2009 Saturn Vue 2 Mode Hybrid: First Drive

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The 2009 Saturn Vue 2 Mode Hybrid wasn’t designed for us. If we wanted a hybrid, we wouldn’t want it in the form of a small crossover SUV. But since we don’t actually want a hybrid, it’s probably a good thing that GM designed the Vue 2 Mode for people that do want one and want it to perform like a regular V6-equipped crossover while achieving 65% better fuel economy in town, a 30% improvement on the highway and not sacrificing any utility, space or luxury in the process.
The Vue 2 Mode differs from the Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid in that it pairs a two-mode hybrid powertrain with a V6 engine. It can be considered a strong hybrid because it’s capable of running on the batteries alone, the engine alone or the two together. The regular Green Line can’t do that. It uses its batteries to provide a boost to performance only, but can’t actually run on straight electric. The 2 Mode system is also different from the Hybrid system you find in the Toyota Prius. Just like the name suggests, it has two modes of hybrid operation. This enables the Vue to get greater fuel economy on the highway than it does in the city, something that can’t be said of the Prius or its kin, which reach peak efficiency at around 45 MPH. The Vue's new hybrid system pairs two electric continuously variable transmission modes with four fixed mechanical gear ratios. At low speeds and under light loads, the Vue can operate in one of three ways: all-electric, all-engine or a combination of the two. At highway speeds the internal combustion engine is given preference, with the electric motor kicking in to assist it to power up hills or accelerate strongly. This allows the V6 to operate at its point of greatest efficiency most of the time. Of course, it also turns the engine off while stationary, cuts the fuel during deceleration, employs regenerative braking to recharge the batteries and uses low-rolling-resistance tires, all to further boost fuel efficiency. By now, you’re probably wondering what kind of mileage it gets. Pre-production estimates put the number at 31 highway, 28 city. Compared to the mild hybrid Vue, that’s 1 MPG worse on the highway and 3 MPG better in the city — a bit of a mixed blessing. On the road, you never lack power. The Vue 2 Mode accelerates confidently even at relatively high speeds. The 2 Mode will hit 60 in 7.3 seconds and can tow 3,500 pounds. Combined with the decidedly average driving experience, that means buyers get 100% of the Vue experience but with massively improved economy. In fact, aside from the quiet electric operation at low speeds and the somewhat wooden brake pedal, there’s nothing to separate it from the regular V6 Vue aside from the limited lateral grip of the low-rolling-resistance tires. This is where we get into the reason the Vue 2 Mode wasn't designed for us. By pairing the two-mode hybrid system with the V6 engine, GM has chosen to sacrifice maximum fuel economy for performance. That’s where our expectations for a hybrid differ so greatly from GM’s. If the 2 mode system is able to deliver pretty good fuel economy when paired with a V6, we can’t help but wonder what it would be capable of when paired with a four-cylinder. 40 MPG highway? We don’t know, but we’d like to find out, and preferably in a vehicle that’s smaller, lower and lighter than a Vue for max fuel economy. Hopefully one that’s cheaper too. The Vue 2 Mode Hybrid will retail for “less than $33,000,” which is quite a bit more than the mild hybrid’s $28,265. Still, if you're looking for the same power as the original with better fuel economy and you're willing to pay a premium, this Vue's for you.

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Ash78, voting early and often

Hmmm, the last non-lux car with a hybrid version that put performance over economy? The Honda Accord V6 hybrid, which will be a footnote in the otherwise-always-successful company's history in a decades' time.

I like the idea, but the marketing shows that hybrid buyers are looking for efficiency. I could see this thing losing out to the Altima or Camry hybrid pretty quickly.