Buyers never plan on driving their shiny new SUV into an offset barrier, in front of a runaway side-impact sled, ending dirty-side up. But the fatalistic among us know it's statistically likely. These folks will be encouraged to learn that Saturn has armored the all-new Vue's body structure with six airbags, active head restraints, seatbelt pretensioners, and collapsing pedals so dummies emerge unscathed (or at least undead) from the worst crashes conceived by any world government test. Standard stability control with trailer-sway mitigation (a class exclusive) might even help intelligent dummies, whatever the situation, avoid a crash. And if not, standard OnStar will summon help immediately.

In between catastrophes, occupants enjoy a superbly trimmed cabin, with supportive seats, soft-touch materials, and quasi-convincing wood or metal-mesh trim. The all-new body and frame allow for a higher rear-seat cushion so backseat kids can see out, and road and wind noise are low, due in large part to more sound-deadening material and thicker glass. All passenger seats fold flat for hauling long items, and there's loads of cargo crannies, nets, and tie-downs inside.

There are three engine choices: Entry XE models get a 2.4_liter Ecotec I_4, teamed with a four-speed auto spinning the tires or a 3.5_liter pushrod V_6 with all-wheel drive. XR or Red Line buyers get GM's 3.6_liter quad-cam V_6 with front or all-wheel-drive options. Both V_6s get a new six-speed auto, and all models can be flat-towed behind an RV thanks to a new design in the transmission. A Green Line hybrid also is available, with a two-mode version coming next summer. This new Vue is the first of GM's global platform strategy; body and soul are shared with two other products for the European and Australian marketplaces. Suspension tuning is identical to that of the Vue's Euro sibling, the Opel Antara.

So how's it feel? The loaded XR AWD Vue we had represents a quantum leap in refinement, but tips the scales at over 4300 pounds. That makes it feel sluggish off the line (blame tall, economy-minded gearing) and less than nimble at the helm, though body control and overall performance are admirable. Our tester weighs almost 600 pounds more than a RAV4 Sport V_6 4WD and 100 pounds more than a Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD-two competitors that offer third-row seating and carry 16 to 20 cubic feet more cargo. Another unflattering fact: Most dimensions measure larger outside but smaller inside than the key rivals. Still, the all-new Vue is a much stronger player in the segment.



2008 Saturn Vue
Base price $21,395
Price as tested $29,395
Layout Front engine, FWD/AWD, 4-pass, 4-door SUV
Engines 2.4L/169-hp/161-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4; 3.5L/222-hp/219-lb-ft OHV 12-valve V-6; 3.6L/257-hp/248-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmissions 4- or 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase, in 106.6
Length x width x height, in 180.1 x 72.8 x 66.2
Curb weight, lb 3800-4300 (mfr)
GVWR, lb 5100
Payload capacity, lb 1200
Max towing capacity, lb 3500
Max cargo capacity, cu ft 56.4
0-60 mph, sec 6.7-10.6 (mfr)
EPA fuel econ, city/hwy, mpg 16-19/24-26
CO2 emissions, lb/mile 0.90-1.03
On sale Currently