Second-Hand: 2008-’09 Saturn Vue
Driving a Saturn Vue sport-ute can give you a buzz. But not the good kind.
Auto technicians will tell you hunting for the source of interior noises is very time consuming, yet the manufacturer will often pay only the minimum time allotted in the shop manual. So the technicians usually lose out, and frustration sets in.
How else to explain this experience by a Vue owner: “When I bought it, the visor buzzed. So I took it back in and they politely fixed it, and now the whole car buzzes.”
The first-generation Vue (2002-’07) was troublesome, especially when equipped with the four-cylinder engine and VTi automatic transmission, a Hungarian-made CVT with steel bands that break with alarming frequency.
In order to make a clean break from the plastic-clad Vue, General Motors reached into German subsidiary Opel’s model lineup and helped itself to the steel-bodied Antara. To mitigate foreign exchange costs, production shifted to Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.
Riding on an updated version of the old Vue’s Theta platform, the tuning of the strut-front and multilink-rear suspension was done in Germany to good effect: ride quality was supple and controlled, rather than pillowy soft.
Hydraulic power steering made a comeback on six-cylinder models, replacing the previous electric assist to improve steering feel (four-cylinder models retained the electric system to avoid taxing the engine).
The new Vue was no bigger than the old one inside, but things were looking up. The dashboard incorporated low-gloss plastics and metallic and chrome trim, giving the cabin an expensive finish. Visibility from the driver’s seat was excellent and the chairs were bolstered without being too firm (a German trait).
There was reasonably ample seating for five, with no optional third-row bench. Unfortunately, owners found the cargo space a little lacking; competitors such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 offered more.
“I have to leave my child’s stroller at home if I want to carry any other items,” read one driver’s lament online.
Base front-drive models got the 169-hp DOHC 2.4 L Ecotech four-cylinder engine tied to a four-speed automatic transmission, while the all-wheel-drive XE employed the 215-hp OHV 3.5 L V6. XR and Red Line models used the 257-hp DOHC 3.6 L V6, replacing the Honda-supplied 3.5 V6. Both sixes worked through a class-leading six-speed automatic.
There was also a Green Line mild hybrid offered, which mated the four banger with a small electric motor for a combined 172-hp output. The system was too weak to run on electric power alone.
Following the demise of the Saturn brand in 2009, the Vue was given a quiet burial. Roger Penske didn’t show up.
ON THE ROAD
The Vue had ingested some serious calories while in Bavaria; the all-wheel-drive models weighed a whopping 250 kg more than corresponding models of the CR-V, RAV4 and Ford Escape.
The added mass was a burden on the engines, even the 257-hp V6. Zero to 96 km/h took 7.5 seconds, which was slower than the old Honda-powered Vue and considerably slower than the RAV4 V6. Let’s not even discuss the four-cylinder Vue, which some drivers characterized as frustratingly lethargic.
At least its corpulence made for a solid structure from which the suspension could work proficiently and in silence. The Vue drove like an expensive German product and nothing like the previous generation.
Its porky disposition impacted fuel usage. Owners reported some pretty dismal numbers — as low as 16 L/100 km around town, and not a whole lot better at highway speeds.
WHAT OWNERS SAY
The Opel-designed Vue was a far cry better than the original, even if its steel bodywork couldn’t take a shopping cart’s direct hit. Drivers relished its excellent road manners, lively steering, solid structure and snappy cabin appointments.
In terms of reliability, the 2008-’09 Vue represented an improvement over earlier models, but it may be faint praise.
The six-speed autobox displayed some abrupt shifting and shudder at times, so much so that some units were replaced, while others were covered under a recall for a faulty parking pawl that would allow the Vue to roll away.
A few owners reported a cracked heater core, allowing coolant to leak onto the hot engine and cause vapour to infiltrate the cabin (a foggy windshield is a trouble sign).
Other maladies included dead batteries, short-lived air conditioners and catalytic converters, faulty instrument clusters, and broken door handles and hood releases.
2008-09 Saturn Vue
WHAT’S BEST: Refined road manners, fashionable interior, tidy size.
WHAT’S WORST: Small cargo space, not so quick, gas piggy.
TYPICAL GTA PRICES: 2008: $12,000, 2009: $14,000
Used Saturn VUE All Used Vehicles
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