Similar in size to the Honda CR-V, the Vue seats five. Back-seat riders are made more comfortable with seatbacks that recline slightly for comfort. The seats, including the front passenger seat, fold flat, providing enough space to haul an eight-foot ladder. In back, a cargo organizer keeps things from rolling around.
The Vue is one of the quickest SUVs in its class when ordered with the 3.5-liter V6. Built by Honda, the V6 generates 250 horsepower and the Vue enjoyable to drive. Acceleration performance is decidedly tepid with the standard four-cylinder engine, however. The Vue comes standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available for improved traction and stability in winter weather.
The interior trim has been improved for 2006, and the front and rear styling has been revised for a more pleasing appearance.
Saturn Vue FWD 5-speed ($17,390); FWD automatic ($19,345); V6 FWD ($21,990); V6 AWD ($23,050)
The styling has been revised for 2006 with new front and rear fascias with an integrated step pad, along with a new hood, grille and new headlamps.
The Vue is distinctive, but its styling is more sensible than sensational. Most unusual is the front end, thick and snubbed, with headlamps that ride high on either side of a button-nose grille. From the side, the Vue is boxy and nondescript. It features a high beltline, meaning the doors come up relatively high, giving passengers a more secure feeling. From the rear, the large liftgate complements a low-liftover bumper with integrated step pad to provide easy and efficient access to the spacious rear cargo area. Overall, it looks modern and practical, with strong lines that avoid the bubble effect that curvy, cutesy imported mini-utilities share.
For 2006, the V6 models feature projector-beam fog lamps. AWD models ride on larger (17-inch) aluminum wheels. The Red Line is significantly more aggressive-looking, with meaty 18-inch aluminum wheels and a square-jawed front bumper with large air intakes inspired by the 2007 Saturn Sky roadster.
Polymer body panels provide a rugged, dent-resistant exterior without the clutter of lower-body cladding. Gaps between body panels are more pronounced on Saturn vehicles because these polymer panels expand and contract with temperature. Car-height bumpers offer enhanced protection from parking lot damage and help create a smoother appearance. The spare tire is mounted inside the vehicle, which reduces potential damage from low-speed rear impacts.
New color schemes for 2006 include an uplevel design with nice wood-grain trim for an unexpectedly classy ambience. Chrome accents brighten the instrument panel and new white-faced gauges that are backlit at night give it a sporty look. The three-spoked steering wheel has elegant metallic cuffs around the cruise control and redundant audio buttons. Satin-nickel trim surrounds the shifter.
Getting inside the Vue is easy thanks to wide door openings and a low step-in height. Despite the high beltline, visibility is good, providing a panoramic view. Big mirrors afford good visibility rearward. The driver's visor has an extension to help block the sun. Handy pockets on either side of the center console are good for maps and other items.
The seats use a nice combination of vinyl and fabric. A Comfort Package combines heated front seats with six-way power and lumbar support for the driver. Leather trim for the seats and steering wheel is another worthwhile upgrade. Red Line models come with black leather upholstery with suede inserts, the power seat from the Comfort Package, metal pedals, embroidered floor mats and available ambient footwell lighting in amber or blue.
The switchgear is well designed and easy to operate, with center stack controls mounted flush with the rest of the dashboard and trim pieces. Heating and air conditioning controls are straightforward and easy to operate. They've been improved over those in earlier models and no longer look like they came from a compact car. Regrettably, the window switches are located on the center console, making them harder to find than if they were on the door.
The stereo is nicely designed and attractive. Volume is controlled with a prominent knob in the center of the panel. One particularly nice feature is the input jack for an iPod or MP3 player. Audio options include a six-CD changer and an MP3 player. XM Satellite Radio is available, a great option when traveling because the stations don't change as you drive across the country. Around town, XM Satellite Radio is nice to have for listening to the 24-hour news and sports broadcasts, or for staying tuned into your favorite types of music (classical, jazz, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s). You still get ads, but fewer and less obnoxious than what you hear on AM and FM.
