Join Date: Mar 2001
Test Drive: 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line (CanadianDriver.com)
Test Drive: 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line (CanadianDriver.com)
Ottawa, Ontario - Different cars are interesting or exciting for different reasons. Some accelerate like they've been rear-ended by a freight train; others handle like they ride on that train's rails. A luxury car might pique the senses for offering the ultimate in comfort, while a full-size pickup might be so powerful it feels like it could pull your house right off its foundation.
Hybrids, on the other hand, tend to excite either the cheapskate side of one's personality or the environmentalist within. Here, excitement is derived from the satisfaction of knowing you're not entirely dependent on fossil fuels, something you can usually keep track of with an elaborate fuel consumption display.
I'll admit that I get a kick out of that sort of thing. I could care less about what other people think of what I'm driving: I like the fact that hybrid cars tell you what they're up to as you're driving them.
So in that regard, Saturn's Vue Green Line is a simpler approach to the gas/electric vehicle. There's no nifty animated display to show whether electricity is being routed to or from the battery or even what the current rate of fuel consumption is. Interior cues to the Green Line's hybrid-ness are limited to a charge/assist gauge in place of an engine temperature display, a little green "eco" light that turns on, according to the Green Line's manual, when the drivetrain is operating at or close to peak efficiency; and an engine auto-stop indicator built into the tachometer to let the driver know when the engine has shut down while the car is stopped. (Read Jim Kerr's Auto Tech column on the Vue Green Line for details on how its BAS gas/electric powertrain works.)
Apparently however, peak efficiency here means fuel consumption of almost 12 L/100 km over a week of driving around town. That's really close to the Natural Resources Canada city rating for a V6-powered, front-wheel drive Vue, and nowhere near the 8.8 L/100 km that this hybrid powertrain supposedly can deliver in the city cycle. As with any winter test drive, though, it bears mentioning that temperatures rarely got above minus 10 Celsius here in Ottawa during my week in this car, with night-time lows regularly getting into the 20-below range. Those cold temps meant that the engine would rarely go into auto-stop mode at red lights (where the engine shuts down automatically), unless I'd been puttering around town for two or three hours.
Granted, 12 L/100 km is better than our long-term SUVs had been returning in the same weather; the V6-powered Hyundai Santa Fe I'd been driving in similar weather was using closer to 17 L/100 km in the city.
That cold weather also made for some interesting cold starts when I'd get into the Vue first thing in the morning. The motor never had any issues with turning over, even in the chilliest conditions, but once it fired, it'd run rough for a few seconds - not the most confidence-inspiring behaviour for a car with about 7,000 km on the clock.
In all other aspects, though, my Vue Green Line tester behaved quite well. Acceleration is certainly acceptable, if not neck-snapping. And besides, you won't get good fuel economy in any car if you're constantly trying to beat the guy in the next lane. The conventional four-speed automatic (most other hybrids use continuously variable transmissions) shifts smoothly and downshifts promptly when more power is needed.
The gas engine, which does most of the work in this "mild" hybrid setup (check Jim Kerr's Auto Tech article on the Vue Green Line for more on what that means), is a bit coarse though, sending lots of its gravelly note through the firewall.
Ride and handling are very much middle of the road; the ride is comfortable, but far from luxurious in terms of how much road noise filters up through the suspension and into the cabin. Sharp bumps create quite a 'ka-thunk!', but the suspension does a good job of isolating occupants from the frost heaves that are a staple of Ottawa roads in the winter.
It's worth noting that the Vue Green Line comes only in front-wheel drive; Ford's Escape Hybrid can be had with four driven wheels, but at a starting price about six grand north of this Saturn's.
The interior is best described as functional, though it's attractive in its simplicity. My tester sported nice silver trim pieces here and there, which contrasted nicely against the black dash. The grey lower door panels also looked decent against the black. For its reasonable as-tested price of $31,780 (including freight), my test car was decently equipped. The $1,520 "Comfortably Safe" package added side curtain airbags for the front and rear seats, seat heaters up front, power adjustable driver's seat cushion (seatback angle is adjusted with a manual lever), a driver's seat lumber support and XM satellite radio.
Comfort-wise, my only complaint was related to the upper part of the front seatbacks. The shape of it pushed forward on my shoulder blades. A little annoying, but I got used to it. Otherwise, my tush was quite happy (warm too, on those cold mornings, something I wasn't expecting in a hybrid). Ergonomically, the only flaw is the location of the seat heater buttons. From where I sat, I couldn't see the indicator light for the "high" position. But really, it's easy enough to solve this problem: if your butt's warm, it's on. Also the HVAC controls - there's no auto setting here - tended to be slow to react. Turn the vent selector knob, and about 15 seconds later, you get air coming from where you asked for it.
Rear seat space and comfort are fine. There's less legroom than in the Chevy Equinox and Pontiac Torrent with which the Vue shares its bones: the Saturn loses the fore-and-aft adjustment of the rear seat, but it wins for its upright tailgate. Despite its smaller size as compared to the Equinox/Torrent, there seems to be more usable cargo space here because of the less steeply-raked backlight. This made the Vue a handy companion as I shuttled stuff from my old apartment to a recently-acquired house. There's also a cargo organizer that hides under the cargo floor; perfect for keeping a couple of grocery bags from sliding all over the place.
