Sunday

2006 Saturn Vue Redline review


First and foremost, let me just say that a Saturn is not my first choice of vehicle to review, much less an SUV. Several years ago, Saturn brought out their Redline series as an attempt to portray their cars as a choice for enthusiasts. Well, I'm an enthusiast. According to Saturn's marketing team, I should like this vehicle.

From the outside, the Vue Redline looks good. Aggressive looks, the Rubbermaid-inspired interior has been redone and updated for '06, and best of all, powering the Vue Redline is the engine/trans combo from the Honda Pilot and Acura MDX. Loaded up it stickers new at about $26k for the front wheel drive model. Ok, not bad.

The interior is nice at first glance. But the more you look the more you find things that cause, well, concern. Some of the plastics used are low quality. The panel gaps are inconsistent and sometimes large. Build quality seemed to take a back seat to styling and powertrain components. When you look at a Honda or Toyota and see what they can do in a $26,000 vehicle, there really isn't an excuse for this kind of build quality in this day and age. Whatsmore, the truly scary thing is that is the UPDATED interior. 2005 and before looked far worse.

An exterior walk around shows large panel gaps - mainly an unavoidable part of the price you pay to have exterior plastic panels in place. At least door dings shouldn't show up. Continuing my walk around - uh oh - are those DRUM brakes showing through the rims? Good giref, they are. I checked my calendar and sure enough we're still in the 21st century. Disappointing. There's one performance demerit already.

This particular one was a front wheel drive version with traction control. Handling was nice and responsive - for an SUV. It more or less went where you wanted it, and there was little slop in the controls. Power was adequate even up to highway speeds, and the powertrain was very smooth - thank you Honda. Good, but nothing special. A manu-matic transmission system would have been nice to complement the flexible motor, an odd omission for a car that theoretically caters to enthusiasts.

In any event, the auto trans was smooth and kickdown was responsive. However, for being a brand new car, I was surprised by the number of squeaks and rattles in it. Hmmmmm. But the kicker was when I was coming off a corner, hit the gas, and lit up the inside front tire. Yes the road was slightly damp. And by slightly, I mean almost dry. The only way to calm the squealing rubber was take my foot completely off the gas. Wait a minute - doesn't Saturn put traction control on these? Yes, and this one had it. And yes it was engaged. I tried the same thing a second time, with the same results. Understeer became the order of the day and the inside tire just spun. It wasn't just the one I was driving - an entirely seperate Vue Redline did the same thing. I would hate to think how useless the traction control would be in the snow or even real rain if it performed this poorly on a slightly damp road. The other option would be the AWD model. But then you have to figure out if the 3mpg penalty is worth it. Know, however, that it is not a full time system - it only comes into play when the front wheels slip. Note to GM engineers - when dropping a nice engine in a car, make sure the rest of the vehicle is up to the task of dealing with it.

I wanted to like this SUV, I really did. Saturn hit the looks dead on. It seemed perfect for someone who is at that stage in life where they need a practical ride but whose tastes tend to run to sporty, aggressive cars. But a complete vehicle is more than just a body package, more than a badge that says REDLINE. Other manufacturers do it much better, and that's where you should move your attention.

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