- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Saturn was one of the last to jump onto the sport-utility-vehicle bandwagon but its new Vue takes a different tack than the rest of the field.
It makes no pretense of being a rock-climbing off-roader, and it is more a SUV-shaped family wagon. It will carry five people just about anywhere they want to go as long as the driver sticks to the pavement and light-duty dirt or muddy roads..
The test vehicle was equipped with the base Ecotec 2.2-liter inline four-cylinder engine. It provides 143 horsepower and 152 foot-pounds of torque. It is a willing worker, despite being somewhat noisy when pushed. It was equipped with all-wheel drive coupled to the VTi transmission. VTi is GM talk for continuously variable transmission or CVT.
The VTi transmission is available only with the four-banger and AWD. The engine also comes with a manual transmission in the 2WD version. Saturn is also available with a 3.0-liter V-6 that provides 181 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque. It comes only with an automatic transaxle in either the 2WD or AWD.
The VTi uses a pair of variable-diameter pulleys and a special steel belt to precisely match engine output to vehicle speed.
It also has a traditional step-ratio automatic transmission, achieving the same fuel economy as a manual transmission.
The EPA claims mileage figures as 21 miles per gallon around town and 23 miles per gallon on the road. The test car averaged 23.9 miles per gallon in combined driving.
AWD gives the Saturn the ability to drive muddy roads and the system should be a safety factor in wet, icy or snow conditions.
As mentioned earlier, the test car was somewhat noisy when pushed hard. My wife described it as sounding like a "cow mooing."
Despite its lack of acceleration, the Vue is easy to drive. Don't push it too hard and you'll be pleasantly surprised.
It handles well on turns if one remembers it isn't a sports car. Vue features four-wheel independent suspension that provides a controlled ride and responsive handling.
Another advanced feature of the Vue is an electric power-steering system. Unlike other systems there is no need for a hydraulic pump. This helps to increase the fuel economy.
During the Vue's introduction several months ago, we were not impressed with electric power steering.
But this took place on a pre-production model and this time behind the wheel of the test car it seemed much improved, providing precise steering and a confident feel on the highway.
The Vue features disc brakes up front with rear drums. Personally, I would prefer disc brakes all-around, but the disc/drums brought the SUV to quick, straight stops during the test period.
The straight stops were made possible by the optional anti-lock brakes, a very worthwhile $600 option.
From an appearance standpoint, the Saturn Vue is a winner. Its lines are clean and doesn't present a boxy appearance.
Owners will also appreciate the use of Saturn's unique polymer body side panels that provide a rugged and dent-resistant body that helps prevent parking-lot dings and eliminates rust.
Polymer body panels also eliminate the need for add-on body cladding that would destroy the Vue's clean styling lines.
Vue will hold five people plus 30 cubic feet of cargo. Included in the cargo space is an ingenious pop-up organizer to help prevent groceries and other objects from sliding around or tipping over.
Also included are handy tie-down points, hooks for plastic grocery bags and a pair of storage receptacles large enough to hold a gallon jug each.
Cargo space can be increased by folding rear seats and a front passenger seat back that is flat when folded.
This allows long objects such as a surfboard to be carried.
I found the interior to be comfortable with all gauges easily viewed by the driver and controls within easy reach.
Safety features include optional head-curtain air bags (not included on test car), standard front passenger air bags and safety belts.
Another important safety feature are the three-point safety belts that are offered for all five seating positions.
Saturn dealers are offering more than 40 accessories so customers are able to customize and personalize their Vues.
The test car's option list included the power package that added power locks with remote keyless entry and alarm system, power windows, auto dimming rear-view mirror, power mirrors and map lights; a power sunroof; 16-inch alloy wheels and an AM/FM, single CD, cassette sound system.
Saturn likes to consider the Vue as a crossover SUV.
It is and it ain't.
In my book it is a fine family car that's perfect for weekend vacation trips and all-around daily transportation all at a price that is reasonable.

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