Driver's side: Vroom with a VUE The Red Line version of Saturn's SUV features sporty performance.
I am convinced that automakers have this secret contest to come up with the most unique label to indicate high performance in a particular model.
You know the usual suspects and the accompanying lingo: sport-tuned, AMG-tuned, turbo, Super Sport, Toyota Racing Development, Special Vehicle Team, Cobra, Z06, Type-S and SRT8 to name just a few.
For my money, Saturn takes the prize, calling the hot-rod version of its ordinarily sedate VUE sport-utility vehicle the Red Line.
There's some debate whether Red Line is a genuine trim level (the General Motors Web site says yes) or merely a package strapped onto a regular VUE (the sticker on the tested vehicle says yes).
Whatever the case, this sport-ute cooks.
The 2006 tester came with a 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower V-6 linked with all-wheel drive. For those used to the VUE's base in-line 4 engine with 143 horses, this V-6 growler will be a real eye-opener.
Nailing the gas on the Red Line produced a sound something like BROOOOWWWWW! - an entirely pleasant noise. And, yes, it sure is fun zipping onto the interstate comfortably ahead of that BMW that was already at full song when you were at the top of the entrance ramp.
For all its juice, the engine noise was not an overblown annoyance in the cabin. I could hear the engine's exertions, but I did not have to scream to carry on conversations with passengers.
A tighter-than-usual suspension made for good handling, but it also accounted for road imperfections being felt in the seat of the pants.
The Saturn SUV performed well in all conditions, showing surprising road-hugging capabilities on Sierra Nevada foothill turns.
Maybe it was that macho engine noise, the Black Onyx exterior paint or the 18-inch wheels, but the tested Red Line just looked sporty and streamlined. I never thought I'd say those words about a VUE sport-ute, but it's true.
GM said the Red Line's front grille was patterned after Saturn's absolutely sporty Sky roadster coming soon to U.S. dealerships and its Aura sedan concept.
The black color scheme continued inside - indeed, it was part of the tested vehicle's $2,945 Red Line package and the optional $995 Sun and Sound package - with splashes of red tastefully sprinkled throughout the interior to add to the sporty ambience. Chrome-accented pedals also were a part of the look.
XM Satellite Radio, still my favorite motor vehicle add-on, is part of the Sun and Sound package. You get the first three months of XM service free.
By the way, the Red Line can be had in front-wheel drive trim, but I liked the nimbleness of the AWD tester.
Right about now, some of you might be asking: Why would I want to drop $27,000 or so on a souped-up Saturn?
It's a good question, given all the sporty vehicles to be had in today's market. But I give GM credit for putting some pizazz into an SUV that some might regard as needing a vitality transplant.
And for those who insist on hopping up their vehicles after delivery, GM has done the work for you with the Red Line.
The target audience is people who want a small SUV with some pop and style. Nothing wrong with that.
But even those folks probably won't like a couple characteristics that stuck out in my week with the vehicle.
As noted by other auto-reviewing colleagues, the VUE Red Line's turning radius is extra-wide for a small SUV. I was stunned several times by nearly hitting the curb on U-turns that were a snap for past test vehicles, including some full-size sedans.
The other gripe: Rear-seat passengers get bounced around when the VUE Red Line is applying its significant power to even a mild slalom course. If back-seat passengers don't mind locking arms, the spin-dry effect can be lessened.
All in all, however, the '06 VUE Red Line is a nice effort. It gives Saturn VUE buyers the option of kicking their ride up a notch without putting down an enormous amount of extra funds. The cheapest 2006 VUE, a four-cylinder model with a manual gearbox, starts at $17,390, but the tested VUE carried a starting price of $23,050 before adding the Red Line extras.
Some motorists will look at the VUE Red Line and continue heading to the Honda, Ford or Toyota lots. That's OK. It's a free country.
But if you covet a VUE with some vroom, it's available in the Red Line.
SATURN VUE AT A GLANCE Make/model: 2006 Saturn VUE Red Line. Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door, all-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle. Base price: $23,050 (as tested, $27,140). EPA fuel economy: 19 miles per gallon city; 25 mpg highway. Transmission: Five-speed automatic with overdrive and special features. Steering: Electronic, power-assisted rack and pinion. Brakes: Power-assisted, ventilated discs on front; drum-style on rear with anti-lock. Suspension: Independent, strut-type on front; independent, trailing arm on rear (coil springs and anti-roll bars front and rear). Fuel tank: 16.3 gallons. Cargo volume: 30.8 cubic feet. Passenger volume: 113 cubic feet. Curb weight: 3,630 pounds. Track: 61 inches on front and rear. Ground clearance: 8 inches. Height: 66.5 inches. Length: 181.3 inches. Wheelbase: 106.6 inches. Width: 71.5 inches. Tires: P245/50SR18 all-season radials. Assembly point: Spring Hill, Tenn.
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