2006 Saturn Vue
2006 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge


Review by Chris Chase; photos by Jil McIntosh

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Photo Gallery: 2006 Saturn Vue

Maybe Saturn was hoping for bigger things when it introduced its first SUV in 2002. Just as this General Motors division hoped that its original compact cars would steal sales from import competitors in the early 1990s, Saturn aimed this new model at the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which had been hot sellers since their late 1990s introductions.

But while the Vue proved popular enough, it never achieved that kind of popularity; certainly not the way Ford did with its 2001 Escape, which quickly became, and remained, the best-selling compact SUV in Canada.

Initially, the Vue was available with either a 2.2-litre four-cylinder (143 horsepower) or a 3.0-litre V6 (181 hp), both borrowed from the L-series mid-size sedan and wagon. Transmission choices were a standard five-speed manual for the four-banger or a standard five-speed automatic for the V6; four-cylinder Vues were apparently also available with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), but these are hard to find these days; the CVT was cancelled after 2004 due to poor reliability; it was replaced by a four-speed automatic. In 2004, Saturn began bolting a Honda 3.5-litre V6 into Vues, which gave V6 models an extra 70 or so horsepower over the old 3.0-litre. The new V6 coincided with the arrival of the Vue Red Line, which got an aggressive body kit, stiffer suspension and unique 18-inch wheels.

2002 Saturn Vue
2002 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge

A mid-cycle facelift in 2006 brought new front and rear fascias; the new front end received a lukewarm welcome, given that the original look was quite attractive.

With the CVT and front-wheel drive, four-cylinder fuel consumption was about 11 L/100 km in the city and 7.7 L/100 km on the highway according to Natural Resources Canada; a V6-powered, front-wheel drive model got ratings of a little more than 12 L/100 km in the city and around 8 L/100 km on the highway.

Consumer Reports doesn’t have a listing for the Vue in its used-car ratings, but according to posts in Saturn-related Internet forums, reliability could be described as average at best, with a few common issues. Wheel bearings and crankshaft position sensors seem prone to failure, as do the optional front-seat heaters; this last item can usually be traced to either a bad control module or fried heating elements.

2006 Saturn Vue
2006 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge

The Dexcool-type engine coolant used in the Vue’s engines hasn’t earned a lot of fans. Apparently, this coolant promotes the formation of sludge in the cooling system which can clog cooling system passages and hoses. That’s bad enough, but if the system isn’t completely full and air pockets form, Dexcool coolants can become increasingly acidic and cause deterioration of head gaskets, leading to these parts failing. Here’s an explanation of the differences between Dexcool-type coolants and more traditional formulations.

One potentially expensive fix is for a failed horn switch. Located in the steering wheel, this switch is apparently tied into the driver’s airbag. Replacing the horn switch requires pulling the entire airbag assembly, which is an expensive part.

2006 Saturn Vue
2006 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge

I’ve seen reports of bad engine control computers in early Vues, but I wasn’t able to find enough concrete evidence to corroborate this.

Perhaps the Vue’s most famous problem was with rear suspensions that would collapse in tight turns taken at higher speeds, causing a rollover. This was the subject of a voluntary recall by Saturn for 2002 and 2004 Vues sold in North America.

It’s hard to argue with the Vue’s safety ratings, however. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Vue five stars in frontal and side impact tests, except for the 2002 and 2003 model years, which earned four stars for front passenger protection in front impacts.

2006 Saturn Vue
2006 Saturn Vue
2006 Saturn Vue. Click image to enlarge

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Vue a “good” rating in its frontal offset crash test, but a far less favourable “poor” rating in side impact testing. Both organizations tested models without the available side airbags; these have been optional across the Vue line-up since its introduction.

Other available safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes (optional on all earlier models, but standard on 2004 and newer V6 models; traction control was available too.

The Vue’s low resale values make it a tempting used vehicle choice: go back to 2002 and Canadian Red Book values range from $8,725 for a basic front-drive version to $11,400 for a V6 model. In comparison, a 2002 CR-V is worth $14,400 in basic LX form, or $15,075 for a loaded EX-L model. Keep in mind, too, that the CR-V has never been offered with a V6 engine.

But a Ford Escape, which enjoys a better reputation for durability than the Vue, can be had for a similar price. If low price and a domestic nameplate are your key considerations, that’s the route I’d recommend. Otherwise, spend the extra cash for a CR-V or Toyota RAV4.


Online resources

SaturnFans.com looks like a great Vue resource. The Vue section is split up into several sections: a general discussion section gets the most attention from posters, but the technical discussion area sees a lot of activity too, and this is where you’ll find most of the information related to the Vue’s reliability and mechanical quirks. Over at SaturnSpot.com, the Vue gets lumped into a section with the newer (and soon to disappear) Relay minivan and Outlook crossover. Much of the newer discussions have to do with the Outlook, so best to search through older posts for information on the Vue. That said, SaturnSpot.com isn’t anywhere as busy as SaturnFans.com.


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Manufacturer’s Website


Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002203; Units affected: 4,497

2002-2003: On certain vehicles, the front seat belt assemblies do not include the statement required by CMVSS 209 for certain load limiting retractors. Correction: Dealer will place a label with the required information inside the front seat belt shoulder harness faster cover on both sides of the vehicle.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002329; Units affected: 187

2004: Certain vehicles fail to conform to CMVSS 120. The wheel rim designation is not listed correctly on the tire/certification label on vehicles equipped with a 17X7J wheel. If the wheel rim size is incorrectly printed on a tire/certification label, a service technician who solely uses the tire/certification label for service information may attempt to replace a damaged wheel with an incorrect wheel. Correction: Saturn will provide owners with a corrected label.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2006356; Units affected: 59

2007: On certain vehicles, the electrical connections from the Sensing and Diagnostic Module (SDM) to the roof-mounted side impact airbags and the safety belt pretensioner are reversed. In frontal impacts, the safety belt pretensioner will not deploy, potentially increasing the risk of personal injury to the seat occupant. Correction: Dealers will replace the SDM and reprogram the Body Control Module (BCM). Note: GM has mailed written notification and contacted by phone every affected owner.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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