After being a bench warmer for years in the compact-crossover SUV game due to lackluster build quality and performance, the Saturn Vue made it to the starting lineup last year after getting in shape via a thorough redesign. And for 2009, the Saturn Vue remains a well-rounded player, thanks to its smart Euro-based design (it's a twin to the European Opel Antara) that combines good looks, a welcoming cabin and solid driving dynamics.
Other factors that contribute to the Vue's appeal include high-end safety and convenience features such as the standard stability control and the availability of a navigation system and satellite radio. Saturn's small crossover also offers a wide choice of power, ranging from a 164-horsepower four-cylinder to a 257-hp V6.
Overall, the 2009 Saturn Vue can stand tire-to-tire against this segment's stalwart entries such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, as well as other popular small crossovers like the Ford Escape and Hyundai Tucson. It does have some downsides, however, such as a lack of cargo space, lackluster fuel economy and pricing that's typically a couple thousand dollars more than the competition. But if you can live with these drawbacks, the Vue should make for a very pleasant and practical daily driver.
The 2009 Saturn Vue is a five-passenger compact SUV that comes in three trim levels: base XE, midgrade XR and sporting Red Line. 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 audio 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, Bluetooth and heated side mirrors. The Red Line features a lowered, sport-tuned suspension, a 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 engine starter.
The Vue's interior boasts an attractive design with quality materials typically found in fine European cars. The controls are simple and well marked. An array of chrome-accented round shapes, from the gauges to the air vents to the climate controls, lends 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 keeps 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. 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 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.
The Vue XE and XR (front-wheel-drive versions only) are powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 (164 hp and 160 pound-feet of torque) mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. The XE V6 (all-wheel drive only) has a 3.5-liter V6 good for 215 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. It's connected to a six-speed automatic transmission. Both the XR and Red Line trims feature a more powerful 3.6-liter V6 (257 hp and 248 lb-ft) matched to a six-speed automatic. A manual shift control feature is standard on the Red Line and optional on the XR.
With the 3.6-liter V6, this Saturn scoots. In 0-60-mph testing, we clocked a front-wheel-drive Vue XR at 7.3 seconds; it's a tad slower than the segment's jackrabbit, the RAV4, but it's still very quick. Fuel economy, however, is a bit below average; front-drive Vues with the four-cylinder get an EPA estimate of 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. The AWD 3.5-liter V6 has a 15/22/17 mpg rating, while the AWD 3.6-liter V6 is actually a bit better at 16/22/18 mpg.
The 2009 Saturn Vue's 3.6-liter V6 is powerful and robust, though sometimes its 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. The steering is precise and properly weighted, allowing easy maneuverability in parking lots while providing a solid, confident feel at speed on winding roads and interstate freeways. Most Vues are tuned for a soft ride -- the sportier Red Line trim is the obvious choice for driving enthusiasts.
A wealth of safety features is standard on all 2009 Saturn Vue models, including antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and active head restraints.
In government crash testing, the Vue scored five stars (out of five) for both frontal and side impact tests. The Vue also aced Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, scoring the top rating of "Good" in that agency's frontal offset and side impact tests.
For the 2009 Saturn Vue, a four-cylinder version of the XR trim level debuts, as does Bluetooth connectivity.