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First Drive: 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid

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It's easy being green

By Rex Roy

Date posted: 02-13-2006

Kermit will tell you, it isn't easy being green. But automotively speaking, that's about to change.

Turn the key in the 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid and it drives like a well-sorted, peppy crossover. That's exactly the point. GM Powertrain engineers weren't trying to save the world with technology that takes a postgraduate engineering degree to appreciate or operate. People like Steve Tarnowsky, the assistant chief engineer of GM Hybrid Systems, simply wanted to build a hybrid that made sense to buy and drive.

Balancing technology and value

"We think we've hit a real balance between technology, fuel economy and price," said Tarnowsky. The Vue Green Line promises to deliver a 20-percent improvement in fuel economy over a standard Vue with a four-cylinder engine. Additionally, the Green Line shaves about 1 second from the 0-to-60-mph time. This added performance and economy can be yours for about $23,000, easily making the Green Line the least expensive hybrid SUV on the market.

From the outside, looking at the Green Line is like looking at any other Vue. Only the Hybrid badge on the fender identifies this tree-hugger special.

Inside, the story is similar. Close inspection of the instruments reveals a charge gauge that indicates when power is being added to or sucked from the onboard battery pack. Once under way, a telltale light illuminates "ECO" (for economy) when you're driving in a frugal manner — beating the EPA's fuel-economy figures. For those who pay attention to the tachometer, it has a position below zero rpm. Interesting, eh? The needle points there when the gasoline engine is not running in situations such as being stopped at a traffic light.

A different kind of hybrid

In contrast to the "I'm not shouting to the world I'm a hybrid" exterior, the engine bay immediately indicates that this is no standard Vue. First clue? The enormous trim panel with the large Hybrid badge. This panel covers the hybrid-specific controllers needed to make the Green Line so green. Left of the panel, you'll see a specially tuned 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder and a nondescript mass of additional hardware. And while you can't see it from above, there's also a modified Hydra-matic four-speed automatic transmission underneath.

The star of this engineering show is the motor-generator. Hung off the side of the engine in plain view, the unit looks like an oversized alternator. It not only performs the function of an alternator, but has the ability to deliver torque back to the gasoline engine. Like most other hybrids, the gasoline engine shuts down when the Vue is at rest.

Electric power for the power steering, climate control and other accessories is driven by a modest battery pack. As the driver's foot releases the brake pedal, the motor-generator spins the engine's crankshaft up to speed in order to assist the gasoline engine with a smooth launch from a stop. The motor is also capable of providing additional torque when maximum acceleration is called for.

No-excuses performance

The package produces 170 horsepower and 164 pound-feet of torque, with another 115 lb-ft of torque from the electric motor. Official EPA fuel economy numbers aren't in yet, but GM estimates 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, with a combined figure of 29 mpg. Although that's a solid 20-percent gain over the standard Vue's 25 mpg, it's well below the fuel mileage of the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner hybrids (36 city/31 highway).

Driving the Green Line is an exercise in the normal. Most drivers won't notice anything unusual until they've stopped at a red light. In most situations, the engine completely stops…as in turns off. The feeling is not one of an engine stall — the engine just smoothly shuts down. Of course, all the interior features remain operational, such as the climate control, radio, etc. Lifting off the brake engages the electric motor-generator and smoothly restarts the gasoline engine so you're under way again with no fuss or muss.

Unlike other current hybrids, however, the Green Line does not run any distance on pure electric power; the motor-generator is a hybrid "helper." The net result is that saving fuel has never been more painless.

A new Vue of the market

The Green Line is the fourth Vue model. The standard Vue is powered by a 2.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder and is front-wheel drive. Vues with a V6 engine come in FWD and AWD configurations. The sporty Vue Red Line tops the range. The Green Line is FWD only. As an additional point of interest, the Vue experienced a major freshening for 2005, and rolls into 2006 as a compact crossover worthy of consideration.

The market will determine whether GM has a hit when the Green Line goes on sale later this year. It's priced thousands below the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and the popular Ford Escape Hybrid, while coming close to matching the fuel economy of their more complex single-mode hybrid systems.

