2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD Review


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2008 Saturn Vue XR

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

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD Review

The name is about the only thing having to do with the Saturn Vue that hasn't been changed for 2008. Well, the wheelbase is the same, and overall size is within inches or less, usually less, in all exterior and interior dimensions. But from the outside, it looks very different. From the inside, ditto, and on the road the new Vue is significantly improved over the older version in ride and handling.

This shouldn't be all that surprising. Saturn has again been reinvented, and this time for the better with a massive infusion of Opel. Opel is GM's European subsidiary, and its influence has previously shown up - to excellent effect - in the Saturn Aura. When Saturn calls the new Vue "European-inspired", it's not marketing hype. The new Vue is nearly identical in styling and chassis tuning to the Opel Antara. Although it is still built on GM's Theta platform, the 2008 Vue's structure has been changed considerably, and for the better. With its wide range of available powertrains, there is a Vue for every compact crossover SUV need.

At the core are the XE and XR trim levels. The XE with front-wheel drive has the 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine in 169-hp tune and a pleasantly low (under $22,000) base price. Specifying all-wheel drive in an XE also brings in the latest iteration of GM's mid-sized pushrod V6, now with 3.5 liters displacement and 222 horsepower. The XR gets the 3.6-liter alloy twincam V6 also found in the Aura XR and the larger Outlook crossover, with 257 horsepower. Either front- or all-wheel drive may be specified. Both V6 engines mate to a six-speed automatic transmission.

For sportier appearance and handling, there is the Redline, with the 3.6 V6 and manual-mode shifting, and front- or all-wheel drive. Soon to be available will be the next version of the Greenline hybrid with a drivetrain similar to last year's 2.4-liter four plus electric motor.

I've spent the past week with a new Vue XR that, with all-wheel drive, the Premium Trim Package, Convenience Package, navigation system, and upgraded audio system, represents the top of the Vue line. As such, it is a pleasant, conveniently-sized vehicle with plenty of power and much-improved road manners. At around $30,000 as equipped, it's not all that much more than the $28,000 average price of a new car (yes, it's come to that), and is definitely above average in all respects. At a lower price, I suspect that the mid-level XE V6 will prove more popular, with not that much less power, the same good suspension tuning. Even the four-cylinder has decent power, with improved fuel economy. With its improvements, the 2008 Saturn Vue will appeal to a wider audience, including people who previously never would have considered Saturn.

APPEARANCE:

Saturn has a cohesive style now, as exemplified by the Sky roadster, Aura sedan, and Outlook crossover. All lines, planes, and gentle curves, it's bold without being excessive. It's also as European as American, as it is sported by Opel as well as Saturn, and the Vue is nearly identical to Opel's Antara. Here, it works very well. The Vue's proportions give it presence beyond its modest size, and make that size difficult to determine without another vehicle around for reference. Is it large or small? Moderate, really, and a couple of inches shorter than the old Vue - all the better to fit into tight parking spaces. If its sculpted hood and trapezoidal upper grille opening are industry-standard, the chrome crossbar, large, bright, and complexly-shaped headlights, and protruding bumper strips distinguish it at the front. From the side, the wheels fill the wheelarches, which are only modestly flared, and faux air-vent "fender accent moldings" add interest. These, and the very Germanic roofline, come from the PreVue concept vehicle. The rear is dominated by large tail lights. Each trim level has slightly different bumper fascia, rocker panel, and wheel arch trim, and the panel gaps are commendably tight.

