Saturn Vue Redline car reviews

Review Notes: Saturn Vue Redline (V6-AWD)
Personality Somewhat confused SUV
Unusual features Saturn sales experience
Quirks Electric steering
Above Average In: Cornering, gas mileage (for a mid-sized SUV)
Needs Work In: Five-speed automatic
EPA mileage 20 city / 28 highway

Saturn was ignored by GM for years, as it shamed the rest of the giant corporation with its high customer loyalty and ability to sell overpriced economy cars to people who normally would go for more expensive vehicles or imports. Then GM chose to make Saturn into the experimental division, so that the Vue came out with a CVT and electric steering when both were rare. Our test car did not have the CVT, being equipped instead with a Honda V6 and Honda five-speed automatic transmission.

The 250-hp V6 has plenty of power, and starts from a deep rumble when the gas is first pressed up to a goodly roar at full throttle. It is generally fairly quiet, albeit not in the same league as an Avalon and that ilk, with fairly good gas mileage. However, the transmission tended to lurch into gear, and after hard acceleration would pause for a while before upshifting. What's more, pressing the gas pedal from cruising speed invariably resulted in a downshift before we moved forward; all these traits gave the powertrain an unfinished feel and made driving the Vue less enjoyable.

On the brighter side was the all wheel drive, which allows for full-power takeoffs without heavy tire squealing, despite the engine’s power and the Vue’s relatively light weight. Saturn claims a 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds or less, and we’re willing to believe it, within reason; we never had any shortage of power in the big vehicle, no matter what the speed. The transmission responded rapidly to requests for power, immediately downshifting.

The four cylinder engine is fully modern with twin cams and four valves per cylinder, and provides enough power for most drivers; the standard Vue also has good handling, albeit not up to Red Line standards, but still quite good.

A neat new use of technology is the electric steering assistance. By removing the drag of the belt-drive power assist, electric steering gives the engine a slight decrease in load when not actually in use; it's also unlikely to suddenly disappear if a belt snaps (admittedly, a rare event nowadays). When the engine is not running and power is not available, the wheel can be moved, albeit with more effort.

The Red Line vehicle we tested included a number of features and only one small icon on the rear (a small chrome square with a red line through it) to indicate what it was to the uninitiated. First and foremost in the Red Line treatment was a lowering by 26 mm coupled with stiffer springs, reducing body roll and increasing roadholding ability; the sport steering calibration makes the steering more responsive and helps bring the wheel back on-center more quickly, though sometimes it still lagged, and going back on-center was not always easy to predict. 18 inch aluminum wheels with P245/60R18 Bridgestone Turanza tires added to cornering and the sporty look of the Vue, which drew more stares than the 2002 model we tested. Not surprisingly with this buildup, cornering is very good, especially for a relatively large vehicle, and the Vue seems very composed when thrown around sharp turns around the town or on the highway. The all wheel drive helps with squeal-free takeoffs, even under heavy throttle and around a turn. The Vue seems much more agile than most SUVs, even those based on cars.

The ride is comfortable if on the stiff side, with good isolation of sudden, sharp shocks. Poor road surfaces are transmitted to the interior, but without too much discomfort. Wind noise is notable at highway speeds.

The interior was refreshed for 2006 with new center controls, revised door panels, and a more useful center storage console. New standard equipment includes OnStar with Advanced Automatic Crash Notification and an auxiliary jack for MP3 players. The Red Line gained rather nice leather and suede seats, special gauges, metallic foot pedals, and ambient footwell lighting that can glow either blue or amber. The seats were comfortable and gripped well, and seemed to “breath” well too.

The black-background instrument panel is dominated by an oversized speedometer and tachometer with black on silver lettering that remains visible in all types of light, flanked by small fuel and heat gauges; all are surrounded by attractive bright chrome rings. Amber backlighting keeps night vision intact. The passenger side of the dashboard is a vast expanse of black plastic; doors are black and gray plastic. The dual-texture leather seats add a touch of class and are more comfortable than the standard smooth plastic.

