A local dealer wasn't fond of the criticism, but even Saturn knew there were problems and started correcting some of them by 2004.
First up was more soundproofing and the optional 3.5 liter V-6 from Honda.Four years later, the Vue has now what it needed then - refinement, refinement, refinement.
Those early years of cheap, rough interior plastic and the raspy 3.0 V-6 are mostly gone. Vue's still not perfect, but it's perfect enough for those who want to support a good American-made product. (For now, the Vue is still built in Spring Hill, Tenn.)
This is a platform also shared with the Chevy Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, but the Vue seems most distinct. The styling is one of the most complete and contemporary of the lot, which includes Jeep Liberty, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.
Vue is sold in four-cylinder or V-6 models, with a choice of all-wheel drive only on the V-6. Pricing starts at $17,990, which includes such extras as remote locking, air conditioning and power windows, locks and mirrors. A four-speed automatic transmission adds $1,355.
The V-6 starts at $21,990 and was $26,200 as tested. Options included a power sunroof, leather, power driver seat and head curtain side air bags. Floor mats added $80.
Vue comes with another desirable feature. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives it a top five-star rating for driver and passengers in front- and side-impact tests.
The 2006 Vue has gone through what is called a major midcycle redesign that updates just about everything seen or touched. That includes a new interior, new front and rear fascias with an integrated step pad, hood and grille.
This freshening is particularly timely for the launch of the Vue Green Line gasoline-electric hybrid.
The fully loaded Vue will have the necessary style and refinement to make a good impression on the many buyers who will seek this SUV for its improved fuel economy. The Vue Green Line goes on sale this summer.
As part of the Vue's value pricing, the Power Package was made standard, which adds cruise control; power windows, locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and outside temperature readouts.
The four-cylinder model is a good starter vehicle and a worthy consideration for a college student. There's plenty of cargo capacity with the forward-folding front seat back and rear 70/30 split seat.
The engine has an oil-life monitor to remind drivers when it's time for a change. The first tuneup isn't for 100,000 miles.
It's also a favorite as a dinghy for RVers because it can be flat-towed without racking up mileage on the odometer.
I've only ever driven the V-6, so I can't say how rapidly the 143-horsepower four-cylinder can motivate its 3,207 pounds. Kelley Blue Book testers say it is surprisingly fast off the line, but that dissipates quickly as more passengers and cargo are added.
Fuel economy is 23/28 with the five-speed manual and 22/26 with the four-speed automatic. The four-cylinder is available only in front-wheel drive. The V-6 has the choice of front- or all-wheel drive and the five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic.
For those who have someplace to be and are in a hurry to get there, the V-6 is the better choice. It'll get up to highway speed - zero-to-60 mph - in about 7.5 seconds, which is plenty to keep you out of trouble.
Fuel economy isn't horrible at 20/28, on 87 octane, but the gas tank is just 16 gallons, so it might seem the needle moves quickly toward empty.
Small SUVs are ideal because of their tough-it-out personalities. This one still has an array of storage slots, boxes and consoles built in. A nifty foldaway bin in the cargo area is good for corraling grocery bags or muddy boots.
Somewhere in the evolution, the turning circle has grown more than a foot, to 39.4 feet. That's too much for the trail or the mall. And there is no lock on the glove box, no rear center armrest and no individual rear reading lights, but you don't pay for those, either.
But what will four more years bring?
2006 Saturn Vue V-6
Body style: Compact five-door, five-passenger sport utility, with front-wheel or all-wheel drive; polymer front fenders, door panels, rear quarter panels and bumper fascias; galvanized steel hood, roof and liftgate
Engine: Aluminum SOHC 3.5 liter V-6 with four valves per cylinder and continuously variable valve timing
Horsepower: 250 at 5,800 rpm
Torque: 242 at 4,500 rpm
Transmission: five-speed automatic with grade logic control
Acceleration: 0 to 60 mph, 7.5 seconds, estimated
EPA fuel economy estimates: 20 mpg city, 28 highway; AWD, 19/25
Fuel capacity: 16.3 gallons; 87 octane recommended
Cargo space: 30.8 cubic feet
Front head/leg/shoulder room, with sunroof: 39.3/41.3/54.7 inches
Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 40.3/40.1/54.7 inches
Length/wheelbase: 181.3/106.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,478 pounds; AWD, 3,630
Tow capacity: 3,500, with trailer brakes
Standard equipment: Remote locking, air conditioning with pollen filter, power windows-locks-mirrors, CD audio system, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and temperature display, cruise control, map lights, driver seat height adjuster, fold-flat front passenger seat back, 70/30 split folding rear seat, foldaway cargo organizer, center console with storage, three 12-volt power outlets, stainless steel exhaust
Safety equipment: Dual-stage front air bags with front passenger sensing system, anti-lock brakes with traction control
Brakes: Power-assisted front discs, rear drums, with ABS
Steering: Electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion; turning circle, 39.4 feet
Suspension: 4-wheel independent with coil springs and anti-roll bars
Tires and wheels: P215/70SR 16-inch Bridgestone Dueler all-season touring blackwall radial on alloy wheels
Base: $21,990, including $600 freight charge; price as tested, $26,200
Options on test car: Power sunroof, $725; leather package, $695; six-CD changer with MP3, $650; Comfort package, $595, includes six-way power driver seat, heated front seats, driver lumbar support; head curtain side air bags, $395; XM satellite radio, $325; 17-inch alloy wheels, $300; Chrome package, $295, includes skid plates and fog lamps; roof rail chrome, $150; floor mats, $80
The competition: Jeep Liberty, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V
Where assembled: Spring Hill, Tenn.
