Base Price (MSRP) - $16,775
As Tested (MSRP) - $25,275
The Saturn Vue has been greatly improved for the 2004 model year. More power, more refinement, and a dozen other improvements make this a far more compelling product. And there's a new performance-oriented Red Line model.
Headlining the changes is a new 3.5-liter V6 built by Honda. It's very smooth, an enormous improvement over the rough-sounding V6 used in last year's model. Saturn claims this year's 250-horsepower V6 is the most powerful engine in the compact SUV segment. The V6 comes with a very smooth five-speed automatic that adds up to a responsive new drivetrain. Base models with the 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine are quite slow, however.
The Vue's electronic power steering has been re-calibrated for 2004 to improve on-center feel and responsiveness. Gone are the annoying torque steer, vague on-center feel, and darty handling that plagued the 2003 model.
The 2004 Vue's interior looks richer and better finished than last year, with improved materials, textures, and colors. As if to show off the improved steering, a nice new steering wheel replaces last year's cheap-feeling wheel. New gauges and a cargo organizer have been added, while new dual-stage airbags enhance passenger safety.
While Saturn is best known for friendly sales and service, it's also known for engineering innovation. The Vue is fitted with Saturn's traditional polymer body panels, which resist dents and eliminate corrosion. The Vue is available with all-wheel drive for lousy weather capability, and four-cylinder models are available with a continuously variable transmission. The Vue's long wheelbase makes for a roomy interior, including a reclining second row and a useful third row. These features, combined with a competitive price, unique looks, and friendly dealerships, make the 2004 Saturn Vue a much more appealing product.
The 2004 Saturn Vue is available with a choice of four-cylinder or V6 engines and with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).
The base Vue ($16,775) comes with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, a five-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. Windows, locks, and mirrors are manually operated. But the basic Vue does come with air conditioning, an adjustable steering column, a four-speaker AM/FM stereo, an engine-immobilizing anti-theft system, visor vanity mirrors and a cargo area organizer. The four-cylinder is also available as a FWD automatic ($18,560) and an AWD automatic ($20,010). Anti-lock brakes and traction control ($600) are optional on the FWD model; anti-lock brakes ($600) are available for AWD models (AWD doesn't need traction control). A Convenience Package ($1,385) for the four-cylinder model adds many of the amenities that are standard on the V6, including cruise control and power windows, locks, and mirrors.
V6 models ($21,960) come standard with a new 3.5-liter engine, a five-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. V6 models come with more standard equipment, including anti-lock brakes (ABS), cruise control, power locks with remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, automatic headlamps, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, aluminum wheels, and an enhanced security system. A new leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, leather shift knob, bright interior trim plates, and new seat fabric improve the V6 models for 2004. All-wheel drive ($23,610) is available.
Curtain airbags ($395) designed to provide head protection in a side impact or rollover are optional on all models. Other options include a power sunroof ($725), leather upholstery ($695-$755), the OnStar telecommunications system ($695), XM Satellite Radio ($325) and a rear-seat DVD system ($995).
The Red Line is a limited-edition Vue available with FWD ($23,955) and AWD ($25,605). The Red Line's stiffened suspension is lowered an inch and rides on aggressive 18-inch aluminum wheels with P245/50R18 Bridgestone Turanza performance touring tires. The V6 is standard and the Red Line's electric power steering is calibrated for a sporty feel. Unique front and rear fascias, with black air intakes and a chrome exhaust tip distinguish the Red Line Vue from other models.
The Saturn Vue is distinctive and visually striking, but it is not necessarily a head-turner. Its exterior design is more sensible than sensational, with looks that are modern and practical, and strong lines that avoid the bubble effect that curvy, cutesy imported mini-utilities share. In terms of size (and price), the Vue sits between the Honda CR-V and Pilot. It's larger than a Toyota RAV4, smaller than a Highlander.
The front end is thick and snubbed, with headlamps that ride high atop an exaggerated grille. From the side, the Vue is boxy and nondescript, except for its high beltline. Its large, back-end liftgate with floodlights provides easy and efficient access to the rear cargo area.
V6 models feature chrome accents at the front end, and fog lamps; and Vues with the V6 and AWD have dark-tinted rear door glass and new 17-inch aluminum wheels.
Polymer body panels provide a rugged, dent-resistant exterior without the clutter of lower-body cladding. Gaps between body panels are more pronounced on Saturn vehicles because these polymer panels expand and contract according to temperature. Car-height bumpers offer enhanced protection from parking lot damage and help create a smoother appearance. The spare tire is mounted inside the vehicle, which reduces potential damage from low-speed rear impacts.
The interior of the Saturn Vue is greatly improved for 2004. For the most part, the interior materials are better quality than what was on the 2003 model. A new color scheme gives the interior a classier ambience. Chrome accents brighten the instrument panel and new white-faced gauges that are backlit at night give it a sporty look. A nice new steering wheel is a big improvement over last year's. New heated front seats ($595) include six-way power and lumbar support for the driver. The seats use a nice combination of vinyl and fabric, and your passengers will assume the vinyl is leather.
