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2007 Saturn Aura XR Review

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SEE ALSO: Saturn Buyers Guide

2007 Saturn Aura XR

Saturn has been reinvented again, and this bodes well not only for it, but for parent General Motors as well. What began as "a different kind of car company" with the intent to be The General's import-fighting division, with cars built on unique platforms, lost much of that uniqueness over the years in the name of platform sharing and efficiency. With the debut of it's newest sedan, the midsize Aura, Saturn is back to competing with the imports - and this time it is on equal footing, or even better. The Aura is a car for more than merely the Saturn faithful, and it has won accolades including "North American Car of the Year", awarded at the North American Auto Show in Detroit in January.

Why is the Aura a far better car than the L-Series it replaces? GM is finally letting the inner Opel shine through. The Aura is based on the same Epsilon platform as the Chevrolet Malibu and Pontiac G6 ... and the Opel Vectra. It shares neither bodywork nor suspension tuning with its American counterparts, but does bear a striking resemblance there to the Vectra. The L-Series also had an affinity with an earlier Opel, but that was considerably less. The parts that interchanged between the two filled a small box, and in character there was no resemblance. The Saturn Aura, although not really a twin to the Opel Vectra, has a definably European character, especially in its top XR model.

The Aura's freshly-creased styling gets it looks of approval, but what's under that skin is what counts. And this time GM has got it right. Positioned above the common midsize imports in specification if not price, the Aura comes, unsurprisingly, with both four-cylinder and V6 power - but the four, for the Aura Green Line, is a gasoline-electric hybrid system, and there are two V6 models. The XE uses the newest version of GM's venerable iron-block, pushrod V6, with 3.5 liters of displacement and 224 horsepower. The top-of-the-line XR gets a 3.6-liter twincam alloy V6, matched not to the XE's four-speed automatic, but to a six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

The Aura is larger than the Vectra, to better suit American requirements and tastes, but its suspension is tuned very differently from the G6 and Malibu, and in a more European manner. I first experienced the XR during a press event in Southern California last fall. I went into that with low expectations, and returned mightily impressed. When I had the more recent opportunity to spend a week at home with another XR, I was equally impressed. General Motors has previously shown that it can build world-class cars in the expensive, limited-production category with the Corvette Z06 and the Cadillac STS-V. Now it's getting its act together where it really counts, in the real-world family sedan class.

APPEARANCE: The distinctive angular look that debuted on Saturn's Sky sports roadster comes to sedans on the Aura. Large headlights, distinct hood, fender, and body side shapes sharply delineated by prominent creases and character lines, and well-defined wheel arches and lower sills give the Aura XR a fresh, sporty look. The new Saturn chrome crossbar is found in the grille, and multiple openings in the lower front fascia also say "sport". Chrome trim surrounding the side windows is a European luxury touch. Immense taillights, with clear covers over red LEDs, and twin exhausts highlight the rear, where a chrome strip across the lower part of the trunk lid echoes the grille.

COMFORT: Saturn reaches new heights in interior design and fit and finish in the Aura, with a very European look and tight panel gaps. Both my test car and the example I drove earlier were outfitted with the optional "Premium Trim Package", with leather seating, steering wheel rim, and shift knob. The XR driver's seat is power-adjustable, and the front passengers's can be so optionally with the "Enhanced Convenience Package" which also adds power-adjustable pedals. Add in the standard tilt and telescope steering wheel, and the optimum seating position is easily attainable for any driver. Seat comfort is very good, and the LED-lit instruments are easily seen in all light. Controls for the climate and audio systems are simple and easy to use. The XR gets an upgraded audio system, with AM, FM, and optionally XM radio and a six-disc in-dash CD changer that can also play MP3 CDs. There is an auxiliary audio jack. Rear seat passengers have auxiliary audio controls and headphones. The Aura is a mid-midsize car, and will hold two adults under 5-10 in comfort, or three a little snugly. Typically of a sedan, the trunk opening is on the small side, but there is plenty of room inside. I was able to get a full-size bicycle in by removing both wheels and carefully arranging everything - without recourse to using the 60/40 fold feature of the rear seat.

SAFETY: A strong safety cage around the passenger compartment is built into the Aura's unibody structure, with reinforced rocker panels and hinge and roof pillars. Dual-stage front airbags, with the GM Passenger-Sensing System to adjust deployment of the front passenger bag depending on passenger weight, front seat-mounted side airbags, and head-curtain bags are standard in all models. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are also standard fare, as is the Stabilitrak electronic stability control system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: As it is, the Aura XR is a step above its American platform mates in suspension tuning and refinement. It uses the Epsilon platform's fully-independent suspension, with struts in front - with aluminum control arms for reduced unsprung weight - and a four-link system in the rear. But it's tuned more in the European manner, with relatively soft springs for ride comfort but well-matched shock rates for good control in spirited driving. Add in the solid chassis structure and good soundproofing, and the result is a car that surpasses any previous Saturn - and many of the most popular midsize sedans - in ride comfort and also makes driving fun.

PERFORMANCE: The Aura XR's chassis improvements are matched by its drivetrain. The engine 3.6-liter V6 engine is a contemporary aluminum alloy, twin-cam, 24-valve unit with variable cam phasing for a broader power band and lower emissions. Its 252 horsepower (at 6400 rpm) and 251 lb-ft of torque ( at a low 3200 rpm) enable the Aura XR to move quickly when desired - 60 mph comes up in just over six seconds from a standing start. As a look at the specs shows, torque comes in strong at relatively low rpms, for easy driving characteristics. But the best news is in the transmission - the first six-speed automatic for GM's front-wheel drive cars. This helps both acceleration and fuel economy by allowing a lower low and higher high gear with reasonable steps in between. In normal operation, its electronic and hydraulic controls are tuned for economy more than power, befitting its family sedan status. But when the road beckons, slip the shift lever into "M" and use the shift paddles behind the steering wheel arms.

CONCLUSIONS: The Saturn Aura XR is the step forward that was needed.

2007 Saturn Aura XR

Base Price			$ 23,945
Price As Tested			$ 26,919
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 24-valve aluminum
				 alloy V6 with variable valve timing
Engine Size			3.6 liters / 217 cu. in.
Horsepower			252 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			251 @ 3200 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		112.3 in. / 190.0 in.
Curb Weight			3647 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.5
Fuel Capacity			16.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87-octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/50 TR18 Goodyear Eagle LS
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear		MacPherson strut with aluminum control arms /
				  Four-link independent
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		20 / 28 / 22
0 to 60 mph				6.2  sec

Premium Trim Package - includes:
  leather-appointed seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel,
  leather shift knob						$ 800
Enhanced Convenience Package - includes:
  6-way power-adjustable passenger seat, 
  power-adjustable pedals					$ 425
Power sunroof							$ 800
XM satellite radio						$ 199
Premium floor and trunk mats					$ 100
Destination charge						$ 650