Now in its third model year, the Saturn Aura has made some changes for 2009 to help it move with the times. The most significant is that the four-cylinder engine is no longer relegated to base, XE model. As fuel economy as surged to the forefront of buyer consciousness, four-cylinder engines aren't just bought by those who can't afford a V-6. Many buyers are choosing a four-cylinder for its fuel economy, and then loading up the car with comfort and convenience features. Thus, the 2009 Aura offers its 2.4-liter Ecotec four in both the XE and the fancier XR.
A further indication of the newfound respect given the four-cylinder is that it's no longer stuck with a four-speed automatic (except for the four-cylinder hybrid) but now gets a six-speed-with shift paddles-just like the V-6. The result is a boost in highway fuel economy from 30 to 33 mpg, with a city rating of 22 mpg, figures that better the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord four-cylinder/automatic. Unlike Toyota and Honda, however, Saturn does not offer a manual transmission option in the Aura.
The Ecotec four makes 169 hp and 160 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to keep most drivers from pining for a V-6.; Its engine note isn't inspiring, but the car is a quiet cruiser overall. While some midsize sedans have soft, mushy suspension tuning, the Aura's is firmer and more European. There's nothing sporting or involving about the Aura's steering however, which, is as over-boosted and lifeless as many electric power steering systems.
Like its platform-mate, the Chevy Malibu, the Aura has an athletic stance and sits astride a long wheelbase, with its wheels (seventeens are standard, eighteens optional) at the corners. The interior is nicely styled, but there's still some unfortunate hard plastic. Leather is standard on the XR, and our test car had "Moroccan" brown patterned leather in a mostly black interior, an attractive combination. Both the front and rear seats are roomy for adults, although the back seat is missing a fold-down center armrest.
Like the Malibu, the Aura is a very good, domestic alternative to the mainstay Japanese mid-size sedans, particularly in four-cylinder form. It may not be the enthusiast's first choice, but is it a practical pick, even more so this year than last.