COMFORT:

Style meets convenience inside the new Vue, with plenty of space for its size for a bonus. Materials, fit, and finish are very good. Since there is the larger Outlook in the Saturn lineup, there was no attempt to squeeze in a third row. It would have been suitable only for small (emphasis on small) children anyway. The Vue holds four or five adults in comfort, and the flat floor makes the center rear position very reasonable. Want versatility? There is the usual 60/40 split to the rear set, and both portions fold flat easily and quickly. Then there is plenty of room for a large bicycle, intact, no need to remove wheels. Need space for something longer? Fold the front passenger seatback forward, flat. A two-piece, adjustable cargo net keeps small items in place, and there is a little storage under the load floor, above the space-saver spare. Front seat comfort is good, and in the XR both are heated, with the driver's seat power-adjustable. As are the windows and mirrors, of course. The steering wheel is manually tilt-adjustable, with a comfortable leather rim and cruise and auxiliary audio controls. Instruments are readily visible. Automatic climate control is standard in the XR, and it works well, via simple knobs on the center stack. Audio controls are integrated into the optional navigation system, but the bright, simple touch-screen interface requires no recourse to the manual for operation. The nav system works well, and audio choices are comprehensive, with AM, FM, and XM radio, an MP3-friendly CD changer, and an auxiliary input jack. Interior storage is great, highlighted by a sliding drawer under the front passenger seat, a large lockable glovebox, a two-layer console box, and a coin drawer and toll car slot to the left of the steering wheel.

SAFETY:

The Vue protects its occupants with a strong high-strength steel structure, dual-stage front airbags, seat-mounted front side airbags, and full-length rollover-capable head curtain bags. Four-wheel antilock vented disc brakes and good handling characteristics highlight its active safety, and they are further helped by electronic traction control and the latest version of GM's StabiliTrak electronic stability control, now with Trailer Sway Control to mitigate the effects of towing a trailer. The OnStar telematics system is also standard, and will notify the OnStar center in the event of an airbag deployment.

RIDE AND HANDLING:

The new styling and improved fit and finish are nice, but the greatest advance is on the road. The `08 Vue may gave the same basic chassis layout as its predecessor, a transverse front engine with front- or all-wheel drive and fully-independent suspension by means of struts in front and a multilink rear, but the tuning is straight from Europe. It's supple enough for comfort and firm enough for fun and the safety of good maneuverability, and elevates the Vue above its major competitors. Like all crossovers, the 2008 Vue is not an off-road vehicle, but 7.8 inches of clearance makes it suitable for all but the worst fire and logging roads, and helps with urban hazards like potholes and road debris.

PERFORMANCE:

Nowhere has the second-generation Vue changed more than under the hood. The base four-cylinder is now the 2.4-liter Ecotec, an improvement from the old 2.2, and there are two vee-sixes. The top one is GM's 3.6-liter alloy unit, with dual ovehead cams and variable cam phasing. Its 257 horsepower (at 6500 rpm) and 248 lb-ft of torque (at a low 2100 rpm) give the Vue XR good acceleration, and performance is further helped by a six-speed automatic transmission. It's manually-shiftable by means of GM's strange shift lever-mounted toggle switch, and that does help for maximum acceleration - or even sporty driving, not out of the question with the Vue's good suspension calibration. On the downside, the Vue has gained weight with age, and that has a negative impact on fuel economy. I averaged 17 mpg during my time with the Vue XR. Like the Vue but want better mileage? The Greenline hybrid is coming.

CONCLUSIONS:

The 2008 Saturn Vue has been improved in every way.

SPECIFICATIONS

2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
Base Price			$ 26,270
Price As Tested			$ 30,945
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 24-valve aluminum
				 alloy V6 with continuously-variable
				 cam phasing
Engine Size			3.6 liters / 217 cu. in.
Horsepower			257 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			248 @ 2100 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		106.6 in. / 180.1 in.
Curb Weight			4325 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		16.8
Fuel Capacity			16.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87-octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires				P235/60 SR17 Bridgestone Dueler H/T
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc, ABS,
				 traction control, and stability
				 control standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				  independent multi-link
Ground clearance		7.8 inches
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, 

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		16 / 22 / 17
0 to 60 mph				7.5  sec
Towing capacity			3500 lbs with towing package

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Premium Trim Package - includes:
  leather-appointed seats, leather-wrapped shift knob,
  heated front  seats					$ 1,075
Convenience Package - includes: rainsense wiper system,
  remote vehicle start, universal home remote, heated
  windshield washer system				$   505
Navigation system					$ 2,145
Advanced audio system					$   325
Destination charge					$   625

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