heated seats, navigation, an 8-way power driver's seat, automatic rain-sensing wipers, climate control and remote start. I had a pleasant ride in an AWD XR with the 3.6-liter V-6; it wasn't lacking for power and easily beat the old model for comfort. The previous Vue V-6 was a Honda unit, but now all the engine choices are kept in the GM family. Fully optioned, the Vue was quite luxurious with XM radio and a navigation system. It was noticeably quiet and comfortable.
There are two more models coming as well. The previously mentioned performance-oriented Red Line will feature more aggressive body styling, stiffer shocks and springs as well as 18-in. wheels. Although its V-6 is the same as the XR's, it may receive direct injection that could bump output to nearly 300 bhp. For those looking to be eco-friendly, the Green Line is due this winter as a dual-mode hybrid using the base engine with a large hybrid drive electric system. Farther down the line, Saturn promises a plug-in hybrid and lithium-ion battery technology.