PLUSES: Good looking, good price and efficient use of space inside.
MINUSES: Still a little rough inside when compared with the import competitors, but much better than before; 39.4-foot turning circle.
- - -
Saturn's Hybrid SUV offers smooth ride without compromise
By Mark Maynard
Copley News Service
When the Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid SUV goes on sale this summer, it will arrive with a slightly different gasoline-electric propulsion system.
The one-mode operating system doesn't use battery power alone at low speeds to propel the vehicle, as do the Toyota Prius, Ford Escape and others.
Additionally, the lightweight Vue system is space-efficient, taking up less usable interior space.
It also will cost less than a two-mode system, adding about $2,000 to the suggested retail price, Saturn says.
The Green Line Vue will be equipped as a high-line model with an estimated starting price of just under $23,000. Official pricing will be announced later, and there will be a lease offer. (The Ford Escape hybrid starts at $26,900 and the midsize Toyota Highlander hybrid at $33,030.)
Fuel economy will be about 20 percent better than the gasoline-engine Vue.
Environmental Protection Agency mileage certification has not been completed, but testing by an independent agency yielded 27 mpg around town and 32 on the highway. The standard four-cylinder Vue has EPA-rated mileage of 22/27.
Larry Nitz of General Motors' global hybrid center says the Vue hybrid's fuel economy ratings are real-world numbers, achieved in more than 3,000 test miles while using the defroster, audio system and air conditioning.
Fuel is conserved through engine shut-off at idle, fuel cut-off on deceleration and electric motor/generator assist during acceleration.
Electrical energy is captured and stored in the battery pack through regenerative braking, which turns the drive motor into a generator when the brakes are applied.
And charging the battery at efficient times saves fuel by not putting drag on the engine at all times.
The beauty of the one-mode system, Nitz says, is in how its efficiency is transparent to the user.
No cutting or major work had to be done to the standard Vue to accommodate the hybrid drive. There are no compromises in tow capacity, and cargo space is the same.
Because the vehicle isn't powered by battery alone, the pack can be much smaller and can fit below the cargo floor. The entire system adds about 125 pounds.
In it, a 2.4 liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine is integrated with a motor/generator, nickel-metal hydride battery pack and a four-speed automatic transmission.
Horsepower increases to 170 from 143 hp for the standard engine. The battery boosts acceleration, resulting in more low-end torque.
The transmission was modified with an auxiliary oil pump to keep the transmission charged with oil, so that when a driver steps on the gas, there is instant go. Hill start assist with anti-lock brakes prevents rolling backward when stopped on an incline.
Four-wheel drive is possible, but not now, Nitz says.
Aerodynamic enhancements also were important in gaining mileage. There is no roof rack, although one can be ordered; the suspension is lowered (to the same height as the sporty Red Line Vue); and a small spoiler at the top of the tailgate helps air flow.
Also added were low rolling resistance tires and low mass alloy wheels. In all, 22 points of aero modifications gained about two-tenths of a mile per gallon.
Inside, the hybrid quality is downplayed.
Gauges have a black background with white, lighted lettering. A three-position switch for air conditioning has a "green" mode for maximum economy.
There isn't a big digital readout for the drive mode and power flow (common in other systems), just a charge-assist gauge and an "Eco" light that comes on when the driver is achieving better than EPA mpg.
"It acts as an aid for people to try to maximize their driving styles," chief engineer Bob Reuter says.
In a recent 71-mile test drive of preproduction vehicles, the Green Line's driving experience was much like the standard Vue. The hybrid functioned smoothly, although it takes concentration and a light right foot to keep the Eco light illuminated.
Lift off the brake and the electric motor begins to spin the motor up to speed. The vehicle begins to move on electric power, then the engine comes on. Step on the throttle and fueling comes on instantly.
There's a slight whine to the regenerative braking and silence at full stop when the engine shuts off, similar to other hybrids. This system will be applied to other small vehicles among the GM divisions.
A more sophisticated, two-mode system is in development with Chrysler and BMW. That system is expected to be ready in 2007-08, with the first application at GM going to the Chevrolet Malibu.
General Motors might have been asleep at the switch for the initial surge of interest in hybrid vehicles, but the Vue Green Line will be its third hybrid vehicle.
It also makes mild hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups and full-hybrid city buses.
2006 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid
Engine: Aluminum 2.4 liter DOHC inline four-cylinder integrated with an electric motor/generator and nickel-metal hydride battery pack
Horsepower: 170 at 6,600 rpm
Torque: 162 foot-pounds at 4,400 rpm
Transmission: four-speed automatic with hill start assist
Fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 32 highway (not yet EPA certified); 87 octane recommended
Curb weight: 3,474 pounds
Base price: $23,000, estimated
Where assembled: Spring Hill, Tenn.
Hybrid competition: Toyota Highlander, Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, Honda Accord
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at [email protected]