Getting inside Vue is easy, thanks to wide door openings and a low step-in height. Despite the Vue's high beltline, visibility is good, providing a panoramic view. Big mirrors afford good visibility rearward.
The switchgear is well designed and easy to operate. Heating and air conditioning controls are straightforward and easy to operate, but look like they came from a compact car. The window switches are located on the center console, making them harder to find quickly than if they were on the door. The Vue's interior is still not perfect. The flimsy lid for the center console is still here and we felt a rough edge on the inside door handles. But overall, the 2004 Saturn Vue has a nice interior.
The stereo is nicely designed and attractive. New audio options for 2004 include AM/FM/CD with MP3 ($150-$440), six-CD changer with MP3 ($650-$940), and CD/DVD with MP3. (Prices are higher on four-cylinder models.) Also available is XM Satellite Radio ($325, plus a monthly subscription of $9.99). It's a great option to have when traveling because the stations don't change as you drive across the country. Around town, XM Satellite Radio is nice to have for listening to the 24-hour news and sports broadcasts, or for staying tuned into your favorite types of music (classical, jazz, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s). You still get ads, but fewer and less obnoxious than what you hear on FM.
The rear seats recline slightly (7 degrees) for comfort by pulling on a latch behind the seat. There's lots of rear-seat headroom, though the seating position is low enough to make our knees ride a little high. A rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($995) is available on late-2004 models. Back-seat passengers can view a movie on a fold-down, 7-inch LCD screen. The system includes remote control and dual wireless headphones, so rear passengers can listen to CDs or watch a movie while front-seat passengers can either listen to the DVD program or to the car's regular audio system.
The Vue is a good vehicle for carrying cargo. The standard 70/30 split folding rear bench seat provides versatile stowage of longer items while carrying rear passengers. Even the front passenger seat folds flat, providing room for an eight-foot ladder or fly rod or lumber. The nearly flat load floor in the rear is a result of the compact all-wheel-drive system. Of particular note are the configurable cargo spaces: A cargo organizer folds out of the floor to corral smaller objects; it's important to fully snap it closed when put away, however, or it will make a small rattle that disturbs the Vue's otherwise quiet ride. There are hooks for grocery bags and two compartments sized specifically for gallon jugs, a welcome convenience on late-night food runs. Tie-downs provide for the safe transport of a wide variety of goods. Three power outlets provide opportunities to plug in toys or tools. The rear hatch is easy to open and close.
In the safety department, the Vue gets high marks. Laudable are its space-age frame and optional head-curtain airbags ($395) designed to provide head protection in a side impact or rollover. New for 2004 are front seat-belt pre-tensioners, and dual-stage air bags that inflate less forcefully in a less-severe crash, reducing the chance that the airbag itself will cause an injury. The Vue also comes with a rear-center shoulder belt, not found on many compact SUVs; and with child-seat tether anchors for all three seating positions.
GM's OnStar security and information service ($695) works well as a navigation system because there's nothing to program. Press the button and a human operator responds, to provide directions and other assistance. The operators vary a bit in the proficiency, of course, but most of them are friendly and knowledgeable, and it's sometimes fun to engage them in conversation on long trips. OnStar always knows the location of your vehicle, they can direct you to the nearest gas station or help find a good restaurant or motel. The OnStar staff will notify authorities of your location if your airbag goes off and you do not respond to their calls, or you can press the emergency button and they'll send out the troops. OnStar can unlock your doors if you lock the keys inside and, if your vehicle is stolen, they can pinpoint its location and direct the authorities to apprehend the bad guys and recover your vehicle.
While last year's model offered average levels of noise, vibration and harshness, the 2004 Saturn Vue is smooth and quiet. Saturn has added sound-deadening material, making the cabin in the 2004 Vue much quieter.
Saturn has recalibrated the steering system for 2004 as well, addressing a big complaint we had with the 2003 model. Gone completely is the torque steer that plagued last year's V6 models. Handling is good over a variety of driving terrain. The speed-sensitive power steering offers precise, easy steering in parking lots, yet adjusts for good road feel and stability on the highway. The steering can be reprogrammed to your preferences, and it automatically boosts power assistance during emergency avoidance maneuvers.
Ride quality is generally good, though not great. Sharp bumps, such as pavement transitions and expansion joints, are transmitted into the cabin and there's a general lack of smoothness around town.
When equipped with the V6, the Vue offers strong, smooth power with quick and very smooth shifting response. The 2004 Saturn Vue is available with a new 3.5-liter V6 engine built by Honda that's larger and much more powerful than last year's 3.0-liter V6 built by GM. The 3.5-liter Honda engine produces 250 horsepower and 242 pounds-feet of torque (which represents an increase of 69 horsepower and 47 pounds-feet over the 2003 model's 3.0-liter V6). Saturn says the 2004 Vue can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 7 seconds, which is pretty quick (and about 1.5 seconds quicker than the 2003 model). Yet EPA fuel economy ratings remain unchanged (19/25 mpg for the AWD V6). Variable-valve timing enhances high-end power, low-end torque and fuel economy.
