Flybrian

The Near-Future of Saturn

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The Near-Future of Saturn
By Brian Dreggors


SKY
Posted Image

Introduced in early 2006 as a 2007 model, Saturn's SKY was a true watershed in the Saturn lineup. Cutting through the clutter to deliver halo car performance at a ridiculous price, the small roadster proved extremely popular. Retailers quickly saw their stocks of naturally-aspirated SKYs and turbocharged SKY Red Lines evaporate before their eyes; some markets have even resorted to purchasing barely-used SKYs on eBay just to have something on the lot.

With 2007s completely sold out, early adopters got bragging rights, but those who wait for '08 get the following:

Standard
(formerly optional)

  • Limited-slip differential
  • Stabilitrack
  • Uplevel (US8) radio unit with MP3 playback, RDS, and SCV.
  • Leather steering wheel
  • XM satellite radio
New
  • Digital tire pressure monitoring system
  • GM Performance Parts turbocharger kit for the 2.4l Ecotec
Colors
  • Techno Gray replaces Silver Graphite Metallic
  • Special-Edition SKY in Carbon Flash
  • Color Override (any interior with any exterior) for a nominal surcharge

AURA
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Whether you're a believer or not, hybrid technology is on the rise and is here to stay. GM's first passenger car entry into the burgeoning gas-electric field in the 2008 Saturn AURA Green Line. I had the opportunity for a walkaround of the hybrid AURA at the Brand Advocate Meeting and here are some impressions.

The first thing you notice are smaller 16" five-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in 215/60R16 low-resistance tires that are both attractive and functional. Inside, the fact that this is a hybrid is kept low-key with major tell-tales being labeling on the speedo, a charge gauge, and an economy A/C function on the automatic climate control, a standard feature on the GL.

Under the hood lies the 164hp 4cyl Ecotec. Since these were preproduction vehicles, I couldn't test drive it that day, but I hope to get some wheel time when these start rolling out.

Perhaps the most surprising was the amount of retained trunk space despite the battery pack. 60/40 split-folding rear seats are still 100% usable and the cargo room taken up by the battery was no larger than having a rolled-up beach towel placed transversely across trunk.

In terms of future product information, I nautrally cannot reveal everything, but suffice it to say, the next-generation AURA will be a spectacular ride. I spoke with AURA product manager Andre Kazewych at length about certain aspects of the current AURA as well as the wants and desires of current owners and non-owners alike, especially in regards to a Diesel and manual options. Saturn receives several inquiries a week about both and they are looking heavily into it in terms of future product features. Working in tandem with Opel on the next-generation Vectra and AURA provides Saturn with myriad resources in terms of powertrain and handling refinement. An encouraging sign was the fact that Kazewych enjoys the driving feel of a turbodiesel engine with its copious amounts of low-end torque as well as the high MPG. We've also heard the rumors of a wagon version of the next AURA and Saturn is very much exploring multiple bodystyles.

My personal opinion is that if you like the '08 Malibu, you will like the next AURA even more. Saturn has made a big commitment to the midsize segement like they never have before, so I wouldn't expect them to short us on the next generation.
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Astra
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The compact car is definitely the bread-and-butter of Saturn. Unfortunately, its compacts have been a little too much bread and not enough butter. This is set to change dramatically, however, with the introduction of the Astra. One of the first examples of future collaboration between Saturn and Opel, the 2008 Astra will be powered by a 140hp Ecotec and get mileage comparable to the outgoing ION.

Targeting younger, more educated, and more affluent owners, the Astra will certainly look the part. See the photos below.

Seeing these preproduction cars first hand, the most impressive aspect was the paint quality with no noticable orange peel, something that cannot be said of many foreign-assembled compacts. Saturn reps themselves admitted the photographs simply do not do this car justice and seeing it in person confirms it. Hard creases and a beltline that was neither too high nor too low gave the 3-door XR an incredible stance. Large 18" wheels shod with summer tires filled up the wheel wells sharply while reasonable fender flares cut down on the height issues suffered by most modern hatchbacks. It would be easy to imagine this as an even cheaper, practical offshoot of the SKY.

