It's easy to long for a simpler automobile era when the vehicle you're testing goes by a near-novel-length name: the 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid.
Remember when it was easy to answer the question, "What's that you're driving?"
It's a Chevy. It's a Ford. It's a Dodge.
Sigh. Now, it takes me two breaths to say the name of my ride.
That's progress, I suppose. Happily, the tested, front-drive Vue Green Line sport-utility vehicle actually does represent progress on the technology front for an American automaker.
The Vue's propulsion system includes a 2.4-liter, 16-valve, regular-gas-fueled, in-line 4 engine and a 14.5-kilowatt motor/generator. The electric boost makes the tested Vue a hybrid and explains the Green Line label.
But take note: This Vue is green only to a degree. The motor/generator is designed to be a supplemental power source for the gas- fueled power plant. In other words, the Green Line's electrical system does not do the same heavy lifting as the one in the Toyota Prius.
But here's what the Vue Green Line's hybrid powertrain does do:
* It produces a maximum 170 horsepower, compared with 144 horses on a Vue with a 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engine.
* The Green Line's four-cylinder engine shuts off when the vehicle is stopped, reducing idling; the engine restarts when the brake pedal is released.
* Additional power during acceleration is provided by the electric motor/generator. Fuel flow shuts down early during deceleration.
* A regenerative braking system captures kinetic energy during deceleration to charge the on-board nickel metal hydride battery.
What does all this mean?
The Green Line serves up more performance -- yet better fuel mileage -- than front-drive Saturn Vues with in-line 4, gas-fueled engines.
The Green Line is rated at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway (spot-on with my own calculations). A Vue with a 2.2-liter, 144-horsepower, in-line 4 gets 23/29 mpg with a manual gearbox (22/27 mpg with a four-speed automatic).
Having driven non-hybrid Vues, I can tell you that the extra oomph in the Green Line is nice. So are those few extra dollars saved at the gas pump.
What's more, the Green Line does very little to remind you that it's a hybrid. The only tip-offs are a very slight nudge when the gas engine shuts down at a stop and a small dashboard gauge that lets you know when the generator is being charged and when the electric motor is helping out.
Better still, this limited hybrid system does not entail a hugely pricey premium. The tested Green Line with a four-speed automatic started at a reasonable $22,370. A standard 2007 Vue with a four-speed automatic starts at $19,250.
You can do the math on how long it will take to make up Green Line's extra cost with savings at the fuel pump. Keep in mind that your anticipated savings could be accelerated if gas prices swell again this spring.
Once you sort out the powertrain differences between the two Vues, they are pretty much the same. Like the typical Vue, the Green Line is a practical-size, smooth-riding, five-passenger sport-ute. It has enough cargo space to handle modest hauling chores, and its ride height is sufficient to give driver and passengers a good look at their surroundings. Interior controls are easy to use and understand.
So, are a little extra power and a few more miles per gallon enough to make you opt for an '07 Green Line? That's a personal decision.
During the time I had with the Green Line, I pondered a deeper question: Am I driving something that will soon be considered a dinosaur?
Late in 2006, GM announced it will introduce a two-mode hybrid system in its 2008 Vue Green Line. That model will employ two electric motors to supplement a traditional gas engine for a "45 percent improvement in combined city-highway fuel economy," compared with a gas- fueled Vue.
GM also said it plans to produce a Vue Green Line with plug-in hybrid technology -- meaning extended electric-only propulsion and the capability to recharge the motor/generator via an electrical outlet -- using the two-mode hybrid system and a lithium-ion battery pack to double the fuel efficiency of a gas-powered Vue. So, the '07 Vue Green Line might represent merely a temporary step in GM's hybrid evolution.
Me, I'm just worried about how long the names will become on those future, more sophisticated Vue hybrids.
Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid at a glance
Make/model: 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door, front-drive, hybrid sport-utility vehicle Base price: $22,370 (as tested, $23,750) Engine: 2.4-liter in-line 4 with 170 horsepower at 6,600 revolutions per minute and 162 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm; plus a 14.5-kilowatt electric generator/motor with maximum torque of 115 foot-pounds EPA fuel economy: 27 miles per gallon city; 32 mpg highway (four-cylinder engine takes regular unleaded) Transmission: Four-speed automatic with overdrive Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion Brakes: Power, ventilated discs on front; drum brakes on rear (with anti-lock and regenerative power feature) Suspension: Independent, strut-type on front; independent, with lateral links on rear (coil springs and anti-roll bars front and rear) Fuel tank: 16.3 gallons Passenger volume: 113 cubic feet Cargo volume: 30.8 cubic feet Curb weight: 3,474 pounds Height: 65.3 inches Length: 181.3 inches Wheelbase: 106.6 inches Width: 71.6 inches Track: 61.3 inches on front; 61.2 inches on rear Ground clearance: 6.9 inches Tires: P215/70R16 low rolling resistance radials Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds Final assembly point: Spring Hill, Tenn.