Full 2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid (the previous "Green Line" tag has been dropped) now offers Bluetooth connectivity as part of the optional Preferred Package.
The 2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid frankly leaves us scratching our heads. Its fuel economy numbers -- 26 mpg city/34 highway and 29 combined -- are respectable independent of the competition, but pale in comparison to numbers from its principal rivals, the Nissan Altima Hybrid and the Toyota Camry Hybrid. Moreover, there's no payoff when you mat the accelerator -- the Aura Hybrid is a veritable slug compared with the surprisingly quick Nissan and Toyota. All right, so the Saturn must be a lot cheaper than the others, right? Wrong. At a base price of almost $25,000, it'll save you a paltry $700 over the Camry and about $1,700 vis-à-vis the Altima. The Aura Hybrid looks sharp enough, but that's pretty much the only compliment we can come up with for this undercooked hybrid.
The Aura Hybrid's main problem is that's not a true "two-mode" hybrid, meaning that the electric motor basically isn't powerful enough to run the car on its own. You can technically putter around on electric power only at speeds of 3 mph or less, but that's not very useful outside of a golf course -- and most of the courses we play don't allow Saturns on their fairways. In real-world driving, the Aura Hybrid's paltry four-kilowatt electric motor is employed simply to restart the engine from a stop when the accelerator is depressed. Conversely, the Camry and Altima Hybrids, which share Toyota's hybrid technology, feature a 30-kilowatt electric motor that can run on its own in light-throttle applications up to almost 30 mph. This bumps up their city fuel economy drastically -- to 35 mpg in the Altima's case, 33 for the Camry -- while the Aura Hybrid's city rating is only on par with gas-powered economy cars.
We'd heard rumors that the Aura would be switching to two-mode technology, but for now, that's reserved for the upcoming Saturn Vue Two-Mode Hybrid. Thus the 2009 Aura Hybrid soldiers on with a 164-horsepower four-cylinder engine that benefits only minimally from the electric motor's assistance. The result is an abysmal 11-second 0-60 sprint -- that's 2.5 and 3.5 seconds slower than the Camry and Altima, respectively. It's like the opposite of having your cake and eating it too: Not only is the Aura Hybrid less fuel-efficient than its rivals, it also makes them look like sports cars at the drag strip.
There are other shortcomings as well. Though the Aura is a sharply styled family sedan that provides plenty of space and features, its interior quality is somewhat inconsistent. And unfortunately, the non-hybrid Aura's above-average handling capabilities have been edited out of the Hybrid, thanks largely to its low-rolling-resistance tires. It corners about as well as the Camry, but that's really not saying much, as the Toyota's a certifiable land yacht -- and the Altima handily out-handles both.
If buying a hybrid on the cheap is a priority, a flimsy case could be made for the 2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid based on its slightly lower base price. However, Toyota's Prius is even more affordable than the Aura, and in addition to trouncing virtually every car on the road in terms of fuel economy, the Prius offers an unparalleled amount of passenger and interior space inside its midsize hatchback body. There just isn't much to be said for the Aura Hybrid when the competition is taken into account. Unless you can find one at a steep discount, we'd recommend looking elsewhere -- or waiting for GM's two-mode technology to find its way under the Aura's hood.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid midsize family sedan is available in a single trim level. Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires, automatic climate control, cloth upholstery, full power accessories, a trip computer and a CD stereo with satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The optional Preferred Package adds an eight-way power driver seat, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity and heated mirrors, while the Premium Trim Package tacks on leather upholstery and heated front seats. A sunroof is a stand-alone option.
Powertrains and Performance
The Aura Hybrid features a small electric motor that starts the 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and adds a modicum of power under heavy throttle application. The gasoline engine produces 164 hp by itself and up to 169 hp when aided by the electric motor. It is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.
EPA fuel economy ratings are 26 mpg city/34 highway and 29 combined. Interestingly, the far cheaper four-cylinder Aura XE returns 22 mpg city/33 highway with its new-for-2009 six-speed automatic transmission.
Standard safety features for the 2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid include antilock disc brakes, stability 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. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the regular Aura similarly high marks, with a top rating of "Good" for both frontal-offset and side-impact safety.
Interior Design and Special Features
The cabin layout is attractive, with a pleasing mix of metallic accents and available simulated wood. However, some plastics seem overly cheap for a car in this price range. Passengers front and rear should be equally content with their accommodations, as the Aura offers ample room all around. But rear-seat passengers must make do without a center armrest -- an odd omission in a family sedan. Trunk capacity measures 13.1 cubic feet, a few cubes larger than the Altima Hybrid and Camry Hybrid, which are saddled with intrusive rear-mounted battery packs.
The 2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid's economy-minded tires and uncommunicative electric-assist power steering conspire to take most of the fun out of the driving experience, and its punchless power plant makes freeway merging more of an adventure than it should be. Happily, the Aura Hybrid's cabin remains hushed at speed, and its ride is pleasingly compliant.