This is the second year for the second generation of the Saturn Vue, a sweet spot in terms of reliability. Completely redesigned for the 2008 model year this latest Saturn Vue is based on a German Opel, and it offers quality fit and finish, a versatile interior, tasteful style, and solid value in a compact crossover utility vehicle. It represents a vast improvement over the first-generation Vue. It drives nice and handles well. And many find it's just the right size.
The Vue is stylish outside, while inside is a versatile cabin that offers several alternatives for hauling people or cargo. The interior is attractive and European in style, modern and classy, with comfortable seats.
The 2009 Saturn Vue is available in three trim levels, with three engines, two transmissions and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The standard four-cylinder engine delivers an EPA fuel economy rating of 19/26 mpg City/Highway. Equipped with the V6, the Vue is rated at 17/24 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive, and with all-wheel drive it's rated 16/23 mpg. Properly equipped, the Vue V6 is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds. We found it delivers more than sufficient power and acceleration performance, especially with either of the two V6 engines.
Saturn has given the Vue a generous level of safety equipment. The Vue comes standard with a full complement of air bags, traction and stability control, and anti-lock brakes.
Since the Vue was all-new for 2008, changes for 2009 are minor. Brake Assist now comes standard on all models, there is an enhanced Driver Information Center, the Convenience Package for the XE model now includes heated seats, there is an available Chrome Package for the V6 models, there are some new colors, and a few other small changes.
With lots of standard features, good power, decent fuel economy, a commendable level of ride and handling, and a versatile interior, the Saturn Vue represents a vehicle that's full of space and storage, easy to use, easy to drive, and easy on the eyes.
The exterior design of the Vue is based on the European Opel Antara and is crisp, sporty and modern from every angle. In our opinion, the new Vue is the best-looking, most together vehicle Saturn has ever offered.
The Vue has a distinctly Saturn grille, a much busier under-bumper and skid-plate area to add visual interest, multi-element headlamp units sweeping around the front corners, a forward-leaning rear door, big wheel arch accents, an arching roofline with well-integrated roof bars, and a forward-leaning rear side window and D-pillar to give a much more sporty and modern impression.
Sizewise, the Vue is right in the heart of the segment with all of the other domestic and imported five-door, five-seat crossover SUVs, exactly 15 feet long overall on a 106-inch wheelbase. The Vue uses the same underpinnings as the European Opel Antara, tuned for America, which means simple, effective MacPherson strut front suspension with coil springs, and independent rear suspension with trailing arms, coil springs, and lateral locating links.
Our first impression inside the Saturn Vue was extremely positive. The European-inspired look is clean, modern and classy in terms of design, appearance, materials and function. There's a good balance of brightwork to panels from the left door across the instrument panel and dashboard to the right door, and the heating/air conditioning vents are big, round and nicely done.
The driver's bucket seat is comfy, containing but not restrictive. The seating position at front left is commanding and comfortable, and everything is within easy reach. Arranged ahead of the driver is a lovely array of multi-colored instruments surrounded by brushed-metal rings. The instrument panel is pleasant to look at and easy to read and use, night or day. Saturn has chosen brushed metal over shiny chrome, which avoids problems with fingerprints and sun reflections, and for that we give high marks. The steering wheel is a work of art, with radio and cruise control buttons built in, a thick rim with lovely stitching and a nice set of metallic accents in the lower half. The steering wheel offers tilt adjustability, but does not telescope.
The touch-screen for the AM/FM/XM radio and the navigation system is big and bright and high enough in the center of the dash to be read quickly and safely, yet low enough to stay out of the glaring sunlight most of the time. It's one of the easiest systems to use of all the competitors in this segment, with big markings and good contrast. There's no wood in here, but the plastics, metals and fabrics are all very touchable and good-looking. Down below, the shifter is a single-gate model, surrounded again by brushed metal.
There's 56 cubic feet of cargo room just inside the easy-lift tailgate with the 60/40 second-row seats flopped down. There's a huge glovebox, an under-seat box under the front passenger seat, more storage in the second-row console, and, hiding under the cargo floor is a whole network of nooks, crannies and cubbies built into the spare tire carrier assembly, and some almost-hidden storage way up front in the compartment.
In the cargo compartment floor are two sets of rails into which fit a set of six sliding chocks to help secure cargoes of all shapes and sizes, with more tie-downs in the floor and in the seatbacks. Fold the front passenger seat down, and you can easily carry a one-man kayak inside the Vue with room left over for wetsuit, paddles and a whole lot more gear.
Compared with other five-seat crossover utility vehicles from the Japanese, Korean, European and domestic competition, the Saturn Vue behaves more like a European vehicle. That makes sense, given its German Opel roots.
The power steering is not overboosted or mushy, and has good but not great road feel. The ride is taut without being jarring, and body roll control is right up there with the best of the other Europeans, including BMW and Land Rover, so the Vue invites spirited driving, especially through long sweeping curves. Isolation from the world outside is very good.
We were very impressed with the acceleration performance from the available 3.6-liter V6. Paired with the new six-speed transmission, this engine makes the Vue smooth, quiet, and authoritative without a lot of noisy cabin intrusion. The 257-hp V6 engine is near the top of the class in terms of power and torque. It'll accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about seven seconds flat. In sixth gear, the engine sound all but disappears, providing a relaxed, easy cruising mode.
We like brakes that start braking right at the top of the pedal travel, and the Saturn Vue's brakes delivered on that, with lots of braking power at the initial stab of the pedal and even more with more pedal travel, very linear and effective.
The Saturn Vue is a nice compact crossover utility vehicle, certainly one of the best in its segment. It boasts very good performance, real room for five, storage possibilities galore, and tons of personality. Built in Mexico to a very high quality standard, it's the best Saturn product so far, and we recommend you add it to your looking list.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Detroit.