2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2008 Saturn Vue

North Vancouver, British Columbia – General Motors of Canada couldn’t have asked for a better endorsement of the new 2008 Saturn Vue than the one they received from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) recently. After the annual Canadian Car of the Year ‘TestFest’ in late October, AJAC auto writers voted the 2008 Vue the “Best New SUV/CUV, $35,000 – $60,000” after comparing it with the Hyundai Veracruz, Infiniti EX, Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel, LandRover LR2, GMC Acadia SLT, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Tribeca, Toyota Highlander, and Volvo XC70.

AJAC members tested the top-of-the-line Vue XR model with the new 3.6-litre VVT V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission, the most expensive model in the Vue line-up at just over $36,000 including options. Normally, 2008 Vues range in price from about $25,000 to $32,000 before options, and in this price range, its competitors would include compact SUVs like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, Jeep Patriot, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Pontiac Torrent, Hyundai Santa Fe, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Mazda Tribute, and Kia Sportage.

The base price of the 2008 Vue is about $1,500 more than the 2007 Vue, but interestingly, 2008 prices have gone down about six per cent since the vehicle was announced last June. At that time, the base price of the four-cylinder model was $26,990 and the XR V6 AWD model, like my test vehicle, was $33,920. As of September 1st, the base price of the 2008 Vue became $25,193, while the top XR V6 AWD model is now $31,585. Other trim levels have similar reductions.

2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD. Click image to enlarge

The 2008 Vue is an Opel design engineered by GM-DAT (GM Daewoo Auto & Technology) in South Korea and assembled in Mexico rather than at the Saturn plant in Springhill, Tennessee where the previous Vue was built. The new Vue is slightly shorter, wider and taller with the same wheelbase, but its styling is much more rounded and contemporary and the exterior panel fit and finish is much better than the previous Vue. The only controversial styling features is the fake air vents on the front fenders which seem a bit cheesy to me. The Vue’s steel body panels replace the ding-proof plastic ones of the previous Vue, and it has an all-new platform with a four-wheel independent suspension. The new Vue is also about 280 kg (617 lb.) heavier than the last Vue (base model).

2008 Vues are available in XE and XR trim with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The AWD is an on-demand system that normally runs in front-wheel drive, but automatically transfers up to 80 per cent of the torque to the rear wheels if the front wheels start to slip. Base XE FWD models have a 169-hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder “Ecotec” engine (an increase of 25 hp over the previous 2.2-litre engine), while XE AWD models have a 222-hp 3.5-litre V6 (down 24 hp from the previous 3.5-litre V6). However, a new 252-hp 3.6-litre V6 with variable valve timing is offered in the XR FWD and XR AWD models. All of Saturn’s engines feature variable valve timing. Saturn also has a new gasoline-electric hybrid “Green Line” version of the new Vue, and sometime in 2008, a new high-performance Vue Red Line model.

2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD. Click image to enlarge

Standard features on the base 2008 Vue XE FWD ($25,193) include 16-inch alloy wheels, four-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, traction and stability control, electric power assist steering, air conditioning, CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, OnStar, cloth seats, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, power mirrors, overhead console, cruise control, floor mats, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and rear washer/wiper,. The XE AWD model ($29,145) adds the 3.5-litre V6 and six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, hydraulic power steering and XM Satellite Radio. XR FWD models ($29,201) add the 3.6-litre V6, six-speed automatic, StabiliTrak electronic stability control, all-speed traction control, limited slip rear differential, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, premium cloth seats, chrome door handles, and roof rails. XR AWD models ($31,585) add all-wheel drive.


Driving impressions

2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD. Click image to enlarge

There is a feeling of solidity and substance when driving the new Vue that wasn’t apparent in the old Vue. The 2008 Vue’s new all-steel unitbody feels tight and well screwed together, and the cabin is very quiet. The new Vue’s independent suspension (MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear) provides a well damped ride over harsh surfaces, and a comfortable, stable ride at high speeds. The Vue’s tall body and high ground clearance (200 mm/7.8 in.) make it feel a little top-heavy when cornering briskly, but overall it feels well-planted.

The XR’s newly available 3.6-litre V6 engine, which has double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and continuously variable valve timing, makes 252 horsepower at 6,400 r.p.m. and 241 lb.-ft. torque at 4800 r.p.m. That’s pretty close to last year’s 3.5-litre V6 which offered 248 hp at 5800 r.p.m. and 242 lb-ft of torque at 4500 r.p.m.

However, as the new Vue is considerably heavier than the previous Vue, fuel consumption has increased slightly. The 2008 Vue XR AWD model weighs 315 kg (694 lb) more than the 2007 Vue AWD model [1962 kg (4325 lbs) vs 1647 kg (3630 lbs)]. Official 2008 fuel economy numbers are City: 13.2 L/100 km (21 mpg Imp); Hwy: 8.9 L/100 km (32 mpg Imp). The 2007 Vue AWD was City: 12.6 L/100 km (22 mpg Imp); Hwy: 8.4 L/100 km (34 mpg Imp). If it wasn’t for the new six-speed automatic transmission with its higher cruising gear ratio, fuel consumption would probably be much worse. Fortunately, both available V6 engines use Regular unleaded gas.

