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Before Saturn was forced to call it a career after the 2009 GM bankruptcy affair, the Saturn Vue was one of the company's more endearing products. The Vue debuted in 2002 as GM's first home-grown entry in the car-based small-SUV segment, it recorded solid sales but not much critical acclaim. To compensate for the latter, Saturn made steady improvements and expanded the Vue's model lineup with the high-performance Red Line and hybrid Green Line variants. Though still not as polished as other top compact SUVs, the first-generation Vue remained attractive because of its low price and Saturn's famed no-hassle buying experience.
Introduced for 2008, the second-generation Saturn Vue improved upon the original's formula in many areas. This Vue shared much of its basic structure with the Antara, a small SUV produced by Opel, GM's Germany-based European division. While we usually roll our eyes at so-called badge engineering, this was one instance where we were flag-waving fans. The second-generation Vue was a remarkable improvement over its forebear, looking and feeling like a European-designed car that just happened to have Saturn badges.
However, Saturn's departure from the scene changes our view of the Vue. Given the first-generation Vue's spotty reliability record and the second-generation's European parts sourcing, we'd advise steering clear of used Vues unless you find an outstanding deal that leaves room for expected maintenance costs.
Most Recent Saturn Vue
The second-generation Saturn Vue was produced from 2008-'09. Compared to the earlier Vue, it was very similar in size, with a nearly identical wheelbase and marginally greater width and height. However, its exterior was constructed of steel body panels. Although the old Vue's plastic ones prevented unsightly dings, they also looked cheap and created huge panel gaps. The second-generation Vue's interior was also higher in quality with improved ergonomics.
The five-passenger compact Vue crossover was available in three trim levels: base XE, midgrade XR and sporty Red Line. A 2.4-liter inline-4 that produced 164 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque was standard on the XE and for '09, on the XR. It was connected to a four-speed automatic. An optional 3.5-liter V6 was available on the XE, and it sent 215 hp and 220 lb-ft through a six-speed automatic. A 3.6-liter V6 (also matched to a six-speed auto) that generated 257 hp and 248 lb-ft was standard on the XR for '08 and optional for '09. The Red Line was available only with the 3.6-liter V6. A manual-shift feature for the automatic transmission was standard on the Red Line and optional on the XR. Front- or all-wheel drive was available on each trim.
When compared to other compact SUVs, the Vue was on the small side, with only 56 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity, almost 20 cubes less than some of its key competitors. Passenger space was good, however, with a reclining rear seat that offered decent legroom. Front seat comfort was good as well, although some found the bottom cushions a little short and the seats in general lacking lateral and lumbar support.
In reviews of the front-drive Saturn Vue XR, we found it to be a real competitor in the rapidly expanding compact-SUV market. Although others offered more space or a more entertaining driving experience, the Vue made up for it with European-inspired styling, a well-built and attractive cabin, composed handling and respectably strong engine choices.
Past Saturn Vue Models
The first-generation Saturn Vue was produced from 2002-'07 with plastic body panels (the second-generation has steel) and no specific trim levels. Though this Vue's interior was always second-rate, it was notably improved for the 2006 model year; models built previously were even more deficient in terms of interior materials quality and ergonomics. One should also note that Saturn offered a continuously variable transmission (CVT) from the 2002-'05 model years. Fitted to the 143-hp 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, the CVT provided improved fuel mileage compared to the five-speed automatic. But long-term reliability was apparently an issue and Saturn discontinued it. It was replaced by a five-speed automatic as the optional transmission, while a five-speed manual remained standard equipment.
Finally, Vues built through the 2004 model year had a 181-hp, 3.0-liter V6 instead of the later Honda-engineered 3.5-liter V6 that was more refined and powerful with 250 hp. With this bigger engine came a few more features, including the option of all-wheel drive and the "Red Line" performance package.
In reviews, the first-generation Saturn Vue earned favorable commentary for its strong 3.5-liter V6 engine, roomy cabin, comfortable ride and dent-resistant plastic body panels. Noted downsides included below-average build quality, low-grade interior materials, vague steering and weak performance from the base four-cylinder engine.