Based on the Theta architecture that has since begot the Chevrolet Equinox and Pontiac Torrent, the plastic-paneled Saturn VUE had humble beginnings powered by either a tepid four-cylinder or a mild 3.0-liter V-6. Two years ago, Saturn gave its soft-roader a serious power infusion in the form of a Honda-sourced 3.5-liter/250-horse V-6 matched to a five-speed automatic transmission. So equipped, the Vue will walk all over every similar-sized SUV save the pricier, turbocharged Subaru Forester. Compared with other compact SUVs, such as the Honda CR-V, the Vue is slightly bigger and, with the V-6, much more powerful. The Vue received several updates for 2005, such as a four-speed automatic transmission for the four-cylinder engine, but 2006 is true midlife freshening. For this year, the Vue is treated to a cosmetic update and a full round of detail changes that significantly increase its desirability.
For 2006 the Vue gets a new hood, grille, and headlights. Out are the gigantic old headlights that Saturn formerly embraced as a brand styling trait, replaced on V-6 models with cooler projector-style lamps. The overall look is clean and geometric, and the Vue manages to remain distinctive on roads glutted with SUVs and crossovers. The Vue uses plastic body pieces, a Saturn hallmark, but the large panel gaps necessitated by heat expansion of the plastic aren’t as out of place here as they are on the Ion. Saturn designers used the gap between the hood and the fenders as an intentional SUV-appropriate styling element, creating a hood with a sort of clamshell look. The Vue Red Line brings high-performance cues like spoilers, a one-inch-lower suspension, and 18-inch wheels, as well as its own unique grille that resembles the one on the hot new Saturn Sky convertible.
Bravo, GM: The Vue’s interior is redesigned for 2006, and it looks much better. The center console is flanked by bars of convincing faux wood, and the sleek design of the stereo controls and HVAC knobs gives the center stack a modern, IKEA-like vibe. There are now redundant radio controls on the small, three-spoke steering wheel, and rear-seat passengers can be treated to a DVD entertainment system. The driver faces large, legible, white-faced gauges. Vue V-6 models get new seat fabric, though leather is available as an option. The sporty Red Line edition is decked out with leather seats with grippy suede inserts. There’s no surplus of interior space, but the Vue is a nice size–a little bigger than the typical cute/ute at 181.3 inches, yet small enough to be city-driving and parking-lot friendly. Side storage bins in the cargo area are designed to hold a gallon of milk, and a cargo organizer can flip up to secure grocery bags. (It’s refreshing when an SUV acknowledges its true mission). The 70/30-split rear seats fold flat, and the front passenger seat can also be folded to carry items up to eight feet long. Newly standard on all trim levels are cruise control; power windows, door locks, and mirrors; and remote keyless entry with a security system.
OnStar is standard, as are dual-stage driver and front-passenger airbags and traction control (with front-wheel drive). Anti-lock brakes are optional on four-cylinder models, standard on V-6s. Front and rear head-curtain airbags are optional. Stability control is unavailable, which is a shame because it’s an important safety feature on SUVs, and nearly all Japanese and Korean competitors offer it.
There are two engines available: a 2.2-liter/143-horse I-4 and a 3.5-liter/250-horse V-6. If the specs for that V-6 remind you of those for the engine in the Honda Pilot, that’s because it is the engine in the Honda Pilot. While GM produces a similar powerplant (3.6-liter/255-horse V-6) for the Cadillac SRX, this supplier relationship gives Saturn import-fighting credentials and blesses the model with the Honda quality reputation. As in the Pilot, the smooth engine features variable valve timing, a flexible powerband, and respectable fuel economy. The four-cylinder is available with a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic and is fitted only in the front-drive configuration. The V-6 is teamed with a five-speed automatic in either front- or all-wheel drive. The top engine is a tempting choice for the power and performance. When weighing the cost, consider that the V-6 matches the I-4 with a manual transmission for highway fuel economy–an impressive feat.
The V-6 Vue has outstanding acceleration for its class–after all, this engine also hauls around the Honda Odyssey minivan, which weighs up to 1,000 pounds more than the Vue. Here, it moves the 3,600-pound Saturn to 60 mph in the low-seven-second range. Packing 107 fewer horsepower, there’s a marked difference in the performance when fitted with the four-cylinder engine. This base powerplant is even less powerful than those in the smaller Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. As the Vue is a car-based SUV, there’s nothing truckish about its driving experience, although that can be said about many SUVs these days. The all-independent suspension soaks up bumps nicely while not being averse to cornering, though you won’t confuse the Vue with a sport sedan. The Red Line, however, on its hunkered-down suspension and 18-inch wheels with 50-series Bridgestone Turanzas, brings a bit of touring-car spirit to the grocery run, even if it doesn’t have any more power than the plebian versions of the Vue V-6.
If you’re looking for an all-weather wagon that provides some on-road smiles and sports a nice interior, by all means check out the Vue. It holds its own against players ranging from the aging Ford Escape to the sleek Nissan Murano, and it has a few unique calling cards, such as its dent-resistant plastic body. The updates made over the last two years have breathed fresh life into the Vue, making it more desirable now than when it was a new vehicle–a rarity in the marketplace. While you don’t buy a compact SUV to haul the Grady-White around, the V-6 Vue also offers a 3,500-pound towing capacity, enough to handle most small boats. If you favor a tuner look and need the all-weather versatility of a small SUV, the Vue Red Line is about the only option out there–though be aware that the Red Line is not rated as a tow vehicle.
It’s been around for a few years, but class-leading power and keen interior and exterior updates have kept the Vue in the mix in the hotly contested compact-SUV segment.
The Vue gets a freshened front end, a nicely redesigned interior, and more standard power accessories on all models for 2006. New audio systems further improve the driving experience.
Clearly, the Vue shines brightest with the V-6 powertrain, though historically, the four-cylinder has had a more favorable IntelliChoice Cost of Ownership Value Rating. If you spend a lot of time in your car, XM satellite radio is a welcomed option. The Red Line package includes a unique grille, lowered suspension, spoilers and big, 18-inch wheels.