2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Laurance Yap

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Santa Barbara, California – Saturn’s had a bit of an identity crisis over the last few years. Originally intended as GM’s flagship import-fighter division (complete with its own factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee) it was a value-oriented brand pitching small, polymer-paneled economy cars to an audience unwilling to haggle. Lately, things have changed: Saturn now sells a Honda-powered SUV, a competitively-sized minivan and a hot performance model of the Ion coupe – and has also launched the Sky roadster, the sexiest Saturn ever and a car that has only added to the confusion about what, exactly, Saturn is all about.

Things are about to change again, but this time Saturn swears it’s found its new direction. Starting with the new Aura midsize sedan you see here, the brand begins a cautious move upscale and will sell in North America largely unaltered European GM models. They’ll have sharp styling, lots of technology, high quality and what Saturn describes as a European driving feel. All this while retaining the strong value that has made the brand popular with younger buyers.

All of this strikes me as a pretty good way of doing things, particularly since one could argue that GM has been “dumbing down” its European models as it’s brought them to our shores.

2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura. Click image to enlarge

The company spent millions of dollars translating the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra – a great-looking family hatchback sold in Europe – into the blocky Malibu; the attractive European Astra small car was jacked around until it became the Cobalt, an okay car but one that only truly comes alive as the supercharged SS version.

Aimed at the heart of the mainstream midsize-car market, the Aura will be priced right on top of its major competitors, which include the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda6, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion, with base models starting at $25,000 and with the uplevel XR priced around $30,000. It’ll have a fair amount of competition from within the GM stable as well – the Chevy Malibu and the impressively inexpensive Impala come to mind, as does as the Pontiac G6. How will Saturn try to set itself apart from the pack? With its traditionally low-pressure sales experience, and a high level of standard features including a V6 – and with styling.

2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura. Click image to enlarge

Like the Malibu and G6, the front-drive Aura is based on GM’s latest midsize-car platform, but you’d never know it by looking at the thing. The shape looks low and sleek (even though the roof is quite high) with flowing shapes accented by sharp creases; it has a finely tailored look previewed by the Sky but not seen before on any mainstream Saturn. The stance is really nice; the Aura looks poised to pounce. The wheels nicely fill out their fenders, and uplevel models feature multi-spoke 17-inch alloys that wouldn’t look out of place on a BMW or a Mercedes. Best of all, Saturn’s sweated the design details: the Aura’s sharp suit is accented by nicely-designed bits of automotive jewellery like clear-lensed LED tail lamps, twin chrome exhaust pipes, chrome-bar door handles and two intricately-detailed head lamps flanking a nice chrome “moustache” at the front.

In order to achieve a high level of perceived quality – with tight panel gaps and creases that align accurately – the Aura’s body is steel instead of Saturn’s traditional plastic. As such, its side panels are no longer dent-resistant, though a plastic rub strip should minimize parking-lot damage. From a design perspective, I’d say the move was worth it: the Aura feels like a finely-hewn hunk of steel. The doors not only line up perfectly with their adjacent panels, but they slam with a convincingly European “thunk”; the paint finish looks way better than was ever possible on the polymer; the gaps are no longer yawning chasms in order to accommodate the stretching of the side panels with temperature.

While the Aura’s exterior styling sticks pretty closely to its overseas roots, its interior borrows from both the European and American GM parts bins, with items such as the large-format radio and climate controls familiar from recent Chevy and Pontiac offerings combined with deeply-bolstered and comfortable front chairs that seem more German than American. The overall effect is surprisingly cohesive thanks to careful matching of colours and textures: options on higher-end Auras include gorgeous saddle-coloured two-toned leather on the seats and faux-wood trim that flows along the doors, across the dashboard and down into the console. All Auras feature chrome rings surrounding attractive electroluminescent gauges as well as a nice three-spoke tilt/telescope steering wheel with aluminum inserts and remote audio controls.

2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura. Click image to enlarge

The quality of the interior is fine: there are some scratchy-plastic trim bits, but most surfaces are soft to the touch and all of the controls work with a slick, fluid action. Standard equipment includes power assists for pretty much everything, air conditioning, a fine-sounding CD stereo with XM satellite radio capability and automatic headlights. Notable options include a four-panel sliding panoramic sunroof, heated seats, power-adjustable pedals and OnStar. The latest version of GM’s telematics system connects drivers to a live advisor, who can download step-by-step driving directions to the car’s GPS system; the directions then play through the stereo as needed. On the safety front, the Aura packs in side-mounted thorax protection air bags in addition to front and side curtain airbags; front safety belt pretensioners; child safety seat anchors and more.