2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD. Click image to enlarge

The new six-speed “Hydra-Matic” automatic transmission, which replaces last year’s five-speed automatic transmission, is available with optional manual shifting (Tap Shift Control). In automatic mode, this is a very smooth shifting transmission, and the manual shift option adds a measure of sportiness to the driving experience, if so desired. I think it’s more of a novelty in an SUV, but it could be useful for towing.

Acceleration tests of the XR V6 AWD conducted by AJAC reveal a 0 to 100 km/h time of 8.1 seconds, a respectable time for a vehicle of this type, but not class leading. Its 80 to 120 km/h passing time of 7.4 seconds is definitely better than average. I found the Vue XR a very capable vehicle in both city and highway driving environments.

With either V6 engine, the maximum trailer towing capacity is 1588 kg (3500 lb), the same as last year. A towing package with hitch and wiring is optional, and an electronic towing stabilization system that uses selective braking to help control the vehicle and trailer while towing is also optional. In addition, the 2008 Vue with the six-speed automatic can be flat-towed itself by a large RV.

2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD. Click image to enlarge

AJAC braking tests of the Vue XR showed a stopping distance of 40.9 metres from 100 km/h, comparable or better than other vehicles in it class. All Vues have standard disc brakes, ABS, traction control and stability control. XR models include beefy 17-inch tires and alloy wheels – my test vehicle had Bridgestone Dueler P235/60R-17-inch all-seasons.

While the four-cylinder Vue has electric power assisted steering, the V6 Vue has conventional hydraulic power-assisted rack and pinion steering: it feels a bit heavy when parallel parking but otherwise feels well-weighted at higher speeds. However, the Vue’s turning diameter of 12.2 metres (40.0 ft.) is quite wide, making u-turns more difficult.

2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD. Click image to enlarge


Interior impressions

The 2008 Vue’s new interior design is much nicer than the previous model’s. The dashboard plastics are of a much higher quality, and a generous but tasteful application of silver, chrome, carbon-fibre, and aluminum look trim gives the cabin a classy look. The standard woven fabric seats have generous side and thigh bolsters (leather is optional) and feel very comfortable and supportive while driving. I would recommend getting the optional heated front seats for $405. The chrome ringed gauges are nicely backlit at night, but I would have preferred larger numerals. The central radio and heater controls are simply laid out within easy reach of the driver, and the shift lever is easy to reach – as is the large ring-shaped hand brake lever between the front seats.

The Vue’s tall roof provides plenty of headroom for front and rear passengers, and rear legroom is decent due to the raised front seats. But because of its narrow width, the Vue is better for four adult passengers rather than five.

2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD
2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD. Click image to enlarge

For interior storage there is a glove-box big enough for a medium-size purse, a sliding storage bin under the front passenger seat, a flip-down coin drawer near the door, an open bin at the bottom of the centre console, door pockets with bottle holders, and a bi-level bin between the front seats – for rear passengers there is a folding rear seat centre armrest with storage, a flip out tray in the rear centre console, and map pockets on the back of the front seats.

The split rear seatbacks can be folded down with the head restraints in place to increase cargo versatility. The rear hatch door is heavy to lift up, but the cargo opening is wide (three feet at the base and 30 inches high). The cargo floor length to the back of the rear seats is three feet, and with the rear seats folded down, cargo length increases to six feet. With the right front passenger seatback folded flat, items up to nine feet long can be stored inside the vehicle.

In the cargo area, upper and lower rails with adjustable attachment points can accommodate storage nets and there are also left and right storage wells and a moulded storage tray in the spare tire compartment underneath the cargo floor for small items. An extra 12-volt power outlet is located in the trunk.

One complaint: a cargo privacy cover is optional on all Vues. This should be standard.

For passenger safety, all Vues have standard dual-stage front seat air bags, front seat side thorax air bags, and head curtain air bags for front and rear rows. Other safety features include front safety belt pretensioners, collapsible pedals, active front head restraints, rear child seat tether anchors, and automatic power door locks. As well, the Vue comes standard with OnStar, the satellite tracking system, including a one-year subscription to the Safe & Sound plan.


Verdict

A comfortable, stylish compact SUV, the new Saturn Vue is a much better vehicle than its predecessor. There is a feeling of solidity and substance when driving the new Vue that wasn’t apparent in the old Vue.

Pricing: 2008 Saturn Vue XR AWD

  • Base price: $33,920
  • Options: $2,165 (Premium Package: eight-way power driver’s seat with manual lumbar, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual illuminated vanity mirrors $1,070; manual shift control, $285; heated front cloth seats, $405; trailer hitch and harness, $405)
  • Freight: $1,200
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $37,385 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


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Competitors

  • 2008 Chevrolet Equinox
  • 2008 Ford Escape
  • 2008 Honda CR-V
  • 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe
  • 2008 Jeep Compass
  • 2008 Jeep Patriot
  • 2008 Mazda CX-7
  • 2008 Mitsubishi Outlander
  • 2008 Nissan Rogue
  • 2008 Pontiac Torrent
  • 2008 Suzuki Grand Vitara
  • 2008 Toyota RAV4


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