2007 Saturn Vue Hybrid Review / Road Test

On a track to somewhere, near the 405

Driving along city-center streets last week I heard police siren after police siren: not unusual in Long Beach,  I know.

But after picking up and driving the new Saturn Vue Green Line for a day or two, I couldn't shake off those sirens, which sounded like they were far in the distance, or playing low on the radio like that annoying lapdance club ad on Indie 103.1; you know, the one Henry Rollins loathes.

So I thought I was going nutzoid. Then the wife, who's perfectly sane in every way apart from about moisturizing, jumped in and, after a turn or two, said: "I keep hearing police sirens."

Some relief, therefore, to find out it was just a noise the car's hybrid system emitted when slowing down. Some relief to me, I say, but perhaps not to Saturn, which is a shame because apart from this minor gripe, the Vue is an excellent car in many other, surprising ways.

It's not the hybrid that GM chief Rick Wagoner trumpeted at the recent LA Auto Show, but Saturn's adventurous new  hybrid is a shot across the bows of those who say GM doesn't have a strategy going forward.

The strategy, basically, is keep it lean and green. Build it and they will come. They may also come back.

Where the batteries lie

Chrome hints outside

Saturns have become increasingly trendy compared with just a few years ago, when they were denigrated largely on behalf of their quirky styling and near-zero credibility. Then again, so was a little upstart named Toyota way back when.

And it's Toyota's model that GM is aping by pushing its more radical models into a friendlier price bracket therefore  attracting customers previously loyal to a more mainstream brand, i.e., Ford.  Toyota, of course, has its Scion brand for the same purpose.

What both have found is something that Ford should have learned a while ago: That if you build something well enough and market it cheaply enough and encase it in an attractive shell, people will buy it.

Saturn, established in 1990, now boasts the Vue, Ion, Sky and impressive Prevue concept in its stable, all of which are new, existing or future models that have all received a massive refit.  And so far, it's all worked out.

The Green Line's got oodles of nice little touches too: the engine that shuts off when stationary  to conserve gas, which lends that feeling of eerie silence - in between the sirens - when you don't know if you're going to take off again. It goes away quickly, as does the Saturn.

Large, angular headlights that define Saturn's range

Then certain dials will inform you when the fuel system is operating and when it runs on batteries, or is charging; it doesn't have the natty central console of the Prius which tells you which power is going where but this is a budget car and doesn't need the extravagance.

And the interior is, actually, rather spiffy for a budget car; it's all leather inside and chrome outside with options including XM satellite radio and plush floormats and 16-inch rims, all very nice for an entry-level price of under $23,000, with the extras bringing it up by a couple of thousand or so.  It also comes with a year's subscrition to GM's Onstar security system.

It shifts fairly well on road and even along some narrow waterway trails I somehow found myself messing about on and followed to their natural end a few miles along, bizarrely a sliproad on to the 405, after opening a wire fence and carefully maneuvering it around.

It'll tow over 1,500lbs, has a good dunt of pace to it by way of the Green Line's upgraded 170hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder Ecotec engine - it will reach a mile a minute in a shade over 10 seconds -  and handles well as a front-wheel drive; it's quiet when accelerating and has none of the roll of older SUVs.  It's midsize, so there's plenty room in the back and also in the rear cargo area, where the nickel-hydride batteries are stored.

One further, perhaps personal gripe: the window switches fore and aft were inexplicably housed on the center console. Fortunately Saturn has placed the switchgear on the doors, where they should be, on its Aura, which we'll review in the coming weeks.

Safety is good, by way of its steel spaceframe and front and rear crumple zones and the vehicle gets five-star safety ratings for side and front impact tests, which is good to know. Driver and front airbags are designed to deploy with two levels of force in a bid to avoid air-bag injury, which is also good to know.

Gas is reasonable, obviously, at 32 mpg combined town and city, and GM has promised more hybrids based around the same platform - also offering an impressive eight-year hybrid warranty, batteries included - which will soon be built into the stablemate Aura and Chevy Malibu respectively.

So it looks like GM has built a lean, green machine that, while sometimes emitting  the sounds of a black-and-white, seems pretty golden to me.

Upscale interior for a budget model

Leather, heated, power seats

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