The Saturn Vue is trying hard to be all things to all SUV people. We have the Vue Green Line, with a gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain designed to maximize fuel economy. We have the regular Vue, offered with either a four-cylinder engine, or your choice of two V-6 engines. And we have the Vue Red Line, the pseudo-high-performance version with a 3.6-liter, 257-horsepower V-6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.
That's the Vue from here -- the Red Line, complete with nice five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels and grippy tires; a lowered, stiffer suspension, big dual chrome exhaust tips, and modified front and rear body trim that complete, says Saturn, "the aggressive appearance."
Well, aggressive, in the same way that a cocker spaniel probably appears more aggressive than a dachshund. This remains a friendly, nonthreatening SUV, no matter how big Saturn makes the tailpipes. And there's nothing wrong with that.
This new Vue is a decided step up from the previous model, with a mostly European feel that serves its customers well. While the Red Line is no faster than an XR model with this same engine and transmission, the tweaks to the suspension do help cornering, with no real degradation to the ride quality. This is a world-class powertrain, which is why it's showing up on a wide variety of GM vehicles. Fuel mileage is about average at an EPA-rated 16 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway, but at least that's on regular gas.
Inside, the Red Line has special charcoal suede upholstery with red stitching, special floor mats and unique gauges. There remains plenty of plastic, and some of those plastic seams don't line up as tightly as they should, but this is a comfortable cockpit, especially up front. Head and elbow room in the firm, upright back seat is ample, but legroom may be tight for tall passengers.
Outside, the Saturn Red Line is a handsome vehicle, but I don't see "aggressive" from any angle. On the road, acceleration is quite good, and steering and handling are above average, thanks in part to the P235/55R-18 radials. Safety equipment abounds, including electronic stability control, antilock disc brakes, side and side-curtain air bags, OnStar and traction control. In fact, the Red Line comes pretty much loaded -- there were no options on the test vehicle, which had a list price of $27,395, including shipping. It lacked a navigation system, which is offered as an option, and a sunroof, which is not. The test Vue was front-wheel-drive -- all-wheel-drive adds $2,000. Check all the option boxes on the Red Line all-wheel-drive and you're closing in on $34,000, a long way from the base price of less than $22,000 for the four-cylinder model.
At any price level, though, the Vue represents a pretty competitive product. Saturn remains one of the hottest brands, and the 2008 Vue, in any configuration, is a substantial part of that success.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smithcan be reached at email@example.com .