2008 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid, Part Two

Illustration for article titled 2008 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid, Part Two
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Exterior Design: **** It may still be a straightforward compact SUV, but thanks to the Opelization of Saturn, the 2008 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid looks far better than its predecessor — with a more refined, European styling direction than its competitors, particularly the block-like Ford Escape. The rubber fits the wheel wells, all the handles feel solid and even the hybrid badges, which use the same circuit board motif as those found on other, more-garishly festooned GM hybrids, are in-proportion and appropriately used — just three on the entire exterior surface. UPDATE: We hear that may have changed for the 2009 model year.
Interior Design: *** The Vue's interior comes across as much more upscale than its price would suggest. Soft-touch plastics and brushed aluminum trim abound. Everything has a solid, quality feel to it. Two significant problems remain: First, the trim piece on the lower half of the steering wheel has a raised ridge that cuts into the hand; while this is a small detail, it makes a huge difference while driving, as any attempt to hold the wheel from the bottom is met with discomfort and potential blood loss. Second, the sloped-in rear roofline cuts significantly into rear cargo room.
Acceleration: *** You aren't going to win any drag races in the Vue Hybrid, but when the electric assist kicks in, the Vue Hybrid does just fine for normal driving conditions. Even accelerating onto the freeway was without drama; keep your expectations in line with the type of vehicle you're driving, and you'll find the Vue's power perfectly acceptable. Braking: *** Braking action in the Vue Hybrid is superb...to the point of irritation. The regenerative charging action, which uses engine braking to recharge the batteries in this case, was powerful enough to pitch passengers forward slightly, even with a minor application of the pedal. Ride: ** Not surprisingly, the Vue Hybrid makes tradeoffs between ride and handling and fuel efficiency. With low-rolling-resistance tires inflated in the upper 30 PSI range, the ride is harsh and noisy. The Vue follows every undulation in the road, requiring constant steering wheel correction at highway speeds. It's by no means sports-car firm, but it's not smooth and comfortable either. At least all that road noise will constantly remind you of how much you're helping the environment. Handling: * Without question, the Saturn Vue Hybrid has the worst steering of any current production vehicle I've ever driven. Not just numb and overassisted, but the electric rack-and-pinion seems to make up ratios as it goes along, particularly in low speed parking maneuvers. More than once I overshot a parking space, and even my driveway, because the Vue just didn't do what was expected. Also, the high-pressure low-resistance tires provide very little grip, and I was able to make all four tires howl in protest during a gradual turn onto a freeway on-ramp...at 25 MPH. Gearbox: **** The Vue's autobox did its job without complaint and, more importantly, without intrusion. It's just a four-speed automatic, so there wasn't a whole lot of technology to cause problems here. The shifts were perfectly matched to the hybrid's characteristics. Audio: *** The Vue Hybrid comes with GM's standard-issue audio system, which with an easy-to-use interface, is actually quite good. Everything you need is present: Sirius XM satellite radio, an aux jack and a CD player, along with redundant controls on the steering wheel. Sound quality is excellent, but you'll need to turn it up loud to overcome the roar of the tires and wind. Toys: *** With its auto-stop and electric assist, the Vue Green Line Hybrid can be "fun to drive," just not how you'd traditionally use that term. More like a Game Boy equipped with a new game called "let's see how low my fuel economy can go." Sure, it's fun for the driver, but it's irritating as hell to the guy in the car behind you. But who cares about them — we're trying to save humanity here, people! Other than the hybrid system, the Vue has all the basics. A nice stereo, trip computer, special hybrid air-conditioning mode that allows engine stops even on hot days (up to a point), and just enough power goodies to satisfy. Value: **** The Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid isn't as sophisticated as other competition in the gas/electric SUV arena. Fortunately, it's also several thousand dollars less, even at MSRP. It's an even better deal if you manage to snag one during the Employee Pricing For Everyone deal (yes, the 2008 Vue Hybrid is included). If you can live with its shortcomings, the Vue may be the best hybrid deal on the market. Overall: *** The Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid takes a good compact SUV, the Vue, and adds about 40% better fuel economy for a 20% price premium — an excellent trade-off. If you're looking strictly at mileage math, the Vue is better than average. But, if you're shopping for a hybrid SUV, the Saturn comes in significantly cheaper than its Ford counterpart while actually returning better highway mileage in a more attractive package inside and out. With some additional refinement to its road manners and handling, the Vue Hybrid would have done even better. Also See: Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid, Part One

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What is it with Saturns and crappy steering? Every one I've ever driven has awful steering, and I've driven a lot of Saturns in my day from my dad's '93 to my own '93 to my dad's '98 to my sister's '99 to my friend's '00 (and his subsequent '02) to my dad's '02 (yes, my father has now owned 3 Saturns) to my mom's '06 - all of em. Crap steering.

That's way too many Saturns for one family (and family friend). No wonder we're so damn dysfunctional.