In its second year with GM’s mild hybrid drivetrain option, the Vue gets a complete refresh for 2008. Its new curved and sculpted look, a severe departure from old, hints at European inspiration and upscale flavor. The new Vue Green Line is decently equipped in standard trim as was our tester, with enough amenities to make a long trip comfortable--but without whizz bang. Base price and as tested: $24,795. EPA estimates: 25 city, 32 highway. Warranty: 3 year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper, 5 year/100,000 mile powertrain, 8 year/100,000 mile hybrid components.
Scott: “I was heading to New York to cover the Auto Show so the Saturn folks asked me if I could pick up the Vue there instead of an at-home delivery as usual. Sure, I was game for a chance to test this compact SUV’s city demeanor. Lucky for me, the Vue proved to be a capable and nimble steed while traversing Manhattan streets and avenues and jockeying for position among the hundreds of others trying to get to the Lincoln tunnel before 'Big City' rush hour hit."
"New York City driving requires a good dose of ‘shove your way in’ mentality, and I had to force the issue a time or two, lest I get shuffled into no-mans-land. The Vue made that part easy with a high profile commanding view and just enough bulk to make the other guy wince. Yeah, it handled city chicanery well enough, but how 'bout the economy of hybrid hightailin'?”
Christine: "I had driven the Saturn Vue (not the Green Line hybrid version) briefly at last year's GM preview event and had come away with a favorable impression. Would my memory hold with this hybrid version? I was a bit disappointed at the lack of extra options ($0) and the uncomfortable driver's seat took the initial shine off. Now to see how it held on the road."
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Look and Feel
Inside, the Vue’s fit and finish is quite good, while the choice of materials offers a reasonable balance of practical fabrics and quality composites. Of course, access covers, cup holder liners and cubby-hole inserts are mere plastic, but gone are the days of that cheap overall "plasticyness." Feeling the "heat to compete," Saturn has obviously stepped it up a few notches. Unfortunately, the bean counters did find a way to put a crimp in an otherwise well-executed design. The organizer tray under the rear stowage compartment is molded from solid-core styrofoam. Yes it's hidden from view, and yes, it's fuel-saving lightweight, but "Geeze Louise" ... styrofoam? A mild flexible plastic seems the better option.
The Vue is a lot of fun to drive. It's a compact little SUV that drives not unlike a sports car. According to Saturn, attention to ride and handling is a design focus that the company is applying to models across the lineup in hopes of intensifying their vehicles' driving characteristics. Suspension tuning is firm, so it doesn't swallow up and hide bumps from occupants, but it has a nice taut, confidence inducing feel. A few quick evasive maneuvers (one for a deer, and one for a log-the-size-of-a-dog laying in the street) put a smile on Scott's face. Oh sure, the initial scare took a good ten minutes off his life, but the thrill of an obedient and competent set of shocks and springs doing his bidding added at least twelve back.
The Vue Green Line shares its BAS (Belt Alternator Starter) hybrid package with its sister Saturn Aura and cousin Chevrolet Malibu hybrids. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem able to pull in quite the fuel economy numbers of either. Both the Aura and Malibu are rated at 27 mpg combined mileage, but our test drives netted us about 29 mpg average for each. Now perhaps it was just our particular tester, but we struggled to keep the combined mileage in the 27 mpg range. Funny thing though, the Vue hybrid receives a better 28 mpg combined EPA rating. Following our normal experiences, logic would dictate that the Vue would be hitting close to 30 mpg combined. What gives?
The Vue has the same ECO indicator lamp (it glows a warm and comforting green whenever the engine is running at optimal fuel economy) as the Malibu and Aura, but we found it more difficult to coax it into ECO mode than either of the others. Generally all it takes is a slight lift off the throttle and on-goes-the-lamp and up-goes-the-economy.
Highway mileage was also disappointing in the Vue. It's rated at 32 mpg highway, yet Scott couldn't break 30 mpg on the three hour highway trip from New York City where he picked up the car. Interestingly enough, he made the trip to the city in the Malibu Hybrid he was returning and clocked 33 mpg. Again, same hybrid battery, same trip distance, and even the same driver. Perhaps it has something to do with the Vue’s final drive ratio and its 350 lbs of extra bulk. We noticed that it downshifted out of overdrive more often—that’s a fuel mileage killer.
When It's All Said and Done
The styling, the ride, the handling, the price and to a lesser degree, the fuel economy all coalesce to make the Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid an overall appealing package. To be totally frank, we liked a lot about it, but the sub-par fuel economy takes some of the shine off. It's not that the fuel mileage is terrible—it’s not (especially when compared to the reputation of SUVs in general, compact or not)—it's just that we expected more, given its EPA ratings and our past experience with the other 2.4-liter BAS hybrid packages that the General builds. And ultimately Scott ended up liking this one more than Christine did.
So is the Green Line package worth the extra cost? The hybrid package carries a $3545 price premium over the base Vue XE (a little steep for a mild hybrid package)—but does that hinder its good deal factor?
According to fueleconomy.gov, the 2.4-liter Vue XE nets 22 MPG combined, while we averaged about 27 mpg combined (sorry, we couldn't achieve the EPA's 28 mpg estimate). Allowing for 15,000 miles annually (and throwing in the $1550 federal tax credit), crunching all the numbers gives the hybrid package just a little under a 5-year payback time. That's not too bad, and after 5 years it's money in the bank year in and year out. Throw in the hybrid's reduced carbon footprint and that puts a bit more icing on the cake.