The rear seats can be reclined slightly for better comfort by pulling on a latch behind the seat. There's lots of rear-seat headroom, though the seating position is low enough to make our knees ride a little high. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system allows back-seat passengers to view a movie on a fold-down, seven-inch LCD screen. The system includes remote control and dual wireless headphones, so rear passengers can listen to CDs or watch a movie while front-seat passengers can either listen to the DVD program or to the car's regular audio system.
Carrying cargo is made easier by the 70/30 split folding rear bench seat, which provides versatile stowage of longer items while carrying rear passengers. Even the front passenger seat folds flat, providing enough room for an eight-foot ladder. The nearly flat load floor in the rear is a result of the compact all-wheel-drive system. Of particular note are the configurable cargo spaces. A cargo organizer folds out of the floor to corral smaller objects; it's important to fully snap it closed when put away, however, or it will make a small rattle that disturbs the Vue's otherwise quiet cabin. There are hooks for grocery bags and two compartments sized specifically for gallon jugs, a welcome convenience on late-night food runs. Tie-downs provide for the safe transport of a wide variety of goods. Three power outlets provide opportunities to plug in toys or tools. The rear hat
Ride quality is good, but not great. Sharp bumps, such as pavement transitions and expansion joints, are transmitted into the cabin and there's a general lack of smoothness around town.
Handling is good over a variety of driving terrain. The speed-sensitive power steering offers precise, easy steering in parking lots, yet adjusts for good road feel and stability on the highway. The electronic steering automatically boosts power assistance during emergency avoidance maneuvers. Handling has been improved more decisively. Gone is the torque steer observed on 2003 models.
When equipped with the V6, the Vue offers strong, smooth power with quick and smooth shifting. The 3.5-liter Honda-produced engine makes 250 horsepower and 242 pound-feet of torque. Saturn says the Vue can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.5 seconds, which is quite quick. Yet EPA fuel economy ratings are 20/28 mpg, 19/25 for the AWD model. Variable-valve timing enhances high-end power, low-end torque and fuel efficiency.
The V6 is mated to a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with grade logic control engineered by Honda. This automatic offers reduced hunting between gears on hilly roads. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds, enough to pull a snowmobile, personal watercraft, or a small boat. And the Vue V6 can be flat towed, making it a more attractive choice for RV owners.
The 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that comes in the base Vue is rated at 143 horsepower and 152 pound-feet of torque. While the V6 Vue is quick, the four-cylinder model is not. The base Vue with five-speed Getrag manual covers Saturn's 0-60 test in 11.0 seconds, lethargic performance by anyone's standards. The four-cylinder delivers better fuel economy around town, however, with an EPA rating of 23/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission.
The four-cylinder is also available with an automatic. We haven't tested this combination, but we don't expect it to run any quicker than the four-cylinder Vue with a five-speed manual. EPA fuel economy estimates with the four-speed Hydra-Matic are 22/26 City/Highway. The V6 with the five-speed automatic gets better fuel economy on the highway.
Vue's available all-wheel-drive system is only available on V6 models, improving traction and stability in slippery conditions. It's particularly valuable on snow and ice, working automatically with no input from the driver, and is designed to withstand extremely cold weather. The Vue was not designed for off-road driving, however.
Vue gets rear drum brakes instead of the preferable disc brakes. An anti-lock brake system is standard with the V6, and optional on four-cylinder models. We recommend ABS because it helps the driver to maintain control of the steering in a panic stop.
Saturn Vue benefits from numerous improvements inside and out. The interior is clever and versatile and continues to improve with higher quality materials and sound-deadening measures. The V6 and five-speed automatic makes for a refined powertrain and puts Vue among the quickest SUVs in its class. The standard four-cylinder engine lacks sufficient gusto to get the with the program. Curtain airbags are available for head protection. The best thing about the Vue is that it's backed by Saturn's highly regarded sales and service people. You should expect them to be friendly and easy to work with.
New Car Test Drive editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Detroit; nctd.com correspondents Tom Lankard and Steve Siler contributed to this review.