With few exceptions, being an automotive greenie has meant driving vehicles that were slower, more expensive and quirkier than the norm. GM is helping to change that with the 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line. And as time goes on, it will keep getting easier to be green. The Green Line's powertrain will appear in the Chevrolet Malibu for 2007.

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Link: http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/Drive...icleId=109253#2

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Should be a good seller, especially for the price. And very good that GM finally has some worthwile Hybrid options coming for those who want them.

I think the price advantage factor they were able to attain should get them the most attention of all.

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Interesting... I think this is the first SUV that doesn't offer AWD/4WD, even as an option. Why not get a Vibe?

1) Vibe is smaller.

2) Vibe is mildly to severely underpowered in base and AWD forms.

3) Vibe doesn't get tax breaks.

4) Vibe has less features.

This is a great step. Now, since its on the VUE, it should be on the Equinox and Torrent. Since it'll be on the Malibu, it should be on the G6 and Aura.

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GM needs to spread this technology like wild fire around it's divisions....

A side note: The placement of the badging on GM cars is HORRIBLE!!! It's these sort of details that GM needs to really work on.

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I think it will do well..as long as they don't forget to market it. (don't laugh-it happens)

Someone in my family is already eye-balling it, and the reaction I'm getting so far is very good.

I've seen a tester roaming aroud here....as I'm sure they are looking to improve it

some more....

I plan to drive one as they get to the dealerships.... :thumbsup:

Overall, for the price.. :idhitit:

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Interesting... I think this is the first SUV that doesn't offer AWD/4WD, even as an option. Why not get a Vibe?

The Vue does offer AWD but not with the Hybrid powerplant because the battery is placed in the back.

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1) Vibe is smaller.

2) Vibe is mildly to severely underpowered in base and AWD forms.

3) Vibe doesn't get tax breaks.

4) Vibe has less features.

This is a great step. Now, since its on the VUE, it should be on the Equinox and Torrent. Since it'll be on the Malibu, it should be on the G6 and Aura.

vue is nicer inside and is more commodious in hauling cargo. vue looks better. saturn has better customer service. the ecotec engine is way better than that toyota piece of trash under the hood.

i hope this thing is a hit. the ecotec vue is already getting owners 25-30+ mpg as it is....with a hybrid, this thing should have real world numbers that match the epa numbers, UNLIKE prius.

big faux pas however.......4 speed auto. It should have a CVT or at least a 5 speed auto. or a stick.

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big faux pas however.......4 speed auto.  It should have a CVT or at least a 5 speed auto.  or a stick.

Not sure how well a stick would work with the setup. The Vue once had a CVT - it had all kinds of problems. The idea isn't bad, but it'd better be a different/heavily reworked CTV. 5 speed auto would certainly be nice. :)

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The Vue does offer AWD but not with the Hybrid powerplant because the battery is placed in the back.

How come GM couldn't figure this out when others have done it....with existing platforms.....(Escape Hybrid and RX400h)

I believe the Ford is a "traditional" AWD system and I think the Lexus actually uses the electric batteries to power the rear wheels..?

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A V6 model is more expensive to start with, so can more easily absorb the cost of a more expensive hybrid system. Engine start-stop systems are much simpler than even this, but can have a big impact on fuel economy not reflected in EPA ratings. With advanced thermal monitoring GM's former Electro-Motive Division (now Electro-Motive Diesel) now offers engine-start-stop systems on it's diesel-electric hybrids (starting such a cold diesel this size (too big for a block heater) in sub-zero conditions is a big headache). Volswagen used to offer a start-stop system supplemented by an extra-large flywheel, and Peugeot-Citroen now offers a start-stop system on some models using an alternator-starter.

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Not sure how well a stick would work with the setup.  The Vue once had a CVT - it had all kinds of problems.  The idea isn't bad, but it'd better be a different/heavily reworked CTV.  5 speed auto would certainly be nice. :)

Customers have not responded well to either the CVT (disconcerted by the absence of shifting) or Toyota affiliate Aisin AW's 5-speed auto which GM has used previously (not as smooth as the 4-speed). The latter works better with larger V6 engines as in the Equinox and Torrent, while the 5-speed in the Vue is a Honda unit that comes as a package with the V6 (just as GM's 5-speed auto was paired with a BMW diesel in the Range Rover).

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