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The Vue

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GM hits mark with revamped Saturn SUV

Fri Nov 11 2005

By David Booth

GM hits mark with revamped Saturn SUV.


'PITY us," goes the Saturn salespersons' lament, "we have no competitive product to sell."
"Our Ions are a little quirky, the Saturn 1s and 2s they replaced went 12 years without substantial change and the L series, well, chartered accountants like them, but they're a rare breed given to frumpy suits and very bad haircuts."


There's definitely an element of truth to it all. The Ions, both coupe and sedan, are fine cars, but they're only starting to catch on. The L300 is only slightly less nondescript than a Toyota Camry. And General Motors did indeed squander an amazing opportunity when it all but abandoned the original Saturn subcompacts to the parking lot behind its research and development building.

But things are changing. The Sky roadster, which accomplishes the almost impossible task of being cuter than the Pontiac Solstice, will soon brighten the floors of the Saturn dealerships. Soon after that, the dramatically styled Aura sedan will appear to make people forget the L200. And then there's the subject of this test, the 2006 Saturn Vue. Launched as a 2002, the Vue had all manner of potential: an innovative continuously variable transmission, a powerful V6 engine (as of 2004) and the plastic body panels that have made previous Saturns all but impervious to the rigours of the urban jungle.

Unfortunately, that high-tech CVT proved troublesome and was dropped from the lineup without ceremony, the front end's styling was a little whack and the interior, like too many of GM's products, looked cheap.

But something's up at Saturn these days. In record time -- for a domestic manufacturer, at least -- it has responded to customer complaints. It has done so to such a degree, in fact, that the Vue vaults from back of the pack to front-runner in the budget SUV segment.

The front end, for instance, has been transformed from decidedly dowdy to seriously sporty. Think Saab 9-7X, throw in a bit of chrome and some big foglights and you get the idea. It's distinctive, aggressive and not at all frumpy.

The interior has been even more dramatically transformed. Yes, those funky fabric seats with the quirky swirl patterns remain, but the entire dashboard has been redesigned. The General has to have let the same designer loose on its Cadillacs because the lowly Vue has a more attractive and expensive-looking dash than the CTS.

There are wood accents (yes, they're fake but well done), a leather-wrapped steering wheel and tactile soft-rubber finishes for the important switchgear. The almost monochromatic black dashboard is also very stylish with a tasteful, and surprisingly subtle, application of chrome. The analogue gauges are large, easily read and, more important, attractive. Well done, Saturn.

Fixing the sore points has let the Saturn's strong suits shine. Foremost among these is the Honda-designed V6 under the hood. The very same powerplant powers the Honda Pilot and, with minor upgrades, the Acura MDX. In Saturn form, the 3.5-litre, 24-valve engine is good for 250 horsepower, giving the Vue punch far beyond its snack bracket. It's also fairly frugal, credited with better Transport Canada fuel economy figures than the similarly sized Chevy Equinox. The single overhead camshaft six is also wonderfully smooth, making it the class of the budget SUV set.

But what really sets the Vue apart is its price tag. That Honda Pilot that so generously donated its engine? Well, it costs $39,400. In front-wheel-drive format, the Vue starts at $27,295. Yes, you read that right. The all-wheel-drive version still sneaks under the $30,000 mark at $29,795. That's downright incredible value, especially since Saturn has fixed the main two complaints surrounding the Vue.

Yeah, the seats could be better. Ditto for the handling, which is just a tad mushy. But the darn thing is now stylish inside and out, and costs the same as a Honda CR-V but is powered by the Pilot's V6.

The Saturn VUE arrived in 2002 with some troubles, notably a wonky CVT and an odd-looking front end, but for 2006 has matured into a competent, comfortable SUV.
I could have sold three of these things myself in the first two days of driving it. Beverly, a co-worker who was positively gobsmacked with the SUV, will soon be marching into a Saturn dealer. Steve, my graphic designer friend and resident car jockey, wishes he could trade his Subaru for the Vue. And my boxing coach, usually so easily swayed by Cadillac Escalades and the like, is looking to save himself some money by confronting a Saturn salesperson.

So, here's a message to Saturn salespeople: No more excuses. The 2006 Saturn Vue now has the looks, the performance and, especially, the value. If you can't sell this one, maybe you shouldn't be in the automobile business. Maybe you should look for alternative employment -- as a chartered accountant.

-- CanWest News Services
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I still don't get what the deal is with the VUE-it has a new front end! What's the difference otherwise? I saw a 4-cylinder model in the mall a month or so ago, and the interior looked like the same subpar material upon quick glance, like the 2002-05 models.
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Yes, there are entry level, fwd Vues. But the top awd model is fantastic. I saw one in a showroom in black with chrome trim everywhere and two-toned interior with brushed metal trim...it is very upmarket in appearance and feel. It's one beautiful suv. Saturn will rebound and this is just the start.
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This is what the Vue should have been when it was introduced. I haven't seen any entry-level models yet but they can't be as bas as the original Vue was. Saturn hit this redesign out of the park.
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I'm sure the review would have been less favorable if it weren't for the Honda engine under the hood. The reviewer was just happy to be able to tie Saturn to something Japanese.
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Based on what I've heard, the Vue's engine is a lot better than the Chinese one in the Torrent and 'Nox.
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I have driven the Vue with the Honda engine....this is a nice handling little suv....much better than I thought.
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GM should be complemented for continually upgrading the miscues on this car. the new dash/console and door panels are nice. The new steering wheel rocks. The front redo is good. They do still need to fix the seats. They ought to fix the sloppy handling of the 4 cylinder, upgrade the base 4 cylinder engine to 180 hp or so and give the thing a whole NVH overdo to get rid of cabin noise and buzziness. They need to work on the shifter (manual) and steering and body lean. I would hope future Vues offer about 3-4 inches more rear leg room and a higher rear seat. About 2 extra inches in width would ne good too. But yeah, the Vue is still nice.
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I like the older front end....the new one is too busy.

Also the 3.5L V6 Vue hauls ass! :P

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I agree! The old front end looked like the front of a Scion Bx if Toyota had designers that knew how to design vehicles. The new Saturn front end (although nice) is missing some of the "it" factor.
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The new front end on the Vue is a huge improvement. Previously it smacked of Oldsmobile wannabe. It now looks more upscale. This is a lot of style for the money both inside and out. I've seen it in black, cream leather and chrome package...simply wow. It looks like it cost thousands more.
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I really like the updated VUE. The interior is a LOT better and I think the plastic panels are really useful in a vehicle like this. The Antara will be very good, but it's different.
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After seeing this update of the Vue, good taste is returning to GM...it's been absent on many models for sometime.
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I like the old exterior more, but the interior is definitely better. We have the same engine in a much heavier car, and it still is a hoot to drive. Edited by empowah
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I like the new VUE a lot, esp. the interior but I can't wait to see the '08 VUE concept at New York.
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Not a fan of the new Vue's "angry eyebrows". Why do so many cars have to look mad. It's one thing to look agressive, but some of these vehicles just look like jerks.
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