This past week, I was wrapped in plastic. I was driving the new Saturn Vue.
The Saturn Vue is the latest in a line of vehicles that have the look and all-wheel-drive attributes of an SUV, but have the chassis and handling of a car. This niche in the market is becoming crowded with nameplates, including the Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda Tribute and Ford Escape.
Certainly Saturn has spent its entire life watching trucks soar in popularity without any to sell.
Now that has changed, even though the Saturn is as much car as truck.
Its compact looks hide its size, which is bigger than that of its competition. With a tall, squarish greenhouse and flowing, rounded lines, the vehicle has a fresh, distinctive look.
That look includes Saturn's trademark plastic body panels over a steel space frame. It looks like metal, until you punch it.
The plastic continues inside with acres of it decorating a durable, modern interior. Certainly, the interior is no different in its use of plastics than many of its competitors. But it is the quality of the plastic that's disappointing. All that plastic rattles.
The dash features large, easy-to-read gauges that have an elegant look. The audio and climate controls are housed in the center stack and are easy to operate.
The front bucket seats are chair height and offer average support. The rear seats are low and uncomfortable. They fold to add space to the already generous cargo hold. The cargo hold features a strange fold-out plastic support to hold smaller items. A cargo net would be more useful.
Saturn uses a steering wheel similar to that used on other Saturn models. Its large spokes take up too much space, rendering part of the steering wheel uncomfortable at times.
The Vue comes with either front or all-wheel-drive. Engine choices include either a 143-horsepower 2.2-liter Ecotec in-line-four-cylinder (from the Saturn S-series) or a 181-horsepower 3-liter V-6 (from the L-series). The four-cylinder comes with your choice of a 5-speed manual or continuously-variable automatic transmission. The V-6 comes only with a five-speed automatic transmission.
The test vehicle was an all-wheel-drive model.
Power is good, although it's hampered somewhat by a transmission that upshifts too quickly. The Vue's handling was surprising when pulling away from a stop. Similar to the Pontiac Aztek, the Vue runs in front-wheel-drive most of the time. If the front wheels start to slip, power is transferred to the rear wheels. As a result, despite being an all-wheel-drive vehicle, the vehicle pulls to one side, then as all-wheel-drive kicks in, pulls to the other.
But the Vue does hold its own in corners. There, grip is strong, despite some body lean. The Saturn is not meant for off-roading and one trip off-road will convince you. This is a road warrior only.
Ride quality is average. Wind, road, tire and engine noise are a constant accompaniment.
Fuel economy is good for this type of vehicle. A test loop of mixed driving returned 19 mpg, the city rating according to the EPA.
The Saturn Vue is a handsomely designed vehicle. Its drivetrain is strong, and it's good to see GM joining the rest of the world with a five-speed automatic. But, handling needs to be resolved, as does interior quality.
If any line needs new product, it's Saturn. The Saturn Vue should help Saturn stay in the thick of a growing market.
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