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2,800 Miles in a 2008 Saturn Aura XE 3.5

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I spent this past week driving 2,800 miles with my family in a rented Aura XE 3.5 with about 25,000 miles on the clock. I chose it over a Camry SE to support the home team. Of course, for GM, it matters little which car I picked. It felt good though.

What a good looking car, especially in silver sitting atop those bright spoked aluminum wheels! Details inside and out look well thought out and a bit upscale too. Many features that I've had on cars costing twice as much such as interior LED lighting and oil life monitor are included. Although fit and finish is very good overall, the double compartment center console felt on the verge of breaking. No doubt this was partly because of rental car duty, but the design also feels chintzy. The door bezel covers were also loose but this was only apparent when you tapped on them. Most glaring was the where the right rear door trim rubbed on the interior body trim when you opened and closed the door. This caused a subtle "whoosh" sound when the door was opened and closed. I was disappointed that the doors, in general, do not have more of a "thunk" feel when closed. The front doors, in particular, feel slightly like the old loose GM doors.

On the road this car is solid with nary a rattle. And quiet. The OEM tires felt overinflated and were causing a surprisingly harsh ride. Once the tires were inflated properly the ride was much better. As with all low profile tires you really feel an unbalanced tire especially once you get some miles on them. This car was no exception. Though the ride motion is pretty good you feel every bump, a characteristic that I don't prefer but one that is probably in line with the market GM is going after. Handling is terrific. I never once felt insecure taking a corner fast. The brake linings on the car I drove were nearing the end. Even so, braking was very good.

GM has done such a nice job with sound deadening that the Hankook tires and wind noise are the biggest source of unwanted noise. GM has also done well with the materials that you touch. The leather-wrapped steering wheel, for example, with audio, cruise and trip computer controls rivals BMW. All of the controls without exception are among the most precise.

Taller drivers will not like getting in and out. The roofline is low and designed for style. I'm not particularly tall, but I felt like I was going to bang my head getting in the driver's seat every time. Luckily the seat adjusts every which way (front and rear bottom cushion, recline, fore/aft). Not until towards the end of my trip did I discover the lumbar adjustment. It's strangely located on the left side of the seat back. Although the seats weren't uncomfortable I didn't find them particularly comfortable either. The bottom cushions are bolstered too much so that you can't "spread out." (I really hope all this talk about Buicks becoming Opels is just talk:) My kids did not complain about rear seat space and the trunk is huge.

The Aura's throttle response reminds me of Mercedes-Benz's (or at least how they used to be). You really dip into it before you feel velocity. Perhaps it's because it weighs over 3500 pounds but only has 219 hp on tap. Still, I never felt like I didn't have enough power. Though the transmission was typical GM (very smooth) it had an alarming habit of slamming on highway acceleration 4-3 downshifts and 3-4 upshifts. Might have been just this example and not indicative of all 4-speed 3.5 Auras. Fuel economy was excellent at 31 mpg. This was mostly highway driving at the speed limit which varied between 65 and 80 mph where I was.

Overall, I liked this car. Personally, I'd prefer a Buick version with less bolstering, easier ingress/egress, and a less intrusive ride. Speaking of Buick, one former Regal GS driver remarked to me that the Aura reminded him of the LaCrosse from a distance. A former Saturn SL owner who rode with me said it was much nicer than his Saturn which "was a piece of junk." With comments as diverse as this I wonder what most people think of Saturn. Or do they at all? What separates an Aura buyer from a Malibu or G6 buyer? GM has the car part down pat. If there's any failing here it's because of brand image fuzziness.

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Excellent writeup. Next time you do one though, there is a section for C&G test drives/writeups. :wink:

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Almost forgot. I saw an uncamo'd red 2010 Camaro travelling eastbound on I-10 near Phoenix on Sunday 12/28. Unfortunately, I was going the other way. Looks good though.

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Thanks. Never noticed the test drives section before. I'll check it out.

Excellent writeup. Next time you do one though, there is a section for C&G test drives/writeups. :wink:
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my aura test drives, i can echo many things you said.

i have driven the 4 and the XR 3.6. the 3.6 SCOOTS and has great handling. the 2.4 is peppy for a four and is all most could want.

the only complain i had regarding the aura was the structure lacked a little solidity and isolation, seemed a tish flexy when when drving hard and paddle shifting the XR. maybe it was a suspension compliance thing that felt more like flexi structure instead of impact harshness.

the low roofline i felt was probably the aura's biggest flaw along with some cheapness of the interior plastic.

overall though, anyone who bitches about the car is reaching. the aura is a good car. i have driven the g6 and malibu too and i prefer the aura and g6 to the malibu, really not by much though. just preference.

i prefer the epsilons over the fusion, but honestly on my second P platform ford, and for the money you can get one for, i'd buy a taurus over a malibu. i am guessing the recent upgrades to the fusion may make me want to reconsider fusion vs. epsilon.

