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2008 Saturn VUE XE AWD Review

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A New World Vue
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

I’m going out on a limb here to nominate the new-for-’08, fully redesigned Saturn Vue for an MIV award (Most Improved Vehicle). I suppose there are many other deserving rides out there but this is the one in front of me at the moment and I’m impressed.

A cute, puckery grin graces the face of our “Ruby Red” Saturn Vue test car. (I’d call that color more of a bright maroon.) Designed internationally by teams of GM engineers, Vue shares architecture with the European Opel Antara and more models to come. Reviewers agree the redesigned Vue is a vast improvement over the old version, which I thought looked almost toy-like. This one reflects the best in international cute-ute styling and design with overall shape reflecting the most modern trends in this genre. The dramatic side vents, 16-inch alloy wheels and stainless steel-tipped dual exhaust all contribute to its great looks.

Some refer to this automotive genre as ‘Cute-ute.’ Carrying 5 passengers and lots of their stuff, it’s not really an SUV, even though most offer all-wheel-drive, a high stance and respectable utility. Built on a car platform the common nomenclature is “Crossover” or CUV. Nearly every manufacturer is in this market with vehicles modified from small, front-drive architecture. It’s not particularly costly or difficult to make that transition. Notable comps in this size and trim are Toyota RAV4, Misubishi Outlander, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V.

Vue comes in base XE with a 2.4-liter Ecotec 4-cylinder rated at 169 horsepower, this XE V6 with 3.5-liter, an up-level XR with the 3.6-liter V6 making 257 horsepower, the hybrid Greenline and the high-performance Red Line with the 3.6-liter V6 and lots of sporty stuff. All come only with automatic transmissions, 4-speed for the front-wheel-drive 4-cylinder and a wonderfully quick 6-speed for the all-wheel-drives.

Most noticeably improved, perhaps, is the interior. Nicely shaped seats, fresh and attractive appearance and admirable fit and finish seem generations better than the old Vue. Ingress and egress are easy through the large doors. Materials, while not luxurious, are impressive. Controls are simple and intuitive. Other than a questionable mating of the main dash panels, I could not find even a niggle in the cabin.

The 3.5-liter V6 engine is packaged nicely into the engine compartment. Generating 222 horsepower and 219 pound-feet of torque this DOHC mill feels smooth, powerful enough and sophisticated. EPA estimates fuel mileage to range between 15 and 22 mpg on regular fuel. Our mixed week of driving netted about 18.5 average.

Ride and handling are very good. I found it a tad stiff in some circumstances (much better than being mooshy, of course), with a European feel. Conventional McPherson strut front suspension and mulit-link, independent rear suspension, work well together for a balanced feel in nearly all situations. Part of this new feeling of heft and stability, and perhaps the less-than-stellar fuel mileage, is the -ton increase in curb weight – about 4,300 pounds for this AWD version and 4,076 for the FWD.

Rear seat backs both reclines a few degrees and fold easily to become a nice flat floor. With just a whisp more legroom than the old version our rear seat passengers reported being perfectly comfortable back there. No third seat option is available. Rear cargo compartment has plenty of room and the floor panel lifts up to reveal a stiff foam panel covering the spare tire featuring small but handy, rigid cargo areas. With the rear seat backs folded we have 56.4 cubic-feet of cargo space and with the seat backs up we have 29.2 cubic-feet.

Towing capacity is a respectable 3,500 pounds. Not bad for a small SUV

Base price for this all-wheel-driver, including a $625 destination charge, is $24,570. Standard equipment includes the V6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, six air bags, Stabilitrak, OnStar with one year service, pedal release system, active head restraints, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control, tire pressure monitoring, seat belt pretensioners, power windows, hydraulic power steering, 16-inch alloy wheels, stainless steel-tipped dual exhaust, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and steering wheel mounted controls. Our test car has only two options, floor mats and roof rails – total $230. Our bottom line is $24,800.

Saturn vehicles share in GM’s 5-year/100,000-mile transferable powertrain warranty which includes roadside assistance, courtesy transportation and no deductible. Bumper-to-bumper protection is only 3-years/36,000-miles. One year of OnStar service is also included.

In my view, the new Vue is a true, solid competitor in the ‘Cute-ute’ segment.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved