Pros: Handling, price, visual appeal, and versatility
Cons: A new model still in the process of ironing out minor wrinkles
In this day and age--when suburban utility vehicles (SUVs) are under assault from all directions as being politically incorrect gas hogs, not to mention being a general menace to the nation's highways--it takes a moment of resolve to come forward and admit to having recently purchased an SUV. Himself and Yours Truly have done just that. After a fairly exhaustive exercise in researching a variety of multipurpose vehicles, we settled on the Saturn VUE. That conceded, the remainder of this review is offered to justify our purchase and to reclaim our credentials as politically conscious and caring individuals.
First, let it be known that before September 2002, neither of us had ever heard of a Saturn VUE. (That's not surprising, given that the first VUEs rolled down the assembly line during the 2002 product year.) Our younger daughter bought a VUE and raved about its ease of handling, space-age options, visual appeal, and versatility. All that, plus the end-of-the-year markdown, made it an attractive deal for her. Himself's sister, the only family member living in close proximity to our daughter, was so impressed with the VUE that within a matter of weeks, she too purchased the same model for the then-brand new 2003 model year. When we visited in October 2002, Himself drove both new vehicles and put the VUE on our list of possibilities for "next time" we might make a purchase.
"Next time" came sooner than planned. While driving his 15-year-old Subaru to work one morning in November 2002, Himself had a moment of clarity brought on by a general systems failure in his old road warrior. After drifting the mortally ill vehicle into a local service station, he parked, called me for assistance, and began the search that culminated in the purchase of our extended family's third VUE. "Next time" was now.
So, why the VUE? For starters, it's a relatively handsome vehicle that is competitively priced. Indeed, we found the VUE with the options we chose to be well under the cost of other SUVs in its class. We purchased a front-wheel drive with standard transmission--plus the Sport Package of options (including a sunroof, upgraded upholstery and CD player, and other minor perks), which was thrown in at no extra cost. The Sport Package gave us most of the fun goodies we really wanted, and the "throw in" meant that the cost of said goodies would be at a price we were willing to accept.
JUDGING FROM EXPERIENCE
After 14 months of ownership and 40,000 miles, our experience with the VUE can be summed up with the following observations:
Gas Mileage: Surprisingly, the VUE gets close to 30 mpg, making the decision to purchase the SUV not quite so anti-environmentalist as it might have been with a larger, more powerful vehicle. Himself averages 28-29 mpg, mostly over urban interstate and rural county roadways. We attribute this result in large measure to the standard transmission and the 4-cylinder engine.
General Performance: Our VUE has been absolutely reliable. It has required nothing beyond standard maintenance--that is, routine oil changes, gasoline, window-screen fluid, antifreeze, and the standard warranty checks at the dealership included under our purchase agreement. One small but annoying problem has been that the windshield wiper nozzles tend to pop out. The dealer replaced the nozzles without taking undue issue and without cost.
Interior Comfort: For its body type, the VUE is comfortable, but not luxurious. The driver's bucket-style seat allows up-and-down as well as back-and-forth positioning to seek out just the right driving stance. The front passenger seat reclines nicely to expedite Yours Truly's practice of enroute napping. Legroom in the front is more than we're accustomed to in small vehicles. In the best of all possible worlds, the front bucket seats could provide more lateral support. As it is, the lack of support is only noticeable during long trips or over rough terrain. Given that we live in West Virginia, Himself would appreciate a bit more of that support when traveling over mountain roads.
Legroom for the backseat is perfectly adequate for Yours Truly at 5'5", but it's a tad snug for Himself at 6'0". The backseat itself is sufficient to accommodate two full-sized child safety seats. With a bit of persuasion, we can even add a basic booster between the two safety seats. As involved grandparents, the ability to transport up to three children in safety gear of one sort or another is an important consideration.
Appearance - Exterior: Like other Saturn models, the VUE has polymer panels that resist dents--and rust is not an issue. Despite our VUE's bright red color, which might be expected to show damage more readily, our 14-month-old vehicle sill looks "like new." It has withstood all the rigors associated with extreme weather, heavy road use, and the lack of its own protective garage.