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The 5-door Astra was shown in a much less stunning silver metallic, but the overall lines of the car speak beyond the color choice. Muscular and dynamic, the 5-door Astra gives off a much different vibe compared to the very feminine Mazda3. Intended to be the volume model (60% of all hatches sold are 5-doors), the wheel and tire combos lean on the side of practicality and comfort, but 17" wheels are still available. The oversized panoramic sunroof is sure to please many who are used to feeling cramped in compacts. This model was even equipped with heated cloth seats, showing that premium looks come with premium equipment.

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Unfortunately, I cannot share interior or engine photos as these were prepro models subject to slight changes before production begins. However, I feel confident in saying that quality, fit, and finsh is worlds beyond the ION and, unless you really love the center-mounted cluster, you'll never look back. My only concern remains with the very foreign ergonomics, something that can be judged from the Chicago pictures we've seen. I hope that Saturn is able to Americanize the Astra in ways that will make the typical American driver feel more at home.

Oh, and though this may not be entirely kosher, I have to sneak in praise for bother the 3- and 5-door Astras having gas-charged hood lifters, a feature - if you're keeping record - that the G35 didn't have until this year and something many Chrysler LX cars still don't have; its therefore not common in the compact market. Kudos to Saturn for this small but meaningful touch!

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Pricing has yet to be announced, but expect an increase over the current ION. I believe, though, that the base Astras will have enough standard equipment to justify the price jump and will likely be cheaper than a similarly-equipped ION on the spec sheet alone. If you can put a price tag on looks and driving experience...fuggedaboutit.

The Astra will roll out in late-'07/early-'08 as a 2008 model. Expect only 5-door XE and XRs and 3-door XRs at intro. No confirmation was given on bodystyle or powertrain variations, but I would all but expect a Red Line version as this is probably the first Saturn to truly receive that sort of attention. What will an Astra RL be made of, one can guess, but remember that Saturn has myriad off-the-shelf OPC components to choose from and Jill Lajdziak's committment to "play to win" in every segment her brand competes in gives me confidence in whatever the future holds. A 4-door Astra in the future would also be a welcome addition for sedan-loving Americans and something I feel Saturn should consider for the next Astra.

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VUE
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Upon first glance, the VUE - well - doesn't look like one. The plastic-bedecked cute-ute is replaced with a very contemporary and dynamically-styled small sport utility that is sure to appeal to those who never otherwise would look at Saturn for such a vehicle.

The interior in this VUE is simply in another galaxy compared to the model it replaces. Soft-touch plastics abound with extremely tight fit-and-finish. You definitely need two hands to count all the different types of trim - dark plastics, light tan plastics, leather, wood, brushed metal and polished chrome abound. What's most impressive are the little luxury touches normally reserved for vehicles much further upmarket. Check out the vinyl flap on the rear of the passenger and driver seats and the felt-lined cubby box on the rear of the center console. That cubby and the cupholders below it, by the way, glide down after a touch of the silver release buttons. Very exquisite.

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Important for VUE owners is utility and the latest VUE keeps this in spades. A large glovebox will keep plenty of things at reach up front and molded holes in the door panels will store things as well. Though shrunken a bit in behind-the-seat cargo room, the VUE still has lots of utility. Goods and things will feel at home with a carpeted rear floor, four tiedowns, and a shield that conceals what you're carrying. Multiple lamps provide illumination at night and the hatch is easy to pull down. The VUE also remains very reconfigurable with a split-folding second-row and fold-flat passenger seat. Something I didn't even notice until last was the neat storage drawer provided under the passenger seat. Unlined plastic means this is designed for small water bottles, cell phone chargers, or anything else. Very thoughtful.

In all, the only questionably-designed part of the VUE would have to be the emergency brake handle, which looks more like something you'd pull to eject after getting shot by a MiG-29, but I will say its design seems original.

A few current VUE owners complained about the seats, which felt too firm for them on first sit, as well as the general shrinkage in dimensions. It will be interesting to see if some who found the old VUE just a tad too small will go ahead and trade up to the OUTLOOK while those who thought the current model was a bit too large would gladly step into the '08 model. Time will tell.