The stereo is worth a mention; it's an unusual design, with a huge on-off button in the middle surrounded by a chrome volume knob. We could find little fault with this system, which brings a number of innovations we've been waiting for, such as presets that span modes (you can have XM Radio, AM, and FM presets in the same “favorites” bar) and presets that preserve the equalizer settings. That's handy for those who listen to both talk and music, and don't want to hear bass-boosted talk or flat music. The stereo also has good sound quality and stereo separation; and the external-audio input jack is subtle and not noticed unless you look for it. Programming the stereo is easy and the wide, detailed display is a welcome change. Overall, we hope that this stereo makes its way through all General Motors vehicles and, for that matter, pretty much any vehicle. It is much easier to use, yet more capable, than most stereos.

Between the front seats is a small but deep covered center console, along with two covered cupholders that boast a removeable rubber liner. Rear seats have cupholders that fold out from the underside of the front center console, hard for kids to reach but easy for adults. Headroom in all seats is quite good, as is rear legroom and cargo space. The Vue provides a large interior for the money (and gas mileage).

The center console contains not just the gearshift, but also the four power window controls. In the back, passengers have their own door-mounted controls, while in the front, the driver and passenger have similar buttons which operate the power locks. The power mirrors are also controlled from the center, rather than the door. The gearshift is interesting, because even with the on automatic transmission, it has Drive, Intermediate, and Low settings - these adjust the CVT or automatic computer program used to determine what ratio the transmission will take. I is roughy equivalent to an overdrive lockout, and L tries to keep the car in one of the two lowest gears.

The vent system is well designed, with three large rotary knobs and three buttons for easy and full control. The vent fan is quiet but powerful, and demisters seem well aimed. Just under the vents is an area for sunglasses and such, while above it is a rather good stereo system which looks totally different from other GM radios - and a bit taller. Sound directionality is aided by well-placed tweeters in front.

Between the front seats is a small but deep covered center console, along with two primitive and moderately shallow cupholders.

The front seats seem to have been lifted from a minivan, with their comfort, support, and fold-down armrests. Rear seats are more sedan-like, with a 20/30 split to increase cargo space. Lighting is good throughout the interior, with a clearly marked off/door/on switch on the dome light, and two front personal lights activated by a press.

The hatch area includes a standard, and unusually useful, organizer which unfolds from the otherwise-flat floor to quickly provide divided space for grocery bags or other objects. Depressions on either side are also useful for keeping things from flying around in back.

The Vue includes a theft deterrent system, autodimming rear view mirror with built in compass and thermometer, filtered air conditioning, and the like. There are quite a few standard features, including power locks and windows, air conditioning, and a rear wiper/washer, which is good because the base price on our test vehicle was $22,575. That's more than a Jeep Liberty, which feels more refined and can go off-road (but is a bit smaller inside), and more than most standard minivans, but less than the Chrysler Pacifica or many truck-based SUVs that aren't nearly as nice. Base models are even more reasonable.

Overall, the Saturn Vue remains a sizable step forward in small SUVs. It provides a rather large interior with considerable and easily usable cargo space, at a reasonable price and with reasonable power and economy. Despite the Red Line’s commendable cornering, we don’t recommend it for those who consider driving to be a sport; the pieces just don’t seem to come together. But for those who consider cars to be basic transportation, the Vue is quite nice, and the Red Line adds some more cornering abilities and good looks. That said, a big V6 alone, with good acceleration, isn’t the only requirement for a sporty vehicle; there’s the matter of feel too.

Those who really go off-road, or who want a more luxury feel, may wish to look at the Jeep Liberty, and those who want more space may wish to ride in GM's own minivans. Still, the Saturn has many high points, and few other cars come with the Saturn experience - that is, in general, friendly, competent dealers who don't treat customers like dirt. When you compare costs, consider the convenience of service and the fact that you're tied to a dealer for at least three years. That might be a good enough reason to pass up a CR-V and visit your local, non-patronizing Saturn dealer.

Also see our review of the non-Red Line Saturn Vue in 2002!