2009 Saturn Aura XR4
2009 Saturn Aura XR4. Click image to enlarge
Related articles on Autos
2007 Saturn Aura by Laurance Yap
2007 Saturn Aura XR by Paul Williams
2007 Saturn Aura Green Line by Greg Wilson
2007 Saturn Aura XR by James Bergeron

Competitors
Chevrolet Malibu
Chrysler Sebring
Dodge Avenger
Ford Fusion
Honda Accord
Hyundai Sonata
Kia Magentis
Mazda6
Mitsubishi Galant
Nissan Altima
Subaru Legacy
Toyota Camry
Volkswagen Jetta

Manufacturer’s web site
Saturn Canada

Share this story on Facebook

Join the official Autos Facebook group

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Photo Gallery:
2009 Saturn Aura XR4

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

Oshawa, Ontario – If gasoline prices have made any dent in our thinking, it’s that there’s no longer any shame in driving four-cylinder cars. For the most part, fours are now as powerful as V6 engines used to be.

But even if we’re willing to give up extra cylinders, many of us don’t want to give up extra features. That’s why automakers are responding by upping the items included, such as on my tester, the Saturn Aura XR4. It’s a new trim line for 2009; previously, the four-cylinder was only available as the entry-level XE.

The Aura’s line-up has been further slimmed down with the discontinuation of the 3.5-litre V6 that was available for 2008, and which came in XE trim. The remaining V6, a 3.6-litre, comes only in XR trim. The Hybrid model remains unchanged from 2008, mating the 2.4-litre four-cylinder to a “mild” electric system that assists the gasoline engine and shuts it off at idle, but can’t run solely on its battery. Pricing for 2009 ranges from $25,075 for the XE, to $27,930 for my XR4 tester, $32,330 for the V6, and $28,580 for the Hybrid.

The Aura is a sister vehicle to the Chevrolet Malibu (and both are based on the Opel Vectra), but the Chevrolet’s four-cylinder bases with a four-speed automatic and offers a six-speed autobox as optional or standard equipment only in the higher trim lines. Except for the Hybrid, every Aura comes only with the six-speed automatic, which helps to give the car impressive fuel mileage for its size: published figures of 9.4 L/100 in the city and 5.9 on the highway (in combined, cold-weather driving, I averaged 8.9). That’s better overall than any of its non-hybrid, automatic-equipped midsize competition, and is topped in city driving only by the Nissan Altima, which uses a CVT and achieves 8.9 L/100 km on urban streets (but gets 6.3 on the highway).

2009 Saturn Aura XR4
2009 Saturn Aura XR4. Click image to enlarge

The XE includes such features as air conditioning, power driver’s seat height adjuster, keyless entry, cruise control and heated mirrors, but the XR builds on that: 17-inch alloy wheels, heated power seats, Bluetooth, remote starter, auto-dimming rearview mirror, XM satellite radio, and leather-wrapped wheel. The V6 model further adds 18-inch rims, automatic climate control and fog lamps, but its standard leather seats can be optioned to the four-cylinder, as mine was, for an additional $935. Electronic stability control, brake assist and six airbags are standard equipment on all models.

GM likes to call the Aura a “sports sedan”, but I don’t think that’s accurate. Instead, this is a midsize family car that simply does everything right. The four-cylinder makes 169 horsepower and 160 lb-ft of torque, which puts it about mid-pack when compared to the competition. Price-wise, though, it’s the most expensive MSRP when judged against the closest possible trim lines, which could be why sales aren’t as lively as the company undoubtedly expected them to be. It’s a tough and crowded segment, with competition that’s also pretty much on the ball.

2009 Saturn Aura XR4
2009 Saturn Aura XR4. Click image to enlarge

The steering feels sportier than on the Malibu, but it’s still light: that will displease driving enthusiasts, but the reality is that this is a car aimed at the commuter masses, and that’s what most want when they’re snaking through city streets en route to the office. The steering is responsive, though, without any wallowing or rolling around corners. Its accurate on-centre feel is confident on the highway, without the need for constant correction.

The four-cylinder is very peppy, even given the Aura’s size, and the six-speed automatic is a good fit. The V6 is naturally more powerful, at 252 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque, but unless you’re constantly passing tractor-trailers uphill, the four should be more than enough for everyday needs. The six-speed includes a manual shift mode, operated by wheel-mounted paddles, and they’re just silly. The manual shifts are sluggish, and you’re better off letting the automatic do its job. There is a reason, after all, why Formula One racers don’t hit the track in family sedans.

2009 Saturn Aura XR4
2009 Saturn Aura XR4. Click image to enlarge

The suspension takes up road shock long before it gets to the occupants, and the cabin is very quiet. GM is following through on its initiative to improve its interiors, and the Aura benefits from it, with a handsome design – I particularly like how the centre stack surround flows out to the doors – and excellent panel finish. This cabin will easily stand up to any of its competition, no matter what the country of origin. I do wish the company would find a new steering wheel designer, though, as this droopy-spoke version is a letdown compared to the rest of the dash. Controls are simple and easy to use, except for the small and fiddly mirror switches, which are mounted high on the door and aren’t backlit at night, as all other controls are.

2009 Saturn Aura XR4
2009 Saturn Aura XR4. Click image to enlarge

The deep trunk is 115 cm long, but it’s hampered somewhat by the sweeping roofline; the design produces a small trunk lid and correspondingly undersized opening, and so while the trunk will hold 421 litres (14.9 cu. ft.), you may have to do some juggling to get bulky cargo inside. The rear seats fold, increasing the trunk length to 195 cm; they don’t fall completely flat, but they have a plastic backing that makes it easy to slide items across them, and easy to clean.

Overall, GM has certainly delivered here: mention top-notch midsize sedans, and the Aura is up there with the best of them. It’s scheduled to be replaced by another Opel sedan, the Insignia, for 2010. Until then, the Aura can be confidently cross-shopped against all of the “best of” on the market.

Pricing: 2009 Saturn Aura XR4

Base price: $27,930
Options: $2,680 (“Sun and Sound” package of power sunroof and enhanced sound system with rear-seat audio controls and wireless headphones, $1,470; leather seats, $935; power-adjustable pedals, $185; engine block heater, $75; front license plate bracket, $15)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,300
Price as tested: $32,010
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2009 Saturn Aura

    Related articles on Autos
  • 2007 Saturn Aura by Laurance Yap
  • 2007 Saturn Aura XR by Paul Williams
  • 2007 Saturn Aura Green Line by Greg Wilson
  • 2007 Saturn Aura XR by James Bergeron

    Competitors
  • Chevrolet Malibu
  • Chrysler Sebring
  • Dodge Avenger
  • Ford Fusion
  • Honda Accord
  • Hyundai Sonata
  • Kia Magentis
  • Mazda6
  • Mitsubishi Galant
  • Nissan Altima
  • Subaru Legacy
  • Toyota Camry
  • Volkswagen Jetta

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Saturn Canada
  • Connect with Autos.ca