2008 Saturn VUE Red Line FWDPosted on October 4th, 2007
The second-generation Saturn VUE raises the bar in every dimension.
By Nina Russin
I have come to expect great things from Jill Lajdziak. Saturn’s General Manager, who’s been with the company since the onset, is one of the few women to have thrived and prospered in this male-dominated industry. When Lajdziak announced that Saturn was entering a new era at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show, I knew that the company had raised its internal bar.
The Saturn Aura, Sky, and Outlook, are all members of Saturn’s new generation. The new Saturn VUE five-seat crossover is further evidence of how far the automaker has come. It is so much better than the car it replaces that it almost seems as if it was designed and engineered by a whole new company.
The Red Line is the sportiest grade, combing a 257-horsepower V6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. Designers spiced up the exterior with ground effects, chrome exhaust tips and eighteen-inch wheels. Inside, the Red Line has unique leather trim: black with suede inserts and bright red stitching.
The Red Line’s real beauty is in its handling: supple and responsive at all speeds. The new VUE feels like a European sports car. It has strong, linear acceleration and braking, exceptional steering response, and a firm, yet comfortable suspension.
During my week-long test drive, I had a chance to take the VUE through plenty of urban traffic, including some extensive road construction in the Phoenix metro area. After years of denying its urban sprawl, the city has finally decided to construct light rail between the university, airport, and downtown areas. The path of the future rail line reminds me of driving in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where the potholes are large enough to swallow an axle, assuming there’s any pavement at all.
The upside of the project is that streets in bad repair are hard to find here. The winters aren’t harsh enough to cause frost heaves, and there’s no salt. The roads are so smooth that manufacturers have to replicate bad roads in the Midwest at their proving grounds. Unlike the proving grounds, the construction zone near Sky Harbor Airport is open to the public. And it’s easily capable of bending a rim or cracking an axle.
Not only was the VUE tough enough to skate over the surface with no damage, the steering provided excellent response through the makeshift autocross of orange cones and wood barriers. Except for a little more dirt on the fenders, the car was no worse for wear.
The VUE is small enough to shoe into most metered spots on the street, and the average parking lot slot. The forty-foot turning radius is adequate to make the occasional U-turn. Visibility is excellent all the way around the car. A wiper on the rear window will be a welcome feature for buyers living in the snow belt.
The test car is front-wheel drive: adequate to drive over the average graded dirt road, but lacking the traction to meet our ALV off-road standards. Buyers who want to stray further off the beaten path should consider the all-wheel drive model. The VUE has7.8-inches of ground clearance: enough to clear most obstacles on the average trail.
Stabilizer bars front and rear keep the VUE flat through the turns. Powering through a cloverleaf at speed is a pleasure. The eighteen-inch wheels on the Red Line are two inches larger than the standard issue, and give the car a larger, more stable footprint. Standard rack-and-pinion steering has excellent on-center feel, and the four-wheel independent suspension provides a supple but sporty ride.
Inside, the Red Line is stylish yet versatile. The leather and suede seats are comfortable and easy to adjust. The suede doesn’t get as hot in warm weather as leather would. Controls for the seat heaters are located in the center console.
The steering wheel has redundant audio and cruise control knobs, so the driver can make changes without distraction. Gauges are bright and easy to read.
There are three, 12-volt power points: two in the center console and one on the right side of the cargo area. Each row of passengers gets two large cupholders. The front doors have map pockets with integrated bottle holders, while the rear doors have map pockets.
The audio system on the Red Line model comes with XM radio: a boon for anybody who makes frequent road trips, or has a long commute. The audio and temperature controls are easy to reach from either front seating position.
The center console bin is large enough to hold a bunch of CDs: a small shelf on top holds a cell phone or PDA. I liked the small shelf underneath the audio system. It’s just the right size for a cell phone or MP3 player. All cars have a standard MP3 jack on the instrument panel. The glovebox is quite large. It can easily hold a purse or small pack.
The second-row seats have plenty of head and legroom, although two passengers will be more comfortable than three. The 60/40 split seats are easy to fold flat by releasing a single lever to the outside of the seatback. It’s not necessary to remove the headrest to fold the seat flat, so the VUE easily meets out bike friendly standards.
The spacious cargo area has four tie-down loops on the floor and several more on the seatbacks, as well as a cargo net for securing smaller items. The spare and jack are located under the cargo floor. There are two mid-sized bins on either side of the cargo floor for holding smaller items. Roof rails are standard on the test car. The V6 VUE can tow up to 3500 pounds, meeting our minimum ALV standards.
Standard safety features on the VUE include StabiliTrak with integrated electronic trailer sway control, collapsible pedals, active head restraints, a rollover sensing system, antilock brakes, front, side and side curtain airbags. The VUE comes with a year of free OnStar, which automatically notifies medical personnel and the police in the event of a crash.
The Red Line is currently rolling into dealerships nationwide. Priced at $27,395, it is an ALV best value. Buyers looking for a competitively priced, mid-sized SUV will be pleasantly surprised by the 2008 Saturn VUE.
Likes: Stylish inside and out, with excellent road manners and a versatile cargo area. The new Saturn VUE is a lot of car for the money.
Base price: $26,770
Price as tested: $27,395
Horsepower: 257 Hp @ 6500 r.p.m.
Torque: 248 lbs.-ft @ 2100 r.p.m.
0 to 60: N/A
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: Pending
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