Buyers never plan on driving their shiny new car-payments into an offset barrier, in front of a runaway side-impact sled, or dirty-side up. But the fatalistic ones know it's statistically likely, and these folks will be encouraged to learn that Saturn has armored the new Vue's body structure and armed it 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. Standard stability control with trailer-sway mitigation (a class exclusive) might even help intelligent dummies avoid a crash-and if not, standard OnStar will summon help.
In between catastrophes, occupants enjoy a superbly trimmed cabin, with supportive seats, soft-touch materials, and quasi-convincing wood or metal-mesh trim. The rear-seat cushion is higher than before, so kids can see out, and road and wind noise is very low. All passenger seats fold flat for hauling long items, and there's loads of cargo crannies, nets, and tie-downs.
There are three engines to from which to choose: Entry XE models get a 2.4-liter Ecotec four, teamed with a four-speed automatic spinning the front tires or a 3.5-liter pushrod six with all-wheel drive. XR or Red Line buyers get GM's 3.6-liter quad-cam six with front or all-wheel drive. Both V-6s get a new six-speed automatic, and all models can be flat-towed behind an RV. A Green-Line hybrid arrives this fall. 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 sampled here 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 V6 4WD and 100 pounds more than a Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD-two competitors that offer third-row seating and carry 16-20 cubes more cargo. Another unflattering fact: Most dimensions measure larger outside but smaller inside than the key rivals'-of course, that's when measured before hitting the wall.
How is it safe to flat-tow a Saturn?
It's definitely not safe to flat-tow all automatic transmission cars for long distance (like on vacation behind an RV). The vulnerable component is the transmission, the end of which is connected to the wheels, and so is spinning at road speeds without benefit of lubrication that is usually supplied by the engine-driven transmission oil pump. In some case, by accident or by design, some of the big rotating masses splash enough lubricant from the sump up onto the key bushings and bearings to keep things running smoothly (as happens with the Vue's four-speed automatic). This, along with the use of Teflon-impregnated ultra-low friction bushings, protects these transmissions during extended engine-off operation. The six-speed required a bit more engineering. A special lubrication pan was placed in an area that receives a lot of splash oil, and gravity then feeds that lubrication down to some remote bearings that wouldn't have otherwise been lubricated sufficiently. Hence, all Vues can be flat-towed - as can any other GM products using the 6T80/75 series transmissions. Or you can use a Vue to flat-tow an Ion (max towing capacity on the Vue is a class-leading 3500 pounds), and entrust the StabiliTrak system to apply brakes selectively if the tail starts trying to wag the dog.