- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

It is well established that Saturn makes extensive use of plastics or composites in its automobiles. Such is the case with the all new VUE.

However, is it too much?

Exterior skin of the new VUE is virtually all made of polymer panels stretched over a space frame of steel. The steel space frame is much like the bony skeleton in our bodies, but much stronger and certainly much more cagelike in this vehicle. The polymer panels are stretched over this frame to make the exterior body of the VUE nearly impervious to dents and dings. These panels may not stop major repairs from being needed in a crash with another vehicle, but will keep you from having to worry about the occasional shopping cart or wayward bicycle.

To some, an excess of plastic may be evident once you climb behind the steering wheel. The interior is made of many plastic panels, especially on the dash. This is one of those classic "Catch-22" situations where a manufacturer must use plastic for many reasons, but must make it appear as though the panels are made of a much richer material. Personally, I find the VUE's interior to be nicely laid out with all the necessary equipment in all the right places.

The VUE is available with two different engines and three transmissions. The base engine is a 2.2-liter four-cylinder that produces 143 horsepower, while the optional 3-liter V-6 makes 181 horsepower.

The real breakthrough technology presented by Saturn in the VUE is the availability of a continuously variable transmission, which Saturn calls VTi. Because the VTi operates without gears there is no shifting and a nearly infinite number of ratios.

The VTi operates by running a steel belt, much like a fan belt, between two variable sized pulleys. As the transmission's computer senses increase or decrease in speed the pulleys vary their corresponding size accordingly.

This technology has come a long way, but it still has its limitations. During my testing, the VTi equipped VUE showed that you must become accustomed to the characteristics of driving a vehicle equipped with a continuously variable transmission. For instance, the engine does not go through a normal rise and fall in rpm as it would with a transmission that shifts.

During acceleration the engine rpm just continues to increase with speed, so you might, at first, feel as though something is malfunctioning. It's not, everything is just fine.

Another aspect to consider is since there is no down shifting during deceleration and therefore less engine braking, you will increase the use of your brakes.

This could result in higher maintenance on the braking system. Saturn engineers seemed to think this not to be the case.

There is no doubt a great deal of thought has gone into the development of the VUE. This vehicle has many of the features buyers want, plenty of usable space on the interior, easy manipulation of the seats and good entry and exit through all five doors.

One aspect I found to be notable is the rear lift gate actually raises high enough that I didn't have to worry about hitting my head on the thing when open. Yet, it is easy for a five-foot-two person to close.

A vehicle's seating configuration has become much more important these days as we put more demands on versatility. The rear 70/30 split rear seat is so configured so that a child seat can be fastened into its anchors in the middle of the seat and still allow the 30 percent section to be folded down for transporting a long item.

It is impossible to describe all the features or attributes of a vehicle in the space I have here. This is why I always suggest that shoppers narrow their search down to three or four vehicles. Then, go spend plenty of time with each vehicle to see which one fits your needs best.

It is far more important that you invest the time before you put your signature on that purchase agreement than afterward. You will have to live with that vehicle for the next few years. Be sure before you buy.

Saturn has given the VUE so many features it deserves a look. But remember you may need more time than you imagined, the VUE is that feature-packed.

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