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Edmunds Reviews VUE Green Line

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Follow-Up Test: 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line

What Works:

Smooth power delivery, roomy cabin, above-average mpg, attractive interior.

What Needs Work:

Poor handling, down on power, borderline rattletrap.

Bottom Line:

Affordable hybrid technology in a roomy SUV — if you can live with the build quality.

By Philip Reed Email | Blog

Date posted: 09-21-2006

We had only driven two blocks in the test vehicle, a 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line, when my wife put a damper on the enthusiasm I was mustering for this budget hybrid.

"So this is one of those rattley cars," she innocently observed.

I wanted to plead the case of the Green Line since it offers 20 percent better mileage than the Vue with an all-gasoline powertrain. I wanted to point out that it's roomy with an attractive interior. But, darn it, she was right. It is rattley. As another staff member observed, "It's like all the fasteners are backed out a quarter turn."

A few years back we had a 2002 Saturn Vue in our long-term fleet and found it to be a pretty reliable vehicle. So the rattley impression doesn't indicate an imminent breakdown. However, it seriously detracts from driving pleasure and an overall feeling of quality. What's more confidence-building than hearing a car's door close with the finality of a bank vault?

Track testing vs. normal driving

At the track, our test driver found that this front-wheel drive hybrid was "painfully slow," taking 10.7 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 mph. Additionally, the braking performance was poor, requiring 144.2 feet to stop from 60 mph. The feel of the brake pedal was described as "squishy." Lack of stability control made the Vue unpredictable in quick transitions, which could prove deadly in an emergency avoidance maneuver. Searching for a plus side, we noted that the Green Line does have traction control and antilock front disc and rear drum brakes.

With the impressions of our test driver in mind, I took the Vue to a canyon road and pushed it through some tight corners. While the handling didn't move the fun-factor needle, the SUV seemed stable and fairly predictable in unspirited driving. The gasoline-electric hybrid power plant's acceleration also proved adequate for most purposes and the four-speed automatic transmission's downshifts were willing. The only reservation I had was that the modified Hydra-matic automatic didn't hold the gears long enough to build speed. The quick shifts were probably designed to boost fuel economy, but it resulted in the transmission "hunting" between gears on steep grades.

At highway speeds, the Green Line was surprisingly stable and quiet. It cruised nicely and the higher driving position provided good visibility in heavy traffic situations. The interior was one of our favorite aspects of this vehicle, with attractive gauges, comfortable seats and a handsome wood grain center console. The three-spoke steering wheel is particularly handsome and pleasing to the touch. Additionally, there is a feeling of spaciousness throughout and the cargo area is downright cavernous with 30.8 cu. ft of storage capacity with the rear seats in place, swelling to 64 cu. ft. with the 60/40 split rear seats folded. We did, however, miss the convenience of a well-placed pull-down handle on the tailgate.

It seems that Saturn missed an opportunity to trumpet the workings of this innovative vehicle. The hybrid operation of the Green Line was so understated that the only clue to its powertrain was a small charge gauge and the "Eco" light that illuminates when it is driven efficiently. Most buyers of this vehicle would like something a bit more descriptive, like the moving diagram provided to Toyota Prius drivers.

A stealth hybrid

Clearly, the Vue Green Line was designed to walk a fine line among several worlds: fuel economy, value and the environment. At a sticker price of about $23,000, it puts hybrid technology within the reach of a new class of buyer, perhaps younger consumers with an interest in saving gas and preserving the environment. However, it doesn't flaunt its green side, and only displays a small hybrid badge to hint at what is under the hood.

A 2.4-liter Ecotec inline-4 engine powers the Vue Green Line, putting out 170 horsepower at 6600 rpm. A motor/generator puts out another 115 pound-feet of torque. The regenerative braking system activates the generator and stores energy that is usually lost while stopping or descending long grades in the nickel-metal hydride battery pack under the rear passenger seats. The stored electricity is used to boost fuel economy by providing additional power to the gas engine when it is under a strong load.

The Green Line's gasoline engine shuts down when the SUV comes to a complete stop, but the battery pack allows the air-conditioning, radio and other electrical devices to continue operating. When the driver takes his or her foot off the brake, the engine quickly starts up and is programmed to spin the motor up to operating rpm for a smooth launch. Unlike other hybrid vehicles, such as the Ford Escape (also the Mercury Mariner), the Green Line is a "mild hybrid," meaning that it never operates in all-electric mode.

But do you save money?

Fuel economy and reduced emissions are two of many reasons to get a hybrid. But figuring out the actual money-saving aspect of a hybrid purchase is more complicated. Some federal and state tax credits are available, but the actual amount depends on how fuel-efficient the vehicle is; the higher the miles per gallon, the higher the tax credit. The best fuel mileage we got while testing the vehicle was 28.4 mpg — not bad for an SUV this big.

With talk of global warming and the need for energy independence, we feel that many people would feel good about owning this vehicle from an environmental standpoint. Still, it's good to check out the competing vehicles which, in this price category, really only include the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner hybrids (about $27,000) or, if you want to stretch even more, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid (about $33,000). While the Escape is smaller, it does get better fuel mileage (combined 33 mpg).

The more you pay upfront for a hybrid vehicle, the longer it takes to begin saving money on gas. If that is your chief concern, the low-priced Saturn Vue Green Line will put you in the black that much faster. Besides, it's an agreeable SUV for around-town use as long as you can get past the generally loose feeling you get when you hit a bump.

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When I worked at a Saturn dealer, about 1 out of 4 Vues had a slight rattle that had to do with a piece in the instrument cluster shroud that would rattle when cool, but if warmed, expand and not rattle. They knew of the problem, and how to fix it, but I think they weren't allowed to do it before someone bought it, because they wouldn't get reimbursed or something. *shrug*

They seemed like very solid vehicles to me, and most didn't rattle that I noticed. Then again, I drive an S-Series, which definately does rattle a bit, so it might have been that I didn't notice since it was better... lol

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