Pros: Friendly sales staff, unique styling, undentable side body panels; rear storage well thought out
Cons: Bland interior, vague steering, accessories that should come standard
Saturn's entry into the highly competitive small SUV market is a vehicle that merits consideration, though not all in the market for such a vehicle will be won over.
From the exterior, the Saturn is visually striking and doesn't look cutesy like the Honda CR-V, nor does it look boxy like the Ford Escape. It has a very sleek, modern styling, though some may comment that it sometimes looks like a rather large station wagon, Saturn-style. The doors are made of Saturn's signature plastic polymer, which resists dents and dings in parking lots.
The interior isn't nearly as impressive as the exterior. Certainly it's serviceable and a person can live with it, but after seeing the exterior, you expect more. Like most modern cars, the Vue has lots of nooks and crannies to put cell phones and sun glasses, but the overall built quality of the interior materials could use an upgrade (the plastic cup holders for the rear passengers seem especially cheap). The power window controls mounted around the shifter are a bit awkward, given that most cars put them on the driver's door. Also missing are grab handles for passengers getting in and out of the car, a place to store spare change, and a dedicated overhead space to store glasses or sunglasses (though there are other places to put them, in fairness to Saturn). The storage area between the driver and front passenger's seat also seemed a bit small, especially compared to the generous space given in the Honda Pilot or Kia Sorento. Nice interior touches include the compass and exterior temperature gauge, as well as the automatically locking and unlocking doors (depending if the car is in park or drive).
The rear storage area is very well thought out, with space for jugs of milk and a pop-up container for groceries. All seats fold down to allow transport of long items like skis or ladders.
The Saturn's V4 and V6 engines are sufficiently powerful to zip around town and traffic. Fuel economy is good for the Vue and the anti-lock brakes were also effective. Steering, however, is sometimes on the vague side, and often times you don't get the feel of the road as you steer the car. Although the version I tried was equipped with all-wheel drive, I did not get a chance to test the feature.
Those who rode with me in the Vue gave it a positive review, with very little negative feedback. Since the duration of the trips were short, I have to wonder whether the seats will get more uncomfortable as a trip goes on.
Although the base prices for the Vue are very low in every trim level, the price rises significantly once extras are added in. Items like the glove box lock, side curtain air bags, and anti-lock brakes should be standard, but instead cost extra. A minor pet peeve was the fact that the gas tank is located on the passenger's side and that the fuel door isn't locked like it is on Hondas or other cars. A locking gas cap is available as an accessory, but who wants to pull out their keys at a gas station?
Those who are very interested in the Vue will have to decide whether to purchase the 2003 version as Saturn offers $1,000 cash back plus 0% financing, or wait until the '04 debuts. The '04 is supposed to be a slight upgrade from the '03, with a new Honda 250 Hp, 3.5L V6 engine. Other improvements include a quieter ride and tighter steering.