Saturn entered the SUV fray in 2002 with its functional, modern-looking VUE
that came packed with what today's buyers want in a family vehicle. The VUE, after
seeing a few minor changes for 2003, retains its rugged, modern look that favors machine
like creases over cute curves.
It has comfortable seating for five, a fairly smooth highway ride,
and optional all-wheel drive to improve performance on wet or muddy roads. Luckily, the
fold-flat rear seat is still easy to use and perfect for lugging big cargo. Actually, this
Saturn remains largely the same as last year's model no surprise from a company
that has a history of leaving its vehicles essentially unchanged for up to a decade.
The VUE's biggest changes for 2003 are making a V6 engine available
on front-wheel-drive models and allowing some fancy-pants options to dress up the cabin.
Heated leather seats are available with lumbar support for the driver, along with a
leather-wrapped steering wheel, an upgraded stereo, and a couple of new colors:
"bright blue" and "medium green."
Other than that, little has changed on this plastic wonder. It still
has the same dent-resistant polymer body that looks nice and could help resale value by
denying baseballs and shopping carts their typical roles as ding-makers. And while maybe a
little noisy on the highway, the V6 engine still pulls like an ox and offers
Body styling is typical Saturn, with clean lines and a distinct look
- including new badges for 2003 - that make it look both tough and modern. It has no cute
curves like many other mini-SUVs, instead opting for straight lines and dramatic creases.
Inside, cheap-feeling materials continue to detract from an
otherwise nicely styled passenger compartment. Some ergonomics are quirky though,
especially the power window switches on the center console.
Probably the VUE's best feature is its highly configurable cabin.
Rear seats fold flat for great cargo capacity, and if that's not enough, the front
passenger seat can be flipped forward to allow room for an eight-foot ladder.
With such truck-like functionality, you might expect the VUE to have
an unrefined, truck-like ride. It doesn't. It feels smooth and silky, though not quite as
precise as some of its competitors.
Speaking of competitors, the VUE definitely has an uphill fight
against such gallant SUVs as the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda Tribute, Jeep Liberty,
Hyundai Santa Fe and Pontiac Aztek, all of which offer good quality and features. With so
many choices competing for your money today, it's best to spend some time behind the wheel
of each of your favorites before making a final decision.
As for price, the VUE remains on the high side when you consider its
features and apparent quality. It starts around $22,000, and options can quickly run the
sticker up to nearly $30,000, far above some of its more refined competitors.