The new V6 is mated to a new five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with grade logic control, which helps eliminate hunting between gears on hilly roads. The new powertrain increases towing capacity to 3,500 pounds, enough capacity to pull a jet ski, or snowmobile, or small boat (and an improvement over the 2003 V6 model's 2,500-pound rating). The Vue V6 can now be flat towed, making it a more attractive choice for RV owners.
The 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 143 horsepower and 152 pounds-feet of torque. While the V6 model is quick, the four-cylinder model is not. The base Vue with five-speed Getrag manual covers Saturn's 0-60 test in 11.0 seconds, a lethargic pace by anyone's standards. This setup delivers better fuel economy, however, with an EPA rating of 23/28 mpg City/Highway.
The 2.2-liter Vue is slightly quicker when equipped with the automatic, achieving 0-60 times of 10.2 seconds, but that's still extraordinarily slow by today's standards. The optional automatic is a continuously variable transmission that uses pulleys and belts instead of traditional gears such as those found in the V6 model's automatic. As a result, it provides seamless acceleration. Other manufacturers offer continuously variable transmissions, called CVTs, the best of which are found in the Nissan Murano and Audi A6. Saturn adds to our confusion by calling its unit a VTi (for Variable Transmission with intelligence). City fuel economy suffers by 2 mpg with the VTi automatic.
The available all-wheel-drive system improves traction and stability in slippery conditions and is particularly valuable for snow and ice. It works automatically with no input from the driver and is designed to withstand extremely cold weather. The Vue is not designed for off-road driving, however.
Vue gets rear drum brakes instead of the preferable disc brakes. An anti-lock brake system is standard with the V6, and optional on four-cylinder models. We recommend ABS because it helps the driver to maintain control of the steering in a panic stop.
The 2004 Saturn Vue represents a big improvement over the 2003 model and is now a much more compelling product. The steering is vastly improved, giving the Vue stable handling. The interior is much nicer with higher quality materials and the cabin is quite quiet with improved sound-deadening measures. Performance with the new 3.5-liter V6 puts the Vue among the quickest in its class, but it can hardly get out of its own way with the base 2.2-liter engine.
The four-cylinder Vue competes with the CR-V and Toyota RAV4, while the V6 models compete with the Ford Escape and Jeep Liberty. The Saturn stands out with its unique styling and innovative plastic body panels. The Vue's interior is clever and versatile interior, while curtain airbags are available for head protection in an accident.
The best thing about the Vue is that it's backed by Saturn's highly regarded sales and service people. You should expect them to be friendly and easy to work with.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)||$16,775|
|As Tested (MSRP)||$25,275|
|Model lineup:||Saturn Vue FWD 5-speed ($16,775); FWD automatic ($18,560); AWD automatic ($20,010); V6 FWD ($21,960); V6 AWD ($23,610)|
|Engines:||3.5-liter sohc 24-valve V6|
|Safety equipment (Standard):||dual-stage front airbags, seat-belt pre-tensioners, child seat anchors|
|Safety equipment (Optional):||ABS; head-curtain side-impact airbags; traction control for FWD models|
|Basic warranty:||3 years/36,000 miles|
|Assembled in:||Springhill, Tennessee|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):||Saturn Vue V6 AWD ($23,610)|
|Standard equipment:||air conditioning with dust filter, ABS, reclining front bucket seats with folding armrests, cargo area power outlet, fold-flat front passenger seat, integrated roof rails, two-position reclining rear seats, 70/30 split folding rear seatbacks, liftgate loading lights, rear window wiper/washer, AM/FM/CD stereo, power outside mirrors, power windows, remote keyless entry, alarm system, auto-dimming rearview mirror with outside temperature and compass display, dual map lights, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels|
|Options as tested:||head curtain airbags ($395); OnStar communications system ($695)|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:||N/A|
|Engine (Optional):||143-hp 2.2-liter dohc 16-valve 4-cylinder; 250-hp 3.5-liter sohc 24-valve V6|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):||250 @ 5800|
|Torque(lb.-ft. @ rpm):||242 @ 4500|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:||19/25 mpg|
|Transmission (Optional):||5-speed manual; 5-speed automatic; VTi continuously variable automatic|
|Track, f/r:||61.0/61.0 in.|
|Turning circle:||39.4 ft.|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:||40.4/51.6/41.2 in.|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:||40.3/52.7/36.8 in.|
|Cargo volume:||30.8 cu. ft.|
|Suspension F:||independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Suspension R:||independent, multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Ground Clearance:||8 in.|
|Curb weight:||3630 Lbs.|
|Towing capacity:||3500 Lbs.|
|Brakes, f/r:||disc/drum with ABS|
|Fuel capacity:||16.3 gal.|
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
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