2005 Saturn Relay
The good news for fans of General Motors' Saturn brand is that a seven-seat minivan, the Relay, is now included among its product offerings. The Relay is sort of sporty and sort of luxurious, although it's not terribly convincing in either aspect. It's just about what we would have expected Oldsmobile to sell when GM finally got around to revising its minivans, which happened for 2005, but, of course, the Olds line has been wiped out.
While it is reasonably well equipped, the Relay cannot compete against minivan segment leaders Honda and Toyota when it comes to powertrain refinement, nor does it come close to convenience leader Chrysler in the seating department. And there are odd discrepancies among the included features. For instance, our test model, the front-wheel-drive Relay 3 ($29,295 as tested) had power-sliding side doors, but the liftgate was manually operated--and it was a real bear to close.
The Relay gets its motivation from an overhead-valve V-6 displacing 3.5 liters. The block is cast iron, and the heads are aluminum. Output is 200 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. GM has defended its use of these old pushrod-operated engines (there are several of them in a host of GM vehicles), saying the torque peak arrives very low in the powerband and that this characteristic is ideal for the kind of driving done by most people.
We will point out that Honda's engine of the same size makes 255 hp and never once says, "Not tonight, honey, I've got a headache," as the Relay's engine continually does. And the Relay is hardly a paragon when it comes to fuel economy, yielding 18/24 mpg in front-wheel-drive and 17/23 mpg in all-wheel-drive configuration. For the sake of comparison, when outfitted with variable cylinder management, the muscular Honda Odyssey Touring achieves 20/28 mpg.
While it's significantly down on power, refinement, and fuel efficiency, the Relay also offers an average transmission: the four-speed Hydra-Matic. This unit hunts around for the right gear, is reluctant to downshift when you press the accelerator to the floor, and lacks not only a fifth ratio but also any of the logic features found among the class leaders. Manual selection of gears is difficult because of a poorly designed, steering-column-mounted shift lever. (The segment leaders figured out that the best minivan solution is to mount the lever on the center stack.)