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Saturn gets greener SUV

GM has introduced the 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line Hybrid, an affordable fuel-efficient SUV. It is the first in a line of fuel-efficient vehicles to be sold under the “Green Line” banner and heralds a new more affordable hybrid system.

Exterior

Classified as a small SUV, the Saturn Vue Hybrid is lower than the standard Vue. It is only 1686 mm high which makes it more stable and offers a car-like aerodynamic build.

The front nose lies long and flat with the headlights spreading in towards the trim grille marked with the Saturn plate in centre. A thicker lower jawline gives the Vue a huskier appeal, matching SUV appearances. These stronger features continue along the bodyline to a wide back. Rear smoked side mirrors have a matching black back bar so that it looks like they blend into the broad rear window. Below the lift gate, which swings up, there is a lined tailgate set at the right level for stepping up.

Fenders distinctly molded over the 16” standard alloy five-spoke tires adorn the extra tough polymer dent resistant side panels.

Interior

The instrument cluster and arrangement of controls within the Saturn Vue is appealing, well thought out and efficient. With the hybrid system on board there are a few controls that are new. In the instrument cluster is a small gauge next to the tachometer that shows two battery symbols below a swinging arch. Depending where the arrow is on the arch, the system will indicate whether the vehicle is charging the battery pack or is assisting the gasoline engine. There is also a green ECO logo set to the right of the gauges that lights up when the vehicle is achieving better than rated fuel economy.

There is an indicator for air conditioning where the climate control dials are that can be set in two different modes. One mode for “light” air efficiency and another mode for full on air-conditioning capabilities.

Otherwise the front dash, as well as the cabin, looks invitingly familiar. The interior has a stylish two tone setting highlighted with chrome accents. Standard on the Green Line is power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry, and XM satellite radio.

Saturn puts safety first by including dual driver and passenger air bags (the front passenger air bag disengages for lighter occupants), head curtain side air bags and safety belts with energy-absorption features. The Saturn Hybrid Vue comes equipped with OnStar, a bonus that GM is starting to offer on all their products, with a one-year Safe & Sound Service Plan.

Seating comfort and interior materials are basic; reflective of the Saturn Hybrid Vue’s economical starting price of $28,000. The driver and passenger seats have armrests which I liked. Seating comfort could be improved upon, especially along the back bench. The back bench splits 70/30 to provide plenty of storage options.

Storage is in abundance in the Vue; cargo volume with seats up is 872 L/ 30.8 cu. ft. groceries (purchased during my test drive) were easy to load – raise the lift gate for a wide open berth and pop up the built-in storage bins. There is enough interior length space to fit an eight foot piece of lumber inside the Vue when the passenger seat and rear seat are down.

Performance

GM has innovatively created a “mild” hybrid system to fit into the Saturn Vue Green Line. Known as BAS (Belt/Alternator/Starter) this system has a special alternator/starter, mounted where a traditional alternator would be, and utilizes a wider engine serpentine belt drive to turn the crankshaft. An electronic controller is added and mounted to the radiator support in the engine compartment. It’s this unit that controls how the generator/motor operates and how much power it produces.

For instance, the Saturn Vue Green Line has an Auto Stop feature that shuts down the engine whenever it is stopped for any significant period (an AUTO light appears in the instrument cluster to indicate the vehicle is operating). As soon the brake pedal is released, the controller operates the electric motor to start the gas engine. During acceleration, power is provided by both the gasoline and electric motors, although the electric motor can move the vehicle by itself at very slow speeds. Combined, the four cylinder VVT gas engine and electric motor put out 170 horsepower, with an estimated 10 to 20 per cent fuel economy savings over conventional vehicles.

There is a 36-Volt NiMH battery tucked under the rear cargo floor inside the Saturn Vue Green Line. This battery has a substantially lower voltage than what has hitherto been produced on hybrids. There is an automatic battery disconnect if incorrect operation of the system is detected. The regenerative braking system on the Green Line is designed to convert the VUE’s kinetic energy into electrical energy and store it in the battery.

Particular to the Saturn Vue Green Line is the absence of roof racks to provide better aerodynamics and much firmer tires to lessen resistance.

The beauty of the Saturn Vue Green Line is that whether the vehicle is conserving energy, using gas or electric power it is barely perceptible and occurs seamlessly. I liked having the hybrid instrument gauge to refer to. When the vehicle is stopped all the interior entertainment and heating features continue to function.

I found the electric steering adeptly let me maneuver the Vue. There is a Hill Start Assist Feature meant to reduce the slight rollback on a hill as the Saturn Vue Green Line transitions from hybrid idle to starting the engine on an incline. My babysitter’s driveway is like the side of Mt. Finlayson and proved to be so steep I had to rely on the Vue’s emergency brake to climb up.

On the roads, the Green Line produced power when needed for city driving and comfortably joined the pack in highway driving. The Saturn Vue Green Line is a front wheel drive. It has a towing capacity of 680 kg and is flat-towable.

Summary

Hybrid enthusiasts will be impressed with the innovations present in the Saturn Vue Green Line. Consumers will enjoy the carrying capacity of an SUV with the power to take along the whole family and their recreation gear at substantial fuel savings.

TestDrive

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