The 2008 Saturn Vue is a completely different animal than its forebear. The previous Vue distinguished itself from the compact SUV pack in many ways. Its flexible body panels could take a hit from a shopping cart or an adjacent car's door without leaving that automotive scar of urban America -- a ding or dent. State-of-the-art transmissions were offered, including a five-speed automatic and a continuously variable transmission, while later on, a powerful (Honda-sourced) V6 gave the Vue serious straight-line performance. There was also a tuner-inspired version called the Red Line that sported a track-tuned suspension, big wheels and racy ground effects.
Sadly, the Vue distinguished itself in other, less desirable ways. If Playskool fashioned a car's interior, we imagine it would resemble that of the early Vue, such was the fit and finish. And sloppy, numb steering didn't win the Vue any fans either. A refresh for 2006 improved things inside the Vue, but it still wasn't up to the segment leaders, which benefited from complete redesigns during the last few years.
For the 2008 Saturn Vue, the demons have been exorcised as General Motors looked to its European Opel division for inspiration. Essentially a rebadged Opel Antara, the new Vue looks nothing like its former boxy self. In terms of size, it's pretty much the same; wheelbase measurements are identical, and the new model is just a tad wider and taller. The old plastic body panels are gone, replaced by traditional steel.
Thankfully, there's more to the new Vue than just its look. Major changes include an interior design that welcomes rather than alienates, improved driving dynamics (with steering that actually feels connected to the front wheels) and the availability of numerous high-end safety and convenience features including standard stability control, an optional navigation system and standard satellite radio. The Vue offers a choice of three engines, ranging from an inline-4 to a high-output V6, while transmission choices include a four-speed and six-speed automatics. A revised "Green Line" hybrid version is also due for release later in the model year.
If our driving impressions are any indicator, the Vue is no longer a back-of-the-pack entry and now merits consideration from small-SUV shoppers. Though there are some faults -- less cargo space than what's available from some of its bigger rivals, for instance -- they are more than compensated for by the Euro-inspired styling, attractive cabin, composed handling and variety of powertrain offerings. Overall, the new Saturn Vue should make for a very pleasant and practical daily driver.
The 2008 Saturn Vue is a five-passenger compact SUV that comes in three trim levels: base XE, midgrade XR and sporting Red Line. All can be had in either front- or all-wheel drive. The XE comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, keyless entry, full power accessories, OnStar telematics, steering-wheel audio controls, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat and a CD/MP3 stereo with satellite radio and an auxiliary jack.
Opting for the XR adds 17-inch alloy wheels, luggage rack rails, automatic climate control, a power driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated mirrors and lighted vanity mirrors. The Red Line features a lowered, sport-tuned suspension, rear spoiler, chrome exhaust outlets, 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front sport seats, leather and suede upholstery and unique instrumentation. Most of the XR's additional features are available as options on the XE, and one can also get optional leather seating and heated seats on those models. Other available features include a premium audio system and CD changer, a navigation system, rain-sensing wipers and a remote vehicle starter.
The generic plastic of the former Vue's interior has given way to a posh new appearance, with far nicer materials indicative of European cars. Controls are simple and well marked. An array of chrome-accented round shapes, from the gauges to the air vents to the climate controls, lend a sense of classic style to the cabin. Brushed-aluminum accents on the steering wheel, door panels, parking brake and shift knob further the upscale treatment.
A pair of adjustable cargo nets keep items from sliding around in back. At 56 cubic feet, the Vue's maximum cargo capacity is small compared to some rivals that offer nearly 20 more cubes. The second-row seats recline and offer decent legroom; a third-row seat, an increasingly popular (but of debatable value) feature for small to midsize crossover SUVs, isn't offered. Front seat comfort is adequate, though some folks may find the seat cushions a bit short and the seats somewhat lacking in lateral and lumbar support.
The Vue XE is powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 (169 hp and 160 lb-ft of torque) mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. The XE V6 has a 3.5-liter V6 (215 hp and 220 lb-ft) running through a six-speed automatic transmission. Both the XR and Red Line trims feature a powerful 3.6-liter V6 (257 hp and 248 lb-ft) matched to a six-speed automatic. A manual-shift feature, called "TAPshift" is standard on the Red Line and optional on the XR. Front- or all-wheel drive is available on each trim.
With the 3.6-liter V6, this Saturn scoots. We clocked a front-wheel-drive Vue XR at 7.3 seconds to 60 mph and 15.7 seconds for the quarter-mile, times that are less than a half tick off the class dragstrip jock, the Toyota RAV4 V6. Towing capacity is rated at 3,500 pounds, the segment average.
Although it's hard to fault the robust 3.6-liter V6, sometimes the normally smart and quick-shifting six-speed automatic hunts on inclines, seemingly not sure whether to hold a gear or step down to maintain speed. Braking is about average for the class, as the four-wheel vented disc brakes help bring the Vue to a stop from 60 mph in 131 feet. The pedal feels a little on the soft side, but the vented rotors should forestall brake fade even with a heavy load.
Given that the 2008 Saturn Vue is tuned for a soft ride, the Red Line trim is the obvious choice for driving enthusiasts. Steering feel and action is spot on, allowing easy maneuverability in parking lots while providing a solid, confident feel at speed on winding roads and interstate freeways.
A wealth of safety features are standard on all 2008 Saturn Vue models, including antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, front seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and active head restraints.
Borrowing components from GM's European Opel division, the Saturn Vue is completely redesigned for 2008. Highlights include a much-improved cabin, an available 257-horsepower V6 and improved handling and ride dynamics.