2008 Saturn Vue
2008 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

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Photo Gallery: 2008 Saturn Vue

Something is happening at Saturn. In March 2006, GM’s Saturn Division had but three vehicles in its portfolio: the compact Ion sedan, the Relay minivan and the Vue compact SUV.

Since then, Saturn has introduced three new models, the Sky two-seater roadster, the Outlook mid-sized SUV (replacing the Relay) and the mid-sized Aura sedan. And by the end of 2007, yet another will join the Saturn fleet – this one a compact hatchback imported from Opel in Europe, the Astra, replacing the Ion. The Astra, which is sure to catch the attention of compact buyers here in Canada, will be available in both two- and four-door versions.

“Something indeed is happening at Saturn,” the Division’s General Manager Jil Lajdziak told reporters last week at the Canadian press introduction of the 2008 Saturn Vue, “a complete revitalization of the Saturn brand.”

And so far, the revitalization appears to be paying off. Sales for the first part of 2007 are up in both Canada and the US, 32% and 30% respectively. May 2007 was Saturn’s best month in its history. Sales of Saturn cars nearly doubled in May. In Canada, the Ion is Saturn’s number one seller.

2008 Saturn Vue
2008 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge

In the US, the Vue is Saturn’s leader and the compact SUV is a key product in the revitalization strategy that will take Saturn from three vehicles to six in less than 20 months. Sales of compact SUVs are growing both here and in the US. The segment is up 23% this year.

For 2008, the Vue has not been just revitalized, it is a completely new vehicle. It is so far removed from the original Vue that it is a wonder Saturn didn’t change the name.

With the Vue, Saturn’s trade-mark, dent-resistant plastic panels are history. This car has sheet metal. And it is good-looking sheet metal at that, with tighter gaps than would ever have been possible with plastic.

2008 Saturn Vue
2008 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge

The new Vue is an attractive sport ute with a pleasing face that shares the Saturn “brand bar” with Saturn’s other new vehicles, the Sky, Outlook and Aura. However, I wondered about some of the design features, such as the side vents that seem borrowed from Jaguar or Land Rover, and the two lower reflectors on the rear bumper that may serve no other purpose than to punctuate a massive rear bumper.

Despite these quibbles, the new Vue is arguably the best looking sport utility to come along since Hyundai’s new Santa Fe.

And the extreme make-over continues inside. Granted, my test drive was restricted to top-of-the-line, leather equipped models, but the level of refinement found inside the Vue was unlike anything I’ve seen before.

2008 Saturn Vue
2008 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge

Soft, comfortable seats, attractive metal trim on the steering wheel and door handles, a higher quality roof liner and better materials overall are a big improvement. Those familiar with GM’s most recent models will find similar switches and controls in the Vue. The climate controls and nav system were identical to that found in Autos’s Suzuki XL-7 long-term tester and the gauge cluster was very similar. This is not a bad thing: the gauges are large and easy to read, while the climate controls are intuitive and functional.

Where the Vue may have trouble tarnishing the Santa Fe’s rising star is on price. The 2008 Saturn Vue starts at $26,990 in four-cylinder, front-wheel drive base XE form, quite a bit higher than the ’07’s $23,565 base price (albeit with a bunch of safety and convenience features that could not be had on the 2007 model) and a thousand dollars more than a base Santa Fe with its standard 2.7-litre V6.

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

Pricing for the 2008 Vue naturally climbs upward from there: $31,275 for an all-wheel drive, 3.5-litre XE. In the up-level XR trim, equipped with a 3.6-litre engine, the front-wheel-drive model begins at $31,335, and the all-wheel-drive at $33,920. Additionally, performance orientated Red Line models will be available this summer beginning at $36,020 for the front-wheel-drive and $38,605 for the all-wheel-drive model. A 2.4-litre Green Line hybrid version will come in the Fall, while a 3.6-litre hybrid version is planned for 2008.

All the test vehicles I drove were XR models, equipped with a 257-horsepower V6 engine and either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Pricing information in the vehicles showed MSRPs ranging from $40,000 to $42,000 with options such as navigation system and accessories included. That’s Veracruz country, higher than the entry-level price of Hyundai’s new mid-sized luxury SUV and well-above the highest price in the Santa Fe line-up ($35,995; navigation system not available in either of the Hyundais).

