2007 Saturn Vue Greenline FWD Hybrid SUV Review


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SEE ALSO: Saturn Pictures, Prices and Specs - Saturn Buyers Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2007 Saturn Vue Greenline FWD Hybrid SUV

"Go green for little green" is the thought behind Saturn's first hybrid, the Vue Greenline. It's a light gasoline-electric hybrid - meaning that it never operates in electric-only mode - but it does have all of the other fuel-saving benefits of a hybrid vehicle. Once the engine is warmed up, it usually shuts off at a stop, depending on load and conditions. An electric motor/generator provides extra power when needed for acceleration, and recharges the battery pack when slowing. It also improves braking performance with the magnetic drag from that regenerative braking.

This adds up to, according to Saturn, an approximate 20 percent increase in fuel economy for a price premium of only $2,000. Expect more Greenline models in the Saturn lineup, and elsewhere in the GM family, in the future.

With its 2.4-liter version of the GM "Ecotec" four-cylinder engine rated, with the motor assist, at 170 horsepower, the Greenline slots between the regular 2.2-liter, 143-hp four-cylinder and 3.5-liter, 242-hp V6 varieties of the Vue. Its EPA fuel economy rating is better than either, at 27 mpg city / 32 highway versus 22/27 and 20/28 for front-drive automatic fours and V6es. Unlike the regular Vue models, the Greenline is offered only in front-wheel drive form, and loses about an inch in ground clearance. Although its 7.9 inches are still better than a car, the Greenline, like all of the Vue models, is not an off-road vehicle, it's a modern crossover station wagon replacement.

And in that role it shines. It's compact and easy to park on the outside, and roomy and versatile inside. Saturn's trademark plastic body panels resist minor parking lot dents and dings, and there is plenty of power for everyday use, with thrifty use of regular unleaded gasoline. At 28 mpg during my week of use, the Vue Greenline did quite well considering its size and 3500-pound weight. It held four people in comfort thanks to a spacious rear seat, and a fifth in the center rear position wouldn't have had a hard time. Cargo space was very good with the rear seat in passenger position, and, folding it down, I was able to transport my bicycle easily, with no need for disassembly. All in all, the Vue Greenline was a very Saturn sort of vehicle, practical, functional, economical, and a very good value.

APPEARANCE: The Vue looks like what it is - a friendly family vehicle with no phony macho pretentions. Only badging - small "Hybrid" emblems on the lower front doors and tailgate - differentiates the Greenline from the regular Vue. In either case, a Vue is a handsomely functional small crossover SUV with a two-box design modified a bit by styling that gently rounds the corners and edges and adds a sporty touch with a profile that rises toward the rear and also features prominent but not overdone fender flares. The hood is gently sculpted, and the front panel features a small chrome-trimmed grille between wide, faired headlights and a larger opening lower in the bumper. There is a small visor over the rear window, and rear styling is generally simple, with rectangular taillights and a small chrome garnish piece over the license plate.

COMFORT: Form follows function. In style, the Vue Greeline is pleasantly contemporary, but still very functional. Color is in a two-tone, dark-over-light motif. The chrome-bezeled instruments are shielded from glare by a prominent brow, and the audio and climate system controls are in a center stack that extends into a lower console for the shifter and power window and mirror controls. A proper console between the front seats has storage and cupholders. Chrome plastic trim in the door handles and around the stack adds interest. Cruise and auxiliary audio controls are found on the tilt-adjustable steering wheel. The standard AM/FM/6CD audio system only plays regular CDs, but an auxiliary jack near the front power point is there for use with external music players. My test Greenline had the optional leather seats. The front buckets provided decent support and comfort, and visibility from the driver's seat was good. Even with leather, the front seats are manually-adjustable. A flat floor, good knee and shoulder room, and excellent head room distinguish the rear seat. It folds with a 70/30 split for convenience - and the front passenger seat can fold flat, forward, so very long items can be carried inside.

SAFETY: The Vue has five-star ratings in Federal tests for both front and rear passengers in front and side impacts. It's built with safety cage and crumple zone construction, and comes with standard dual front airbags and integrated safety belt pretensioners. Side-curtain airbags are available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: On the road, the Vue Greenline is a pleasant crossover vehicle. It feels like a tall midsize, middle-class, mainstream car, not a truck, and the fully-independent strut front, multilink rear suspension is firm enough for good handling characteristics while still providing a comfortable ride. The electric power steering system has a reasonable touch, neither too light for control at speed nor too heavy for ease of driving around town.

PERFORMANCE: Most of the time, the Vue Greenline's hybrid system is completely transparent. It combines a 2.4-liter twin-cam four-cylinder engine with a belt-connected motor-generator for assistance and regenerative braking. The front wheels only are driven through a four-speed automatic transmission. The Greenline feels like a small SUV with a regular torque-converter automatic transmission and a reasonably powerful if not hormone-fed four-cylinder engine. Maybe a four with light turbo boost, as the electric motor gives a noticeable but not overpowering turbo-like kick in acceleration under heavy throttle. That boost is quick and predictable, and light enough not to cause any untoward surprise to the driver. In generator mode under deceleration and braking, regenerative braking recharges the battery pack located under the rear load floor and noticeably helps slow the vehicle. Most of the Greenline's gas mileage improvement comes from stopping the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop - a point where otherwise it would be getting zero miles per gallon. The engine must be warmed up for the hybrid system to work. This is indicated by a green "eco light" on the dash, which also provides a visual reward for the driver as it comes on when the Greenline is being driven in the most fuel-efficient manner. All accessories, such as audio and climate control systems, operate normally when the engine is off, although if they are also shut off efficiency will be further improved. When stopped, the engine stays off for a maximum of two minutes. After that it comes on to prevent excessive battery drain. System function and battery level can be monitored through the charge/assist gauge next to the tachometer.

CONCLUSIONS: Saturn's (and GM's) first hybrid is a success.

SPECIFICATIONS

2007 Saturn Greenline FWD Hybrid SUV

Base Price			$ 22,370
Price As Tested			$ 23,750
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dual overhead cam,
				 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with
				 continuously-variable valve timing
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 146 cu. in.
Horsepower			170 @ 6600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			162 @ 4200 rpm
Transmission			4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		106.6 in. / 181.3 in.
Curb Weight			3466 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		20.4
Fuel Capacity			16.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/70 SR16 General Ameri* GS60
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				 independent multilink
Ground clearance		6.9 inches
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		27 / 32 / 28
0 to 60 mph				est 9  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Leather appointments package		$ 755
Destination charge			$ 625
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