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My buddy and I took a 2009 2.4 with 6 speed automatic out for a test drive and were a bit dissapointed with the performance but were surprised how smooth and quiet it was overall. The 3500 was a good engine in the Aura and it was a shame they never offered it with the 6 speed auto as they did in the Vue. It seems like it also gets about the same mileage overall as the 2.4 so it's mainly a perception thing about DOHC VS OHV architecture.

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The 2.4 DOHC beats the 3.5 OHV by 4 mpg in both the city and the highway, so it's not mainly a perception thing.

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I've got an 08 Aura 3.5 with 21K miles on it. On the hilly interstates I drive, it delivers better fuel economy than the 4 cyclinder cars I've owned - including Hondas. So far the Aura has been bulletproof.

Regards:

Oldengineer

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I've got an 08 Aura 3.5 with 21K miles on it. On the hilly interstates I drive, it delivers better fuel economy than the 4 cyclinder cars I've owned - including Hondas. So far the Aura has been bulletproof.

Regards:

Oldengineer

That's a good point - for those that live in very hilly or even mountainous areas, sometimes the larger engine actually ends up giving better mpgs, because the engine isn't as overworked. It's also very unnerving to be in a car going over a mountain pass, and the car progressively loses speed as you climb, even with downshifting. People that live in cities or flat areas really don't understand how important some extra power can be for some situations that some people deal with on a regular basis.

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C/D's 0-60 with the malibu4/6 sp was mid 8's or low 8's. i can't quite recall but they did a test with the 3.5v6 /4 sp when it came out. i gotta check the time but i think the 4 pot with 6 sp might be quicker to 60.

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C/D's 0-60 with the malibu4/6 sp was mid 8's or low 8's. i can't quite recall but they did a test with the 3.5v6 /4 sp when it came out. i gotta check the time but i think the 4 pot with 6 sp might be quicker to 60.

I think you'll find that the 3.5 Aura has a 0 - 60 time of about 7.9. That's what C/D got for the Pontiac G6GT with the 3.5/4 speed.

Regards:

Oldengineer

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I think you'll find that the 3.5 Aura has a 0 - 60 time of about 7.9. That's what C/D got for the Pontiac G6GT with the 3.5/4 speed.

Regards:

Oldengineer

that makes sense then. the 2.4/6 malibu came in at 8.6 0-60 at CD.

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I just recently rented a 2009 Malibu LTZ with 2.4/6 speed for a weekend and clocked over 1000 miles with that car. I know it's not an Aura but they are basically the same car and feel about the same when driving as far as the engine/tranny are concerned. My car had 12,900 miles on the clock when I picked it up and almost 14K when dropped off to the rental agency. The engine runs with near dead silence at ide and delivers decent enough performance but certainly not as much as my 3500 Malibu. The 6 speed tranny has the same kick down hesitation as the Aura we test drove last month when called on for more power but it didn't happen every time. On paper the 2.4 is rated at 22/33. I tested the Malibu in every possible condition and made sure I filled up with non Ethanol gas and also tried different brands. City/suburban driving saw 22-23 MPG on the trip computer. One pure highway trip saw 29.3 going 75 MPH. Another highway run with a few stops netted 27.5 MPG on the computer and yet another pure highway run going 70 saw 30.0 MPG. I could not for the life of me get even close to 33 with this car. Maybe the 2.4 needs more break in miles than 14K and maybe the huge 18" rims dig into mileage a bit compared to the lesser models 16 and 17" rims. My overall combined mileage with 50/50 mix was usually in the 24.5-25 range which I consider just average for the reduction in performance compared to my Malibu. I also had a chance to time the car to 60 with my buddies G-tech and got a consistant 8.7 seconds to 60 so the 8.6 that C&D got with the LT Malibu seems accurate. Overall the 2009 Malibu it'self impressed me for the most part but I longed for the stronger performance, better shifting 4 speed tranny and slightly better highway mileage of my 3500 equipped 2007 Malibu at the end of the day. It would be really interesting to drive a new style Malibu with the 3500 but those are fleet only and very hard to find.

Edited by ponchoman49
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