The 3.6-litre V6 engine, with 257 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque has plenty of power to move the Vue, though it has a substantial feel: it weighs in at a hefty 962 kilograms (4,325 lbs). Behind the V6 is a six-speed transmission with manual-shifting feature. It had a tendency to hunt for gears on long upward inclines, but the transmission would hold a gear in manual mode right to the rev limiter.

Fuel consumption with both the 3.5- and 3.6-litre engines is predicted to be 11.3 litres per 100 kilometres (25 mpg Imp.) in combined city and highway driving, which sounds reasonable – but I wasn’t able to determine real-world fuel consumption. The 169-hp inline 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine is predicted to attain a combined rating of 9.4 L/100 km (30 mpg Imp.).

When properly equipped, the Vue can tow up to 1,587 kg (3,500 pounds). A towing stabilization system uses active braking to help control the vehicle in trailering situations: electronic trailer sway control applies brake pressure and reduces engine torque until the snaking stops. The Vue can also be towed as an RV “dinghy vehicle” with all four wheels on the ground.

2008 Saturn Vue
2008 Saturn Astra
2008 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge

Standard active safety features include four-wheel disc brakes, traction control and GM StabiliTrak electronic stability control. Passive safety features include dual-stage front air bags, front seat side thorax airbags and rollover capable head curtain airbags covering both front and rear rows of seats. Also standard are active front head restraints, tire pressure monitoring system, pedal release system and OnStar with a one-year Safe & Sound subscription.

Engineered in Korea, GM-Daewoo engineers have done an admirable job with the Vue’s rigid structure and firm suspension. The four-wheel independent suspension, with stabilizer bars front and rear, easily absorbs bumps and potholes while maintaining a secure and confident on-road behaviour. Pushed hard on loose gravel, the Vue’s electronic stability control quickly reigned in a rear-wheel skid.

The all-wheel drive system in the Vue is described as ‘proactive’ rather than ‘reactive’. Monitors sense wheel speed and slip, throttle input and steering angle. Under normal conditions, the Vue operates almost exclusively in front-wheel mode, but is capable of re-directing up to 80% of torque to the rear wheels before the front wheels slip. If one side of the vehicle becomes stuck on ice, the system will re-direct torque to the side with traction.

2008 Saturn Vue
2008 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge

I was surprised not only by the handling of this vehicle but by the extreme quiet within the cabin. The suspension isolates most exterior sounds and road noise, with the exception of some minor rear tire slap. There was very little wind noise, allowing normal conversation levels.

The new Vue is a five-seat SUV and has plenty of room for four adults. Rear leg room is more than sufficient, while the optional eight-way power driver’s seat allows the driver to find a comfortable seating position. However, the steering wheel does not have a telescopic adjustment which may be a problem for some people. As well, I found the front passenger space a bit cramped. A large, deep glovebox – a bonus by itself – unfortunately intruded on the knee space of long-legged passengers.

2008 Saturn Vue
2008 Saturn Astra
2008 Saturn Vue cargo area (top) and 2008 Saturn Astra (bottom). Click image to enlarge

The 60/40 rear seats fold flat, as does the passenger seat, providing a lot of space for cargo.

In her presentation to Canadian auto journalists, Saturn General Manager Jil Lajdziak noted that while Saturn’s products were undergoing significant changes, the Saturn buying experience would be preserved. The “no haggle, no hassle” sales approach will continue. That doesn’t mean Saturn sells only for the suggested retail price; dealers are free to sell at whatever price they feel appropriate. No haggle, no hassle does mean that dealers will treat all customers the same with respect to price. The no haggle, no hassle sales approach is something people have liked about Saturn since its beginning and it is not about to change.

Ms. Lajdziak said that their research showed “people like the brand, even if they did not necessarily like the product.”

With the recent introduction of the Sky, Outlook and Aura, the new 2008 Vue and the soon to arrive Astra, Saturn finally has some good product to back up their brand.

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