Saturn entered the sport utility vehicle arena for 2002 with its compact, carlike Vue. One special technological touch was a gearless continuously variable transmission. Saturn dropped the CVT in 2005 for a conventional four- or five-speed automatic.
A Red Line series arrived in early 2004 that promises high-performance sportiness. Developed with the assistance of General Motors' Performance Division, the Red Line has a lowered performance-tuned suspension, ground-effects body components and 18-inch wheels. Rather than the Vue's original 3.0-liter V-6, the Red Line model uses a Honda-built 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 250 horsepower. The 3.0-liter V-6 was later dropped, and all V-6-equipped Vues now have the 3.5-liter engine.
For 2006, the Vue gets exterior and interior appearance upgrades for a more upscale, luxurious appearance. GM's OnStar communication system also becomes standard. XM Satellite Radio and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system are optional.
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.
For 2006, the Vue receives updated exterior styling. Slightly scalloped headlamps replace the previous rectangular design, framing a small, trapezoidal grille. Optional fog lamps are smaller and more recessed, and a pronounced lower air intake sits on a monotone bumper instead of the previous two-tone setup. Car-height bumpers can resist 5-mph impacts.
The Vue measures 181.3 inches long overall, rides a 106.6-inch wheelbase and has 8 inches of ground clearance. A new silver finish on the Red Line's grille echoes Saturn's Aura concept and upcoming Sky roadster. Unique rocker panels and wheels create a more aggressive presence than other Vues. A sunroof is optional.
Saturn's SUV has a fully independent suspension and electric power steering. All-wheel-drive V-6 models get standard 17-inch tires, versus 16-inchers for four-cylinder and front-wheel-drive Vues. Red Line models feature 18-inch aluminum wheels with performance Bridgestone tires.
The 2006 Vue also gets a restyled interior. Updated textures, a new radio design and chrome instrument rings create a more upscale appearance. The steering wheel also gains auxiliary audio controls.
Five occupants benefit from easy entry and exit thanks to a low step-in height. The front-passenger seatback folds flat, and rear occupants get a 70/30-split, folding bench seat. Cargo volume is 30.8 cubic feet when the backseat is up and 63.8 cubic feet when the seat is folded. Side storage bins are included, and the rear cargo organizer flips up.
Under the Hood
The base 2.2-liter four-cylinder produces 143 hp. It teams with a standard Getrag five-speed-manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. The 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 mates with a five-speed automatic. Available all-wheel drive can transfer up to 100 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels.
Antilock brakes are standard on V-6-equipped models and optional on four-cylinder-powered versions. Side curtain-type airbags are available.
Performance with the original V-6 fell short of vigorous, but the current 250-hp V-6 provides a welcome power boost. This model feels tighter and more stable. A regular Vue's handling can't be called sporty, but it's adequately precise. The Red Line is tauter yet. Ride quality is nearly flawless on smooth pavement, but some Vues grow skittish on wet surfaces.
Visibility to the front and side is excellent due in part to a very low cowl. Getting in and out of this SUV is very easy.