A few people who saw the Green Line asked if I'd buy one. I said yes, with the qualification that I'd want to see what its real-world fuel consumption would be like in warmer weather; I'd also like to know whether my tester's cold-starting issues were an anomaly or not. Other than those issues, I had no serious gripes with the Green Line. The potential for fuel savings is less than with other hybrid vehicles, but the package is far more affordable than most and its value quotient is further improved by its very handy cargo capacity.
Perhaps the Vue's main downfall in the eyes of hardcore hybrid pushers is the fact that it doesn't flaunt its green-ness as much as other hybrids out there. But I think it's kind of refreshing that Saturn's taken a less dramatic, not to mention a more affordable, approach to this kind of vehicle. With a little refinement, I think General Motors might have something here.
Second Opinion: Bob McHugh
Vancouver, British Columbia - The new Saturn Vue Green Line is a little different take on the hybrid drive systems that we've seen so far from other manufacturers. Hybrid power is supplied by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that's coupled with a belt to an electric motor/generator, and this combination can supply 170-horsepower.
Though the eco-friendly version of the Vue has a larger more powerful four-cylinder engine than the base Vue, its fuel economy is about 20-percent better than with the base 2.2-litre engine, and tailpipe emissions are also lower.
General Motors is promoting this hybrid system as affordable, but figuring out the hybrid price premium is not so easy. The Green Line is $3,800 more than a base Vue with an automatic transmission, $570 more than the V6, yet comparably equipped there's probably about a $2,000 difference.
My test vehicle came with a 'comfortably safe package' which added $1,520 to the price and included a 6-way power driver seat with lumbar adjustment, heated front seats, side air bags and XM satellite radio.
A unique Saturn exterior feature is the use of polymer (plastic) exterior body panels and a space frame under-structure beneath the Vue's dent-resistant outer-shell. Although plastic is lighter and more durable than steel, there is a downside: larger gaps are needed between body panels, so esthetically it's not quite as pleasing to the eye.
Last year's makeover of the front and rear fascias added more style but overall the Vue still looks more practical than flashy. Roof rack side rails are built into the design, but you have to buy optional cross rails to make this a useable feature - not so practical.
Appropriately green on the outside, my Vue Green Line came with grey cloth upholstery and mix of black and metal-look trim. A long wheelbase helps give the Vue more interior space than either a Ford Escape or a Honda CR-V.
The tall, spacious cabin has room for five plus 872 litres (30.8 cubic feet) of cargo space. The 70/30 split second-row seats fold flat and so does the front passenger seatback, to allow it transport long items. And there's a handy pop-up cargo organizer box in the rear.
The Vue has a pretty good reputation for safety and it has earned top ratings in frontal crash tests. Side-airbags are optional on the Vue Green Line but stability control is not offered. OnStar service (first year is free) includes automatic request for emergency assistance when an airbag is deployed. The Vue is one of the easiest vehicles I've ever tested for child seat installation. Lots of room, relatively flat seats and the child seat anchors are a snap to attach.
One of the joys of this type of vehicle is how easy it is to slide into the seats, as the seat cushions are closer to the hip-height of most adults. And as you get older, you appreciate this feature more and more.
From behind the steering wheel, which tilts but unfortunately does not have a telescopic feature, the instrument panel looks normal, considering its sophisticated high-tech drivetrain. On closer inspection, however, there is a small charge/assist dial gauge that shows hybrid functions.
An 'eco' light also appears on the panel if you drive conservatively and after the engine reaches operating temperature the auto-stop feature kicks in. This shuts down the engine when the vehicle stops and electric power maintains the function of air conditioning and other accessories. Lift your foot off the brake pedal and the electric motor instantly starts the engine again. The Saturn system is probably considered a mild-hybrid by the full-hybrid folks over at Toyota. On the other hand, it's a simpler, lighter and less expensive system. And the Green Line is surprisingly light, tipping the scales at just 1572 kg (3466 lb). The on-the-road benefit is a vehicle that's a very willing performer and surprisingly nimble. However, the electric assist steering doesn't transmit much road feel and it sometimes stuttered at low speeds. The drive system was also a little loud at low speeds and the power transition wasn't always smooth. This was particularly noticeable at low-speeds when crawling in stop-n-go traffic.
My Vue Green Line came with seat heaters but not heated outside mirrors - surely more important. My final gripe is the position of the parking brake lever: the snug location between the seat and the centre console was a tight fit for my hand - particularly with gloves on.
Like most Saturn vehicles, the Vue is "motor-home friendly" and can be towed behind one on all four wheels without damage to the drivetrain.
'The affordable hybrid' has a nice ring to it. The Saturn Vue Green is the lowest-priced hybrid utility vehicle on the market and a value-packed purchase.
Pricing: 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line
Base price: $29,060
Options: "Comfortable Safe" package, $1,520 (Heated front seats, side curtain airbags, power driver's seat, driver's seat lumbar adjustment and XM satellite radio)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $31,780 (Canadian Dollars)