Late in 2001, Saturn entered the sport utility vehicle arena with its Vue, which was compact in size and intended to be carlike in personality. One special technological touch was a gearless continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive Vues are available. They may be equipped with either a four-cylinder or V-6 engine. Early in 2004, Saturn offered a new Red Line series that promises high-performance sportiness. Rather than the original 3.0-liter V-6, the Red Line gets a Honda 3.5-liter V-6 that develops 250 horsepower. This engine will also be offered in other Vue models. Developed with the assistance of GM’s Performance Division, the Red Line has a lowered performance-tuned suspension, ground-effects body components and 18-inch wheels.
An XM Satellite Radio is newly optional, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system will be available later. Dual-stage front airbags and seat belt pretensioners are part of the 2004 models.
Space-frame construction and dent-resistant polymer bodyside panels are similar to those used on Saturn’s passenger cars. Full-length frame rails and a steel safety cage form a single welded structure.
A horizontal bar sits between large rectangular headlights, and large flares are positioned above each wheel. Car-height bumpers can resist 5-mph impacts. The Vue measures 181.3 inches long overall, rides a 106.6-inch wheelbase and has an 8-inch ground clearance. The SUV has a fully independent suspension and 16-inch tires; all-wheel-drive V-6 models get 17-inch aluminum wheels.
Saturn stylists emphasized user-friendliness. The Vue seats five people, who benefit from easy entry and exit thanks to a step-in height that is 2 to 3 inches lower than normal. The front-passenger seatback folds flat, and rear occupants get a 70/30-split, folding bench seat with a two-position recliner. Cargo volume is 30.8 cubic feet when the backseat is up. All gauges reside on a sloped panel. GM’s OnStar communication system is optional.
Under the Hood
The base 2.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine produces 143 hp. A Getrag five-speed-manual transmission is standard. The optional VTi CVT operates with two variable-diameter pulleys and a special steel belt. The Red Line’s 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine replaces the former 181-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 and is connected to a five-speed automatic. Available all-wheel drive can smoothly transfer up to 100 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels.
Antilock brakes and side curtain-type airbags that deploy in side-impact collisions are available. Three sets of child-safety seat anchors are installed.
With a V-6 engine and an automatic transmission, this SUV is capable and comfortable. The Vue’s ride quality is nearly flawless on smooth pavement, but it can grow skittish on wet surfaces.
Performance with the original V-6 fell short of vigorous, but the new 250-hp engine provides a welcome power boost. The more powerful Vue feels tighter and more stable. Acceleration with a CVT-equipped model is sufficient, but it’s accompanied by plenty of noise.
The Vue’s handling can’t be called sporty, but it’s precise enough. Front and side visibility are excellent due in part to a very low cowl. Getting in and out of this SUV is exceptionally easy.