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
The VUE is about the same size as the Ford Escape and
Honda CR-V, but its 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. Its 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 youre 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 RPMs, depending on how hard youre 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 dont jump up, like in a regular automatic, as the tach arm sweeps to about 5000
RPM and you make your pass. Its a very smooth transition and a very quiet operation.
The power of the four-cylinder wont push you back into the seat but its 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 werent 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 weve ever tested. And
thats 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 vehicles car-based platform. Driving on twisty roads was a lot of
fun as well. While the VUE is tall, it doesnt feel tippy like larger SUVs. Of
course, we would have liked to have the V6 in our tester but you cant always get
what you want, according to an old Rolling Stones song anyway.
Another little issue we didnt 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 drivers knee.
To add to the cargo handling varieties of the VUE,
Saturns 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
Our VUE sticker priced at $21,915, including a smallish
destination charge of $510. Whats 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 owners 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
cant go wrong. Wed recommend this vehicle to anyone looking for a small SUV. By James E. Bryson © AutoWire.Net - San
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Byline: Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo ©
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
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