2008 Saturn Vue Green LinePosted on June 11th, 2008
Saturn’s sport-utility vehicle gets a green connection
By Nina Russin
The Saturn Vue is a right-size sport-utility vehicle that holds enough gear to satisfy buyers with active lifestyles, yet can fit into the average parking spot. The second-generation model that rolled out last year comes with either front or all-wheel drive, and includes a hybrid grade that utilizes an electric generator to save gas.
Average fuel economy for the Vue Green Line is 28 miles-per gallon: a twenty percent improvement over the four-cylinder XE. Later this year, Saturn will unveil a second hybrid model based on the same two-mode system as the Chevy Tahoe hybrid.
Priced under $25,000, the Vue Green Line comes with a full-roster of standard safety features, including front, side and side curtain airbags, stability and traction control, four-channel antilock brakes, tire pressure monitoring and active head restraints. OnStar with a one-year subscription to the basic service package automatically notifies emergency personnel whenever the airbags deploy, and can also unlock the car remotely.
An optional towing prep package allows the Vue to tow up to 3500 pounds, meeting our ALV standards. Standard convenience features include automatic climate control, a six-speaker, MP3 compatible audio system with a three-month free subscription to XM satellite radio, cruise control, remote keyless entry and redundant steering wheel controls.
Road trip and heat soak test
Three things set well-engineered hybrids apart from the crowd: fuel economy, acceleration, and air conditioner performance. I decided to put the Vue to the test with a two hundred mile road trip between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona in the middle of the summer heat.
The Vue is a fairly heavy car: curb weight is 3789 pounds. That’s a lot of inertia for a four-cylinder engine to overcome, especially when accelerating from a stop. A thirty mile construction zone on the interstate ensured that we would be doing a lot of stopping and starting.
Hybrids achieve peak fuel economy when power demands are low, but that isn’t the real world. I wanted to minimize steady-state cruising in favor of manic weaving and jackrabbit starts that are the bread and butter of urban commuting.
The road between Phoenix and Tucson climbs a thousand feet: not enough to be noticeable over a hundred miles, but plenty to impact fuel economy. Despite dense traffic and a strong westerly wind, the Vue made it to our destination using about a quarter tank of gas. Fuel economy was twenty-six miles-per-gallon, the minimum EPA estimate for highway driving. Power during acceleration was excellent: the Vue performed more like a six-cylinder car than a four-cylinder.
The four-speed automatic transmission worked seamlessly, with no obvious hunting or downshifting. A fully independent suspension provided a compliant ride while maintaining an excellent on-center feel when I had to make quick lane changes on the highway. Visibility around the car was excellent: I noticed no obvious blind spots while driving or parallel parking.
Once in Tucson, we had a chance to test the air conditioner. The Vue has a mechanical air conditioning compressor that’s driven off the engine. When the engine shuts off at idle to conserve gas, the compressor shuts off as well. Though it wouldn’t be noticeable in average weather, the hot June afternoon made stops at traffic lights uncomfortable. Turning the air conditioner on recirculate helped, but it didn’t completely eradicate the problem.
Driving around Tucson that night, the Vue’s fuel economy was well within the EPA estimates. I also had the chance to drive the car early in the morning with the air conditioner off. In this mode, the car reverts to “eco” mode more frequently. The fuel supply shuts off earlier than normal in the deceleration cycle to save gas.
The return trip involved a net descent of a thousand feet, improving the Vue’s average fuel economy significantly. The entire trip, including forty miles of city driving consumed nine gallons of gas: an average of twenty-seven miles-per-gallon.
One of the things that impresses me about the Green Line is its high level of standard convenience features. The test car has no option upgrades, nor does it need them. The standard cloth upholstery is practical and attractive. Manual adjustments on the driver and front passengers seats are easy to use. The driver’s seat has an adjustable lumbar support.
Redundant audio controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction. Audio and automatic temperature controls in the center stack are easy to reach from either front seating position. The floor console contains two large cupholders large enough for water bottles; the front doors have map pockets and bottle holders as well.
A generous-sized glovebox can easily hold a small pack or purse. A well-designed storage bin in the center console has a narrow shelf for portable electronic devices and a deeper bin for compact discs. There is one 12-volt power point: on the front of the center console bin. There is also a small shelf at the base of the center stack, and a small bin overhead for holding sunglasses or a garage door opener. Both rows of passengers get overhead reading lamps.
The second row has enough head and legroom for smaller adults, though tall men may feel a bit cramped. A small storage bin and two cupholders pop out from the back of the center console bin. A fold-down armrest includes a shallow bin for storing electronic devices. The second-row seats fold flat by releasing a lever on the outside of the seatbacks, but I needed to remove the headrests to clear the front seats.
A standard rear wiper keeps the glass clean in rain or snow. The cargo floor includes four tie-down loops for larger items. While there is plenty of room with the second-row seats in place for luggage, the seats need to be folded flat to hold bicycles and other large gear. Roof rails would have been a nice addition for active buyers.
Base price on the Vue Green Line is $24,170; $24,795 including the delivery charge. The Vue Green Line is a good choice for buyers who need more cargo space than compact sport-utility vehicles provide, but need to watch their fuel budgets as well. Though the hybrid isn’t available as an all-wheel drive model, seven inches of ground clearance is plenty for clearing the occasional boulder or tree roots on dirt roads.
Saturn’s new hybrid is currently available for test drives at dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A reasonably priced, well equipped sport-utility vehicle with a spacious cargo area and excellent fuel economy.
Dislikes: Air conditioner shuts off when the car is idling, which can be a problem in extreme heat.
Model: Vue Green Line
Base Price: $24,170
Horsepower: 172 Hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 167 lbs.-ft @ 4500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Not available
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 25/32 mpg city/highway
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