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Outside, this was simply a gorgeous vehicle to look at. And while the old VUE had a cuteness that was desirable in and of itself, this one begs to be gawked it. The static display XR AWD was Onyx Black and an absolute joy to look at. Panels all around were beautifully integrated with thin gaps in between. The overall stance is very sporty, very inviting, and the dual chrome-tipped exhaust pipes complete the sporty look. Thoughful fender flares reduce the visual heft of the VUE and chrome detailing from the greenhouse surrounded to the unique fender vents give it a very upscale aire. The integrated repeater lamp was probably the best little detailing on the VUE.

Performance-wise, expect nothing but great things. Despite the fact that certain versions of this thing now weighs the same as a fullsize G-body sedan, I was assured the performance and fuel economy numbers would remain very, very solid and similar to the outgoing VUE. 0-60 time on the '08 Red Line vs. the -'07 models is actually reduced. Body roll, handling, and suspension geometry are also assured to be night-and-day compared to the outgoing VUE.

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Now comes the fun part. A few of us were lucky enough to take an '08 VUE for a short test drive! Needless to say, it was exciting and in the total 2.5 miles I drove the VUE, it felt amazing. Handling over the poor-condition Michigan roads was very impressive with very little jounce or rebound felt through the wheel or pedals. Wind noise was almost totally isolated from the cabin and we were able to engage in low-volume conversation with each other. The powertrain combo proved its spec sheet merits and delivered that trademark tire-squealing GM InstaTorque. Upshifts and downshifts with the six-speed Hydra-Matic were silky smooth and the responsiveness of the manual gear select mode was impressive. Turning radius seemed pretty small as well.

But the most impressive part of the quick drive comes today as I'm writing this. Ever since that day, I swore we drove a VUE XR with the 250hp 3.6l V6. The engine was very smooth, very responsive, and very powerful. Acceleration was copious. We even all deduced it was, indeed, the XR. Well, looking back at photos and noticing the equipment differences between the XE and XR trims, I realize that we really drove an AWD XE V6...that's right, the high-value 3.5l with 'only' 215hp! I really can't wait to get my hands on an XR in the future!

For future versions, we all know the score: three hybrids - BAS, two-mode, plug-in - released over the next months. In case you didn't know, however, retail VUE production began April 16th and the first units are expected to reach dealerships in May. So, schedule your test drive today; you're sure to be impressed with this beauty!

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Now I know you're thinking, "Gee, thanks for all the pictures of gloveboxes and seats, you dork," but I feel its very important to show how well-designed this VUE is from the inside out. You'll see alot of exterior photos in the coming weeks, but probably not up-close shots like that unless you go check one out in person.

* Notes from the Board - Saturn Brand Advocate Board Meeting Recap
* Saturn's New Retail Look - A first look at the new face of Saturn dealerships
* Building on Tradition - A Tour of Lansing Delta Township Assembly
* The GM Heritage Center - A photographic tour of GM's most historic collection
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The VUE sounds awesome. Its level of quality and presentation is simply unprecedented in a NA GM car, especially an inexpensive one. The indicator stalks, window controls, steering wheel, gauges, light switches, etc, are far more elegant and artistic than what we're used to seeing. I particularly like the door panels... the leather graining, aluminum door pulls, and lacquered wood wouldn't be out of place in a Saab.

The Astra looks hot, btw.

Edited by empowah
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The Vue looks quite impressive with lots of thoughtful features. The only thing that looks cheap is that hand brake...but that may be just because of the camera flash. The blue Astra is awesome.

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Great pics, Fly! I think the VUE will do very well, though it is a bit on the small side.

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Well as i was getting tired of waiting for the Astra you came through with just the pictures I needed to stay focused. It looks stunning! Can you please post some shots of it's interior. Also the 08 Vue looks stunning inside but a little stunted on the out.

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The Astra still looks good with the longer US bumpers. I'd like to see a Red Line version go to the US, even if they have to settle with the 180hp engine for cost/pricing reasons.

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So the XE VUEs have plastic bumpers? Arggh.

I agree with Dodgefan everything looks good except the E-Brake looks like an afterthought. Who knows if it feels cheap, but the design certainly gives a feeling that it would be cheap.

