Full 2008 Saturn Aura Hybrid Review
What's New for 2008
The Saturn Aura Green Line hybrid now comes with standard satellite radio and an instant fuel economy gauge.
Thomas Jefferson may object, but all hybrids are not created equal. They are each endowed by their creators with different unalienable capabilities, which affect emissions, fuel economy and the pursuit of green envy. The 2008 Saturn Aura Green Line wears a hybrid badge and features a gasoline-electric power plant, but its capabilities pale in comparison to other hybrid-labeled sedans. Acceleration, emissions and most importantly, fuel economy, are far below average. This Saturn is the cheapest sedan (not counting the Prius) to wear a hybrid badge, but like so much in life, you certainly get what you pay for.
To prove this, let's look at some cold facts. At the heart of the Aura Green Line (and its underwhelming performance) is an electric motor/generator that provides only 4 kilowatts of electric boost to the 164-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The motor is capable of motivating the Aura on electricity alone up to 3 mph, but it's mostly used to start the engine when it automatically shuts off at traffic lights and other stopping situations.
By comparison, the Camry Hybrid features a 30-kilowatt electric motor that can power the vehicle by itself under light acceleration to speeds of almost 30 mph. This difference is key in city driving and stop-and-go traffic, where the Camry and other "full" hybrids like the Prius and Nissan Altima Hybrid rely heavily on electric propulsion. The Aura's electric motor doesn't have enough juice to sufficiently boost acceleration or fuel economy, resulting in disappointing results for both.
Independent of its hybrid system, the Saturn Aura is an attractive family sedan that provides plenty of space, features and style. Its interior quality is a little hit or miss, but in general, most buyers will find it a pleasant way to get around. Sadly, most of the regular Aura's European-bred handling capabilities have been sapped out of the Green Line. Smaller wheels and tires can be blamed for this, along with the lifeless electric power steering (versus hydraulic) that makes driving it as much fun as taxation without representation.
With a base price of a little more than $22,000, the 2008 Saturn Aura Green Line makes a compelling value argument, as it undercuts its principal competition (the Camry and Altima hybrids) by about $3,000. However, those vehicles are more impressive than the Aura even when their vastly superior gas-electric powertrains aren't considered. If purchasing a hybrid at a low price is a priority, the Toyota Prius is even cheaper than the Aura, and offers an impressive amount of passenger and interior space inside its midsize hatchback body. It's also a tad quicker and gets much better fuel economy.
There is hope, however. A full-fledged Two-Mode hybrid system similar to the one found in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon hybrids is rumored to replace the Aura's mild gas-electric system in the future. We'd suggest waiting for that, or buying the base four-cylinder Aura if you want one that's easy on gas. Otherwise, the 2008 Aura Green Line is a hybrid that, in the course of automotive events, leaves much to be desired.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Saturn Aura Green Line hybrid is a midsize family sedan available in only one trim level. Standard equipment includes 16-inch wheels, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, full power accessories, a trip computer and a CD stereo with satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The Preferred Package adds an eight-way power driver seat, steering-wheel audio controls and heated mirrors. A sunroof is a stand-alone option.
Powertrains and Performance
The Aura Green Line features a small electric motor that starts the 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and adds small amounts of power under high load conditions. The gasoline engine produces 164 hp by itself, and a net 169 hp when aided by the electric motor. Unlike other hybrid setups, the Green Line offers full electric propulsion only up to about 3 mph -- the Altima and Camry hybrids can get up to almost 30 mph. Subsequently, city gas mileage is unimpressive. Revised fuel economy ratings for 2008 stand at 24 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. By comparison, the four-cylinder Aura XE returns 22 city and 30 highway, while the Camry Hybrid gets 33 city and 34 highway.
Besides fuel economy, another environmental concern is air-pollution emissions. The Aura Green Line is considered a Low Emissions Vehicle, four steps below its competitors, which score the Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle rating.
Standard safety features for the 2008 Saturn Aura Green Line include antilock disc brakes, stability control, traction control and the OnStar emergency communications system. Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are also included. In frontal- and side-impact crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Aura earned a perfect five stars across the board.
Interior Design and Special Features
Even by the generous standards of the midsize sedan class, the Aura treats rear passengers to a lavish amount of space. It's similarly roomy up front, although it's hard to get in and out of the cabin gracefully in spite of the wide door openings. The shape of the dash and B-pillar obstructs ingress, and it's a little difficult to wriggle behind the steering wheel, particularly if you're taller or large-framed. Rear-seat passengers must also do without a center armrest.
The overall design is attractive, though, and a pleasing mix of metallic accents and available simulated wood gives the cabin an upscale ambience, while acoustic glass for the windshield and front windows contributes to the serenity. Unlike the regular Aura, however, there is no available leather upholstery to dress up the cabin, and we feel that there's too much rough plastic, fake stitching and rubbery vinyl trim for a car in this price range. Trunk capacity measures 13.1 cubic feet, which is a few cubes larger than the Altima and Camry.
The 2008 Saturn Aura Green Line doesn't offer the regular Aura's level of European-quality handling, due to its smaller tires and uncommunicative electric-assist power steering. The Aura Green Line also trails its fellow hybrid midsize sedans in terms of acceleration, braking and general driving involvement. Although most hybrid drivers aren't expecting zesty acceleration, the Green Line's 0-60-mph time of 11 seconds is 2.5 ticks slower than the Camry Hybrid and even a bit pokier than the Prius. On the upside, the Green Line provides the same quiet cabin and comfortable ride of its regular Aura siblings -- in fact, its smaller wheels translate into an even cushier ride.