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2006 Saturn VUE review

November 18, 2005 06:38 PM EST | SUV's , Saturn | Email to Friend | Comments (0)

View large imageA spacious and practical compact sport-ute, the Vue has long been held back by its unimpressive fit and finish and sloppy steering. However, this year's interior revisions give its cabin considerably more appeal.

Strong V6, roomy cabin, comfortable ride, excellent crash test scores, good fuel economy.

Below-average build quality, some low-grade interior plastics, undersized front seats, vague steering.

What's New for 2006
For 2006, the Vue gets a revised interior with a new center stack, center console, door panels and seat fabric. Outside, the front and rear fascias have been redesigned. Steering wheel-mounted audio controls are now standard, along with OnStar, power windows and power locks. The optional CD/MP3 audio system now includes an auxiliary jack for portable audio devices. The Red Line gets standard ebony leather seats with suede inserts, a power driver seat, unique instrumentation and ambient footwell lighting in both warm amber and cool blue.

When Saturn's Vue debuted in 2002, it entered one of the fastest growing segments in the industry. Nearly every manufacturer in the U.S. now fields a compact SUV, so just showing up wasn't going to guarantee any measure of success. With such fierce competition, Saturn sought to differentiate its SUV by offering unique drivetrain options, a spacious cabin and a low price to attract first-time buyers and anybody else looking for a great value. The Vue was the first mini sport-utility to offer a five-speed automatic (it was also the first small SUV with a CVT, but that transmission was discontinued last year because of durability concerns). With a choice of two different engines and either front- or all-wheel drive, the Vue offers a little bit of something for everybody. In 2004, Saturn replaced the torquey but unrefined 3.0-liter V6 with an ultrarefined 3.5-liter V6 built by Honda. With 250 horsepower at the ready, the V6-powered Vue is one of the fastest mini-utes on the market. A Red Line package also debuted that year, combining the potent V6 with beefier suspension components, a lowered ride height and 18-inch wheels and tires. The result was much improved handling. A monochromatic paint job and unique body pieces give the sport-ute a bolder look.

Additional refinements are on tap for 2006, including a new center console and center stack and upgraded interior trim. A new stereo head unit not only looks better, but offers increased functionality for satellite radio listeners along with an auxiliary jack for portable music players. New front and rear fascias freshen up the exterior. Although build and materials quality still isn't a strong point for the Vue, the accommodations in newer models are closer to what similarly priced SUVs like the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V offer. Thoughtful features like a low step-in height, pop-up grocery bag holder in the cargo area and a roomy backseat give the Vue an easy-to-like nature that buyers in this segment are apt to find comforting.

With so many mini SUVs to choose from, finding just the right one can be a daunting task. With the Vue, Saturn offers a comfy ride, a no-hassle buying experience and plenty of features. The availability of a powerful and fuel-efficient Honda-built V6 gives traditional import buyers reason to consider this affordable SUV. However, since most of the Vue's car-based competitors continue to offer superior driving dynamics and better constructed cabins, informed car buyers would be wise to shop around before putting their money on the Saturn.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The Vue compact SUV is available in four-cylinder and V6 models with either front- or all-wheel drive. Base four-cylinder models come with 16-inch wheels; air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; OnStar; steering wheel audio controls; cruise control; a tilt steering wheel; a height-adjustable driver seat; and a six-speaker AM/FM CD stereo. Moving up to the six-cylinder models adds alloy wheels (16-inch on front-drive models, 17-inch on AWD models) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Available on V6 models is an optional Red Line Package with a lowered, sport-tuned suspension; 18-inch wheels; ebony leather seats with suede inserts; a six-way power driver seat; unique instrumentation; and ambient footwell lighting.

Powertrains and Performance:
The base model Vue is powered by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder rated at 143 horsepower and 152 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices include a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Note that the four-cylinder Vue is front-wheel drive only. For additional power and capability, there's a Honda-supplied 3.5-liter V6 rated for 250 hp and 242 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard with the V6. Fuel mileage is above average -- you can expect 19-24 mpg in the city and 25-29 mpg on the highway.

Head curtain airbags that protect both front and rear passengers are optional on all Vues. ABS is standard on V6 models and optional on four-cylinder models. In NHTSA crash testing, the Vue earned a perfect five stars for driver protection in frontal impacts and four stars for front-passenger protection. Side-impact tests resulted in a five-star rating across the board. The IIHS named the Vue a "Best Pick" for its frontal-offset crash safety. In IIHS side-impact tests of small SUVs, the Vue earned a "Poor" rating (the lowest), but the vehicle tested did not have head curtain airbags.

Interior Design and Special Features:
This year's interior revisions help inch the Vue up toward having an attractive cabin, but the quality of the plastics is still below average for this class. Larger adults will find the front seats a size smaller than competitors' seats, but rear-passenger room is excellent, and a low step-in height makes getting in and out easy. A foldable front-passenger seat allows the transport of extra-long cargo, while folding down the rear seats provides 63.5 cubic feet of cargo space.

Driving Impressions:
Engineered for a life on pavement, the Vue has fully independent suspension that delivers a comfortable, forgiving ride. Handling is on the soft side, and the electric power steering system is hopelessly vague. The four-cylinder engine provides leisurely acceleration at best, while the V6 offers a substantial power boost that makes the Vue extremely quick on its feet for a small SUV, though torque steer can be an issue during hard acceleration. The Red Line performance upgrades reduce body roll around corners, while eliminating most of the torque steer.

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