The Astra will be a hot commodity, too bad they can only import what, 30k?

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Any AURA redline info?

Unfortunately, nothing concrete. I'm getting the feeling that the bad news is we likely won't see an AURA RL in this generation. The good news is the next-generation is only a few years away.

Can you please post some shots of it's interior.

Wish I could, but I cannot right now. Certain small aspects will surprise some.

So the XE VUEs have plastic bumpers? Arggh.

Yes.

I agree with Dodgefan everything looks good except the E-Brake looks like an afterthought. Who knows if it feels cheap, but the design certainly gives a feeling that it would be cheap.

Let me add to this by saying the e-brake has a nice feel to it, though it looks quite cheapish.

The Astra will be a hot commodity, too bad they can only import what, 30k?

And its likely the majority of those will be 5-doors (remember, mass-market dictates this) so those first Astra 3-doors will be snapped up like nuts.

I'm really glad they showed a laser blue metallic Astra. Its one fine color for this car to be draped in.

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VUE looks great! although not a fan of the plastic bumpers, even if they're just on the XE models. It cheapens the vehicle and i think hurts resale.

if the revised theta is this good for Saturn, I look foward to seeing the results on the Equinox and Torrent(to GMC).

Edited by jbartley
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The VUE looks really nice - especially on the inside. I like it that they are offering the 3.5L OHV V6 with the six speed automatic - I wish they would do that in the Aura XE. The VUE should sell very well.

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I'm getting the feeling that the bad news is we likely won't see an AURA RL in this generation.

Yup considering the Vectra is Just around the Corner.

Wish I could, but I cannot right now. Certain small aspects will surprise some.

In a good way or bad way?

And its likely the majority of those will be 5-doors (remember, mass-market dictates this) so those first Astra 3-doors will be snapped up like nuts

I kinda disagree, I foresee it selling the 3 door version better than the 5 door. because of the "sporty" feeling and options in it GM is portraying. More hip people will buy it who are independent individuals with no family to tack on.

I'm really glad they showed a laser blue metallic Astra. Its one fine color for this car to be draped in.

Was it not the same color they displayed in the Chicago show? As a matter of fact the 3-door and 5-door in your photos have exactly the same colors as the show cars, which makes me wonder if the are they "SAME" cars, displayed in the auto show.

Colors

Edited by smallchevy
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I kinda disagree, I foresee it selling the 3 door version better than the 5 door. because of the "sporty" feeling and options in it GM is portraying. More hip people will buy it who are independent individuals with no family to tack on.

I have a family to tack on and would still take the 3-door over the 5 any day. I hope they find a way to import more than 30k cars, just from a financial standpoint. It cant be easy to turn a profit on $16k compacts, it would be even harder having to do it with cars that are imported. Plus, for all of its faults, the ION sold pretty well, without being heavily fleeted. I could see Saturn being able to sell 100k Astras, even without a traditional sedan version.
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In my opinion we should see a redline right now. Red line is nothing more than an appearance package and it does not cost Gm much to put a body kit or new bumpers that sit lower on the car. Sorry that is a cop out and it should be in production now.

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going to ditch my G6 early for an Astra XR 3/5 door. made up my mind right now...

and where is the Outlook?

Edited by civilzues
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I hope you told the Saturn people to fix the droopy eyelid foglamps on the Aura. Absolutely kills the front end of the car. I also wish they would ditch the horizontal bars for honeycomb pattern. It would sporty up the looks of the cars.

Whats with the diagonal cut by the front bumper of the Astra? looks like an afterthough instead of trying to make it blend in as with the Mazda 3. They did the same thing with the Cobalt-odd cuts by the bumpers.

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In my opinion we should see a redline right now. Red line is nothing more than an appearance package and it does not cost Gm much to put a body kit or new bumpers that sit lower on the car. Sorry that is a cop out and it should be in production now.

Red Line wasn't just an appearance package in the Ion Red Line, though it has been in the Vue Red Line. Personally, I'd hate to see them continue to water down the Red Line name with another model having just an appearance package...

and where is the Outlook?

At the dealers. :) These are future models.

Edited by PurdueGuy
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