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2002 Saturn VUE

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SAN FRANCISCO: When General Motors first started producing Saturn cars in Spring Hill, Tennessee, back around 1990, the SUV boom was just beginning. And, with the continuing popularity of the small SUV realm, Saturn has finally jumped into the fray with the all-new-for-2002 VUE.

The VUE is about the same size as the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, but it’s plastic body panels, distinctive Saturn-esque front fascia and Saturn-derived interior set it apart from the run of the mill SUV. We were quite impressed with the VUE overall. The design is not unlike any other small SUV, but the details are what caught our eyes.

The most innovative feature within the SUV world right now is the continually variable transmission (that Saturn has named VTi) which is offered currently only in the VUE. It’s a bit odd driving a CVT-equipped vehicle at first, though the novelty never really wore off for us after a week of driving.

To give an example, when you’re sitting at a stoplight and it changes, you hit the gas and the vehicle starts moving forward. The engine revs to about 3000 to 4000 RPM’s, depending on how hard you’re pushing it, and the revs never change until you reach the desired speed. The vehicle seems to gather speed quickly enough, the 2.2-liter four-cylinder has 143 horsepower, and without the straining a traditional automatic transmission-equipped vehicle would seem to have.

On the highway, you push the gas pedal to pass and the engine revs don’t jump up, like in a regular automatic, as the tach arm sweeps to about 5000 RPM and you make your pass. It’s a very smooth transition and a very quiet operation. The power of the four-cylinder won’t push you back into the seat but it’s enough to get you going fast enough to get a speeding ticket in all 50 states.

One thing we did notice on our all-wheel-drive tester was a bit of torque-steer at full throttle. We really weren’t expecting this from an AWD vehicle and find it more interesting than a nuisance. And in all situations the CVT-equipped VUE has the smoothest driveline of any SUV we’ve ever tested. And that’s saying a lot.

The interior of the VUE will make any Saturn fan feel at home. The instrument cluster, directly in front of the driver, has large gauges for speed and engine revs as well as smaller gauges for temperature and fuel level. While not the best assortment, it does the job well and is very legible in all kinds of lighting.

The seats of our tester were covered in a tan cloth that felt almost like vinyl. Whether this is good or bad is hard to say. The material will probably stand up to years of abuse but the look is somewhat outdated…one friend told us that the cloth looked like that of his 1972 Oldsmobile Delta 88.

One other thing about the interior, or, more precisely, the power window controls: Why must Saturn engineers put the window switches on opposite sides of the gear selector? We find this to be annoying and cumbersome when you try to raise or lower the windows on those nice days where you want to drive with the windows down and enjoy the weather.

On the highway, the VUE was rock-solid. It took bumps and expansion joints, ate them up and spit them out. The ride was firm but not jarring, evidence of this vehicle’s car-based platform. Driving on twisty roads was a lot of fun as well. While the VUE is tall, it doesn’t feel tippy like larger SUVs. Of course, we would have liked to have the V6 in our tester but you can’t always get what you want, according to an old Rolling Stones song anyway.

Another little issue we didn’t much care for was the placement of the ignition. The steering wheel blocked it a lot of the time and we found ourselves craning our neck to find the keyhole. We would like to see more cars with the ignition on the dash like the Chevy Impala. It seems to us to make more sense, and for those that have really long key chains, it might be safer since the length of the chain would be over the center console rather than the driver’s knee.

To add to the cargo handling varieties of the VUE, Saturn’s engineers fitted a nifty little expandable box into the floor of the cargo area. This apparatus was useful in handling groceries and other loose objects and works well with the mission of this all-purpose vehicle.

We were able to get our two 20-gallon tubs and assorted cardboard boxes to the recycle center without drama, though we had to fold the rear seats down first.

Our VUE sticker priced at $21,915, including a smallish destination charge of $510. What’s remarkable is the base price of $18,860. Our tester had only three chargeable options: a Power package that included power locks/windows/mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise and map lights ($1360); head curtain air bags ($395) and an AM/FM 6-disc changer/cassette stereo ($790).

And we truly appreciated the hardcover owner’s manual. We found it to be easy to read and it was so full of color pictures and helpful text that we found it difficult to put down. For the money, and the utility of the VUE, you can’t go wrong. We’d recommend this vehicle to anyone looking for a small SUV. By James E. Bryson AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  Saturn Reinvents Itself and Enters the 21st Century
Topic:  2002 Saturn VUE
Word Count:   977
Photo Caption:  The Saturn VUE
Photo Credits:  Saturn Internet Media
Series #:   2002 - 32

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2002 Saturn VUE

Download the original image file here:  2002 Saturn VUE

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