The interior works as well as it looks. The driving position is widely adjustable and it’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. Save for seat-heater switches mounted out of sight, ergonomics are good: radio and climate controls both feature big, round knobs for most major functions. Storage areas are numerous and useful: there are pockets in the doors, cupholders behind the shifter big enough for a Big Gulp and a usefully large bin in the centre console. In the back, there’s decent space for two thanks to a low-set seat base – though one wonders how comfortable that would be on long trips – and the trunk is enormous.

2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura. Click image to enlarge

Power for the Aura comes from two different V6 engines, each of which comes with a distinctive personality. XE models come with the familiar 3.5-litre V6 with variable valve timing; coupled with the standard four-speed automatic, this 224-hp engine moves the Aura along smartly with a raspy exhaust note, but is relaxed and silent when cruising. The transmission shifts smoothly but there’s a gulf between third and fourth that means it hunts a bit in the hills. Like seemingly all Saturn shifters, the transmission shift gate has confusing markings: there’s the usual PRND, but then you’re faced with “4” to get fourth gear, “I” for “Intermediate” (which gives you either third or second) and then “L” for first.

The second powertrain, a 3.6-litre double-overhead-cam V6, doesn’t produce much more horsepower (252) or more torque (251 lb-ft compared to 220) but its pairing with a six-speed automatic transmission gives it a much sportier, more sophisticated feel. It has a high-tech snarl under hard acceleration, while the transmission always seems to be in the correct gear – finding quieter running (though not better fuel economy; the high-tech V6 is actually marginally more thirsty than the 3.5) when you’re cruising or more power when you’re not. Another nice touch with the six-speed is a pair of manual shift paddles mounted to the back of the steering wheel and the replacement of the 4, I and L with an “M” position for manual.

2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura. Click image to enlarge

Though it’s the same basic component set, the Aura’s suspension tuning is set up for a more European feel compared to the G6 and Malibu; Saturn claims sharper handling but a better-damped ride. It’s more refined; the use of plenty of sound-deadening as well as lessons learned from Buick about noise suppression mean the Aura is near-silent at speed in addition to riding very smoothly. It handles better, too, thanks to big tires (17-inch wheels are standard on the “base” Aura XE while 18-inchers come on the Aura XR) and careful suspension tuning. The XR feels even sharper, thanks to its monotube rear shocks and better rubber; it also performs the interesting trick of riding better than the base car. On both trim levels, braking is confident, with a progressive pedal feel. Four-wheel discs with ABS are standard, while traction control is standard on Aura XE and StabiliTrak stability control comes on the XR.

Given the Aura’s mission to take the brand upmarket, the marriage of its European-inspired driving feel to a choice of V6 powertrains probably makes sense in the short term, and the standard cylinder count is impressive for the price. With their full feature load, attractive styling and confident driving experience, they’re likely to find a good audience among midsize-sedan buyers looking for something distinctive and different.

2007 Saturn Aura
2007 Saturn Aura. Click image to enlarge

I wonder, though, how Saturn retailers will explain the price differences between what look like, on paper, two engines that aren’t significantly different in terms of displacement – and which are both more than adequately powerful for most needs. A lower-priced but similarly-equipped four-cylinder XE model with a price of around $22,000 would be a killer combination for Saturn in Canada, where most of its import competition sells a higher proportion of fours than sixes. There will be a four-cylinder Aura along soon enough: a hybrid version will debut next spring.


At a glance: 2007 Saturn Aura

  • Price: $24,995 to $30,000 (XE); $30,895 to $35,000 (XR)
  • Engine: 3.5 litre V6 (XE); 3.6-litre V6 (XR)
  • Fuel consumption (city/highway): 11.7/8.1 L/100 km (3.5); 11.7/8.4 L/100 km (3.6)
  • Power: 224 hp (3.5); 252 hp (3.6)
  • Torque: 220 lb-ft (3.5); 251 lb-ft (3.6)
  • Competition: Honda Accord, Mazda6, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, VW Passat


Manufacturer’s web site

  • 2007 Saturn Aura at GMCanada.com

Connect with Autos.ca