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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh
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Billed as “a different kind of car”, Saturn was traditionally treated as a separate entity within GM, with its own plant, unique models, and no-haggle, “one-big-family” sales experience. With GM’s gradual restructuring, Saturn has lost some of its individuality, but not entirely: even though the Vue shares its basic Theta platform and overall shape with the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, it goes in a different direction, with trademark dent-resistant plastic panels, a better cargo system and an available Honda engine.
The Honda powerplant is the larger of the Vue’s two offerings, which starts with a 143-hp, 2.2-litre four-cylinder Ecotec engine, for $22,995. The 250-hp V6 is the result of a 1999 agreement between the automakers; GM provided diesels for some of Honda’s European models, and in return, received a Saturn-specific version of the V6 used in the Honda Pilot and Odyssey. The engine is exclusive to Saturn and doesn’t appear in any other GM vehicle. The V6 in front-wheel drive starts at $27,295, while an all-wheel drive system (which powers the front wheels exclusively until it detects slippage, whereupon up to 57 per cent of torque is redirected to the rear) begins at $29,795.
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The inline four uses a five-speed manual transmission that can be upgraded to a five-speed Hydramatic autobox; the V6 comes exclusively with a Honda-sourced five-speed automatic.
The Honda engine, which I had in my AWD tester, is a great fit to this vehicle. It’s strong, quiet and pulls well, and with 242 lb-ft of torque, it has plenty in reserve, even when asked for a little extra on the highway. Unfortunately, the Vue’s geometry falls somewhat short of its engine: the too-light electric power steering feels numb, and there’s some torque steer and body roll. The ride is comfortable, but the suspension transmits considerable road noise, and the whole thing feels somewhat tinny.
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Don’t expect that to be a major deterrent for the majority of buyers, though; it’s aimed at those who need to be able to pack it full of young passengers and cargo, and for that, this Saturn is exceptional. Its target audience will also appreciate its high seating position and good visibility, its tight turning radius for ease of parking, and the fact that practically everything is within easy reach.
All models come standard with a “Power Package” of electric windows, mirrors, locks with keyless entry, automatic headlamps, auto-dimming rearview mirror with temperature and compass, map lights, cruise control and security system, and with redundant stereo controls mounted on the wheel. Other standard features include 16-inch wheels, rear wiper, three 12-volt power outlets, CD player with auxiliary jack, anti-lock brakes, and a year’s subscription to OnStar.
Moving from the I-4 to the V6 adds fog lamps, alloy wheels, leather-wrapped wheel and on FWD models, traction control. AWD models include 17-inch wheels. On the Vue, the Red Line package doesn’t have a horsepower upgrade, but offers a lowered sport suspension and trim changes.
Optional add-ons include a chrome appearance package, power driver’s seat, leather interior, heated seats, four stereo choices including satellite radio, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, should you prefer that your tots know all about Disney and nothing about the world outside the windows.
The Vue is roomy inside, and while the rear seat offers the usual legroom in this class, the front seats are high enough off the floor that even the biggest feet can slip under them comfortably. Simple controls are clustered into a centre console that’s attractively edged in well-done plastic wood; small-storage cubbies abound, although I don’t hold much hope for the longevity of the console lid’s flimsy release latch, which was sticky even on my fairly new tester. Ditto the rear seat cupholders, which slide out from the back of the console; they’re close to the floor, and will inevitably be kicked or stepped on should they be left open.
The rear seat releases are in the seatbacks and can be tough to reach, but once you do, the Vue really shines. The Equinox and Torrent have large plastic covers over the rear struts; while GM makes the best of it by offering a slide-in plastic tray that fits between them, they steal a great deal of cargo floor space (they can be deleted on those models, but only on a factory order; the deletion package cannot be retrofitted). The Vue has only the smallest possible undercarriage intrusion, and its cargo area is 78 cm long with the rear seats in place. Fold them forward, and you get a flat 150 cm; fold the front passenger seat also, and you can carry narrow objects up to 250 cm in length. Four cargo tie-downs are set in the floor, and there’s a bag hook on the side of the cargo area.
Worth the price of admission is the Vue’s storage box, which unfolds out of the cargo floor. A divider can also be moved into place, and there are four bag hooks on its back wall. Not only did it handle all my groceries, but once I got home, I didn’t have to collect them from various corners of the vehicle. The storage box is standard equipment on all models.
Despite the lack of spirited handling, the Vue ranks as my favourite among GM’s smaller sport-utes: the engine is superb, the heater warms up quickly, controls are simple, it’s roomy, and its cargo-busting capability is excellent. The plastic panels have larger gaps than metal ones, of course, but these vehicles are meant to end up in a lot of grocery store parking lots, where door dings and unmanned shopping carts are the norm. This is definitely a vehicle that remembers what the “U” in sport utility vehicle means.
Pricing 2006 Saturn Vue V6 AWD
- Base price: $29,795
- Options: $1,760 (Chrome roof rail and skid plate $385; 6 CD player $945; premium audio system $430)
- Freight: $1,100
- A/C tax: $100
- Price as tested: $32,755 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
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