Interior: The treated and upgraded upholstery has held up well, in spite of its light gray coloring. Heavy manufacturer's mats for front floor areas and the rear cargo space have helped in this regard, though less expensive mats would have served just as well.
Storage: The VUE's chief selling point in terms of storage is the rear cargo space. This area is more than adequate for routine shopping, and includes pop-up bins to contain items that should absolutely not move around or be bumped by other items during transit. The cargo area is suitable for transporting all our vacation gear, up to and including Himself's not-so-small golf bag. Indeed, the VUE's cargo space was the "upturned ankle" that first attracted us. On our first encounter with this small SUV, Himself's sister met us at the airport with her VUE and with two other adult passengers. That meant that the trip back to her home would have to accommodate five adults, three large wheeled suitcases, Himself's golf bag, and various and sundry hand luggage. The VUE met the challenge with room to spare--though admittedly, not much room to spare!
In the event that more storage is needed (and assuming there aren't five adults to transport), the backseat (in whole or in part) will fold down to allow for additional flat storage. Unlike other vehicles we have experienced with this option, the VUE's backseat modules fold down to a close approximation of flat--much more so than most such arrangements.
The center console is designed as a suitable control space for up to four beverages--two in front and two in back. The lidded bin in the console is appropriate as a catchall for all manner of small items, though it's not particularly spacious as a CD holder, which was its original design function. (We use a visor CD case for that purpose.) Fabric pockets, consisting of durable netting on the driver's and front passenger doors, make an ideal spot for housing maps, paperback books, and even small balls of yarn (the latter for my enroute crocheting between bouts of enroute napping). There is also a larger-than-average glove compartment on the passenger side of the front console.
Though we've yet to use it, we had a manufacturers roof rack added to our VUE. The installation was quick and fairly easy--though we recommend that you allow the dealer do the install, just in case there are problems. The rack is not intrusive to the overall look of the vehicle, and it's nice to have--again, just in case.
Other Interior Features: I'm not crazy about some of the VUE's inside features and controls. For example, I find the location and operation of the window buttons awkward and inconsistent with any other vehicle I've known well and traveled in often. I'm always opening when I mean to close, and vice versa. I also think the center console could have been designed to utilize the space it occupies much more efficiently. Himself, on the other hand, seems quite content with both features. But then he always seems to acclimate rapidly to whatever quirks a vehicle might have in terms of control and adjustment.
Safety Features: Our VUE has front airbags for both the driver and the frontseat passenger. We opted against side airbags for the backseat at our elder daughter's request. As the mother of our grandchildren, she noted that airbags are unsafe for small children. Safety belts and harnesses are standard, of course, and snaplock latches keep the collapsible backseat modules in place.
Ease of Handling: The 5-speed standard transmission makes the VUE fun to drive for those who like the sense of feeling "in control" offered by an manual. The relatively small size of the vehicle can even support the illusion (some might say delusion) that one is driving a nifty sports car rather than a small SUV.
We're not zooming out of starting blocks at the race track, but 0-60 acceleration seems perfectly adequate to our needs--well able to permit a jump start on most neighboring vehicles at the intersections we frequent. The power brakes are just that, and their responsiveness is well above average. In terms of driving in general, the VUE is smooth and easy--turns included, with no noticeable tendency to list toward the outside.
Would we buy the VUE again? Absolutely, we would. While I wouldn't likely be tempted to make us a two-VUE family when the next purchase decision comes along, I'm well pleased with the one we have. More to the point, Himself is pleased. He has a long, expensive commute, and the VUE gets him back and forth in relative safety and comfort. As for more luxurious cars--sure, there are plenty out there, but we would pay dearly to beat the comfort we have. In terms of price--yes, there are cheaper new vehicles than the VUE, but we would pay a significant price in terms of comfort, aesthetic driving pleasure, and probably safety. When considering value for money spent, we think the VUE deserves to be in a relatively small group at the top of the heap of automotive offerings.
? DAnneC/BawBaw, 2004