In 1971, U.S. Senator Roman Hruska rose to the defense of an undistinguished Supreme Court nominee named G. Harrold Carswell. "Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?" And their successors are entitled to wheels befitting their station in life, like the Saturn Vue Green Line.
Aesthetically, the Vue adheres to former NBC Chief Brandon Tartikoff’s “least objectionable program” school of marketing. Despite a recent cosmetic upgrade boasting (ironically speaking) a more rounded front end and a spiffy swage line, the Vue remains deeply, resolutely generic. The Vue’s panel gaps make it the automotive equivalent of a shotgun shack. To differentiate the hybrid Vue from its gas-powered cousins, GM gave it some natty five-spoke alloys, slapped on a bunch of hybrid badges and called it good.
The Vue's cockpit is heavily cost-constrained. The flat, unsupportive bucket seats are covered with the least leather-like leather ever made by hand of man. The steering-wheel cruise-control buttons are like miniature Mormons: small, oddly oriented and hard to depress. The wiper stalk moves as if a plastic burr left over from manufacturing hasn't yet broken off. The belt-driven air conditioner cuts out at stoplights. On hot days, you have to disable “economy-mode”– if you can figure out whether the Eco button should be green, amber or unlit. The owner's manual (printed on what appears to be a cross between newsprint and Charmin) is entirely vague on this point.
On the positive side, every important knob and dial on the center console is glove-friendly: oversized and edged in ribbed rubber (which sounds a lot sexier than it is). And the back deck carries a reasonable amount of luggage for a weekend away or a pack-light vacation. Technoheads get a line-in jack on the dash, three 12-volt outlets and an available backseat DVD system. The $1125 "comfortably safe" (only half right) package includes side air curtain airbags, XM Satellite Radio, power seat adjusters on the driver's side and heated front seats. We'll leave it to six-degrees-of-separation aficionados to explain how those four features are related, other than in the options package.
The Vue Green Line is a mild hybrid (also called assist hybrid or belt alternator hybrid). The vehicle marries an electric motor/generator and a 36-volt battery pack to a 2.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine. The electric motor provides some, but not a lot, of boost. When you come to a stop, both erstwhile propulsion systems shut down. When you start up, both engines start up. When the front-drive-only Vue hybrid slows down, the brakes regenerate electricity that goes back to the storage battery. The systems’ combined output is 170 hp.
That’s not a lot of oomph considering the Vue's 3420 pounds. It's no suprise that the zero to 60 amble takes 10-plus seconds. The Vue is pleasant enough to drive at 65mph– so long as you're in no hurry to achieve that speed and the road is perfectly flat and baby bottom smooth. Like most of us, the Vue is completely winded at 75. The SUV's speedometer goes to 130, but you won't. In-gear acceleration takes an eternity; the only clue to progress was a persistent vibration in the passenger door that disappeared when I reached the higher speed.
GM touts the Vue hybrid's 32mpg highway rating as the best of any hybrid SUV, although the Ford Escape and its sibling Mercury Mariner do better around town (36 mpg city, 31 mph highway). Still, the Vue Green Line represents General Motors' good-faith effort to do something nice for the environment. The crawl-before-you-walk premise is simple: we can’t give you a big fuel-economy improvement yet, but hey, it's cheap. So, hybrid fans, let’s do the math…
The base Vue Green Line runs $22,995. A loaded model is $26,250. The “hybrid premium” is $2k less the $650 tax credit, or $1350. The Vue gets 29mpg combined, which is 18 percent better than a standard four-cylinder Vue. At $2.15 a gallon, a Vue hybrid saves you 1.5 cents a mile. Divide the hybrid premium by the savings and you'll been even in, oh, 90k miles. No offense, Saturn, but it will take a dedicated owner to stick it out long enough to see payback. I'm not sure I could take seven years of buzzing door panels.
The Saturn Vue Green Line is a bridge vehicle between the old Saturn and the new Saturn, the "like never before" company that offers the Aura mid-size sedan and other modern cars. The Vue Green Line is from the "like always" side of the ledger: basic transportation that gets you where you're going. Consumers who spend money on the Vue Green line are advised to consider it a transfer payment to get GM to take where it needs to be going: into a full-hybrid and/or clean diesel future. The truth is, like G. Harrold, GM’s mid-size SUV is mediocre to its aging core.
[For the complete review, please visit www.technoride.com]