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2007 Saturn Aura Green Line test drive

Common cents and peace of mind

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

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2007 Saturn Aura Hybrid cruising

The Saturn Aura Green Lines cruises up the hill with a little help from the hybrid assist.

photo © Adrian Gable
What do the rating stars mean?

We’ve always liked Saturn’s upfront and straight forward car pricing system—there’s no haggle—like it or leave it. That’s your choice. No doubts as to whether the other guy got a better deal than you did. The Saturn Aura Green Line mid-size sedan is value-priced with Saturn’s no-quibble $22,695 base as the lowest hybrid on the market this year. Combined with a $1,300 tax credit and EPA fuel rating of 28 city/35 highway, we were looking forward to the toe-tickling real-life driving experience of GM’s hybrid system on this 2.4-liter engine.

Initial Impression: The no haggle mild hybrid

Christine: “At first glance I liked the Aura Green Line's practical, clean style. I was actually slightly disenchanted toward the whole of idea of a mild hybrid before driving the Saturn Aura Green Line. What kind of actual fuel mileage would this baby churn out? Would this mild hybrid really be worth its weight in hybrid technology? Read on to see if I had a change of heart.”

Scott: “It had been awhile since I’d driven a Saturn and the last one didn’t fit me so well (I’m pretty big at 6’4”). Not so here. It was bigger than I expected—it had more room in the rear passenger seat, and was more spacious up front too. The interior was a little sparse, but had its creature comforts—OnStar included. What I really wanted to see though was under the hood and behind the rear seat—the hybrid electronics and nickel-metal hydride battery pack.”

Continued below...

The Insider’s View: No nonsense deal

2007 Saturn Aura Hybrid dash view

The Aura is comfortable and simple with no confusing controls to master. With this car, you can actually concentrate on just driving.

photo © Adrian Gable

The Aura Green Line's comfortable but pedestrian interior screams Saturn-practicality. The dash, seating and doors give a wrapped-in cocoon feeling of being in command, and sitting in the driver’s seat offers the same practical, no-nonsense sophistication that will turn current Aura-likers into Aura Green Line-lovers. Easy-to-read analog gauges are set into a clean dash, and help the driver keep an eye on the hybrid battery and engine assist status. The green eco light highlights when the car is running its most efficient. When the engine is first started, the hybrid system goes through some start-up self-diagnostic tests (the gauges sweep back and forth two or three times), sensing the various systems of the car—the temperature, the hybrid system, the battery charge status. When the diagnostics are complete, the dash lights come on and the car is ready to drive. Scott noticed the engine/drive train gave a deeper growl when it was cold—maybe just part of bringing the hybrid system up to operating temperature—but it quieted down nicely in a few minutes.

When the “big kids” tried out the back seat, there was plenty of leg room; and even with the hybrid NiMH battery surrepticiously stowed behind the rear seat—accessible when the seat is folded down—there was still abundant trunk space. Space is further extended by the elimination of a spare tire. Get a flat? Seal and pump it with the portable air compressor/sealant kit and drive up to 100 miles to have it repaired or replaced. This seems a little odd, but modern tires are so well-made, flats aren’t all that common anymore.

Fuel-ability: Savin’ fuel & the city

Sure this car needs gasoline to go, but with 30 percent better fuel mileage over the non-hybrid Aura, it’s a step in the right direction. Saturn uses a mild hybrid system—the electric motor and battery work in concert with the engine. The most memorable feature of this car’s hybridness is the auto-stop. In a nutshell, the auto-stop feature works whenever the vehicle is stopped (say, at a traffic light), and the brake pedal is applied. The internal combustion engine shuts-down at idle and stays off until the brake pedal is released—when, in a fraction of a second, the engine fires to life, ready to go.

Several conditions need to be met for this function to kick in—all components need to be up to operating temperature: the engine and the sundry parts of the hybrid system. In moderate climates, this takes but a minute or two. When you need to chill the cabin, setting the AC in hybrid will ensure the auto shut-off will function while monitoring the cabin temperature. The engine will restart as needed to keep the compressor running.

A few safety lockout features could override the auto shut-off: the transmission can’t be in any other gear other than drive, doors can’t be ajar and the hood must be closed. Every member of our family got a little thrill out of this auto shut-off. The kids would listen for it, and they even started surmising what could be done to improve the efficiency of other vehicles.

Overall though, it’s got grab-the-corner power with 164 horsepower at 6400 RPM and 159 lb. ft. of peak torque @ 5000 RPM.

Motion Potion: Savin’ those brake pads

2007 Saturn Aura Hybrid gauge cluster

Simple, easy to read gauges with hybrid system status on the right.

photo © Adrian Gable

As a mild hybrid, this Aura Green Line relies on the internal combustion engine for its main power. Its primary calling cards? The electric power assist that kicks in during acceleration, the auto-shut off at idle, plus the regenerative braking. In this case it’s not only about recapturing the lost energy—which is a seriously cool idea—it’s also about using the brakes less—much less. Christine felt like the car intuitively knew when to slow down.

It works like this: As soon as you let off the throttle, the regenerative braking takes over. Scott thought this took some getting used to, but Christine liked this different feel. When slowing down, it tends to make the car want to downshift and slow down even more, so knowing when to give it throttle and let off requires a learning curve. If you like to use the throttle as well as steering to control the car, you’ll have to adjust your driving style with this regenerative braking. Scott found it rather unsettling that the car would continue to slow down and he’d have to touch the throttle again to maintain speed through a curve.

The peace of mind that comes with Saturn’s comprehensive safety package offers dual-stage front, side head-curtain and front-seat thorax protection air bags, StabiliTrack electronic stability control and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. Combined with the auto-stop safety lockouts, the Aura Green Line's one safe ride. Yes, you’re in good hands. And when you do need directions or help, OnStar’s only one push-button away.

Next page: The Enviro-meter, who should buy it, pros and cons

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