2007 Saturn Aura: First Drive


Yesterday, a few of us from were invited to an early ride-and-drive event for GM’s upcoming model year. Most of the day was dedicated to the Saturn line, with three new vehicles for us to test. Most important to the company is the new midsize Aura sedan, and it elicited some interesting feedback from the staff.

David Thomas: Saturn has delivered one of the best-handling, smoothest-riding and dead-quiet midsize sedans on the market. The Aura is just a marvel of affordable engineering. Too bad the interior lacks the same refinement as the new SUVs and trucks from GM. I don’t think the company has moved fast enough to translate those top-of-the-class cabins to its cars quite yet.

I tested both the entry XE, with a 224-hp, 3.5-liter V-6, and the upper-level XR, with a new 3.6-liter V-6 that makes 252 hp, and I can happily say even the XE will deliver a smooth commute. The XE starts at $20,595, while the XR starts at $24,595. Even with an additional $4,000 on the sticker, the XR is the real deal with manual shift buttons on the steering wheel and healthy acceleration. The six-speed transmission and larger V-6 offer a better driving experience than the Accord V-6, but import buyers will have to get past the interior to discover it.

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Mike Hanley: The new Aura is one of the most stylish midsize cars to use GM’s Epsilon platform. Though it shares the extended-wheelbase version of the platform with the Pontiac G6, the Aura looks better-proportioned to my eye, and it wears Saturn’s new grille, which is much more distinctive than ones worn by previous Saturns.

I agree with Dave that both the 3.5- and 3.6-liter V-6s are competent performers. The higher-rated 3.6-liter V-6 definitely feels more powerful than the smaller engine, and it sounds more refined, too, but the differences are minor. Accelerator pedal response for both engines is good, without any lag.

The Aura’s ride strikes a good balance between tautness and bump absorption. It’s definitely on the firm side, but occupants aren’t punished by imperfect pavement. It’s a setup that would be easy to live with regardless of the types of roads you drive on. I was also impressed with how well body roll was controlled in the XR through fast corners.

The front seats are comfortable, and there’s room for adults in the back. Besides minor fit and finish issues and some rubberized surfaces that could definitely prove hard to keep clean, interior quality is acceptable and the gauges are especially legible.

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Kelsey Mays: Dave is right: The Aura’s interior isn’t quite ready for prime time. A power-reclining passenger seat and a navigation system are not available. That’s excusable, given the loaded Aura XR at the event cost thousands less than a top-of-the-line Camry or Accord. But there’s more. The Aura’s center floor hump in back seems rather pronounced for a front-wheel-drive car, and both an overhead sunglass holder and backseat center armrest were MIA. Nearly every Camry and Accord come with those.

As Mike and Dave wrote, the Aura’s saving grace — indeed, its core competence — is its road manners. Throttle tip-in is immediate with both drivetrains, and the smaller V-6 pulled me to speed with no complaint. The larger, Cadillac-sourced V-6 sounds a bit more European, and the six-speed automatic swaps gears smartly. The Aura XE’s handling is reasonably tight, though I found the Aura XR to offer less body roll and heavier steering. The brakes in both models felt sure-footed.

Outside, the Aura is a looker. Its lines are as good an indication as any that Saturn has moved on from the slatted headlights that carried it through much of the last decade. I only wish the interior offered the same pizzazz.

Photo of David Thomas
Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon. Email David Thomas

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