By on June 25, 2007

x07st_au010.jpgYou gotta admire the chutzpah of an automaker that asks buyers to “rethink American” by pitting a German derived sedan against cars.com’s third “most American” automobile (Toyota Camry) and a sedan with 70 percent domestic content (Honda Accord). Although Saturn’s ads invites interested parties to a side-by-side-by-side comparison of all three “domestics”, like many intenders, I didn’t have time. So I decided to test the Saturn Aura XE and call it good. You know, if it was.

The Aura XE is certainly easy on the eyes, though you need the alloy wheel package to make its stand out from the Camcord. Given Saturn’s usual pug-fugly fare, the anodyne Aura is, relatively speaking, supermodel swank. Those Pokemon-adorable eyes, that misaligned chrome door trim… wait, what? Saturn is definitely raising its game, but I’d fire whoever did QA on the Monet-style exterior trim (it’s great from a distance, but don’t look too close).

x07st_au004.jpgOnce inside, it’s immediately clear the look and feel of the Aura’s plastics won’t keep VW haptic hit squad up at night, but they’re definitely a cut above standard GM fare. As is the surprisingly hefty steering wheel and the sensible, ergonomically sound gauges and controls. The XE’s faux wood trim is cringe-worthy and the cloth seats seem carefully crafted to encourage a leather upgrade. Still, taken as a whole, the Aura’s cabin matches the transplants’ ability to raise unobjectionality to the next level (invisibility?).

The Aura driver can play with a large number of convenience options– eight-way adjustable power seat, tilt and telescopic steering wheel. Back seat passengers get plenty of room, but nary a floor vent or armrest to relieve the monotony.

x07pt_6c003.jpgFire-up the Aura XE and the salesman fills your right ear with idle gossip. For less than a base Camcord, Saturn gives you a V6! Yes, well, the XE holsters a 224hp 3.5-liter six-pot mated to four-speed transmission. The base Camry and Accord may only have in-line fours, but they're damn good I4’s (158hp and 166hp respectively) connected to five-speed boxes that don’t hunt for gears like a pig looking for truffles in a French department store.

A few minutes on the road brings this fundamental deficiency to light; anytime you attempt to induce a downshift by mashing the throttle the pushrod V6 proves as responsive as David Hasselhoff on a drinking binge (and about as much fun). At least when the Aura XE’s tranny eventually decides to shift, it does so without appreciable lag.

x07st_au025.jpgThe Aura’s engine whines increases with the rpm count, but there’s little of the finesse offered by its Japanese competition. As long as you don’t plan on any last-minute overtaking maneuvers or merging via short on-ramps, the Aura XE’s progress is pleasant enough.

Until you try to stop. The Aura’s brake pedal is stiffer than Detroit’s opposition to updated CAFE regulations and retard the car’s forward motion at roughly the same rate regardless of pedal pressure. It’s an entirely disconcerting binary proposition. The salesman was most enthusiastic about the Aura's standard electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), but on a practical level, deacceleration was indistinguishable from standard fare.

x07st_au008.jpgThrough the twisty bits, the Aura's front struts and independent rear suspension maintain their composure with admirable aplomb. The four-door feels solid and surprisingly toss-able, with no more body roll than many sport sedans. The steering meets the Goldilocks’ standard: responsive without being too heavy or too light. This excellent handling screams out for a decent transmission (please Sir, can I have a manual?).

I shudder to think what would happen to the Aura’s gas mileage with a more responsive throttle. The Aura XE may have lots more poke than the base Camry and Accord, but its EPA fuel economy clocks in at 20/30mpg. I’m thinking great landing, wrong airport. Anyone shopping for a sedan at this price point will probably consider the Camry (24/33) and Accord’s (24/34) fuel economy figures more important than their accelerative abilities. 

x07st_au024.jpgAfter driving the Aura XE, I came away with new respect for the Saturn brand. If they’d somehow managed to offer the larger engined, six-speed Aura XR at the same price as the XE, they would have bested two of the most highly developed mid-size cars in the world, built by longstanding market leaders. But they didn’t.

What’s more, the new Accord’s coming out this fall, Honda’s clean diesels are on their way and Toyota isn’t exactly known for standing still on the automotive development front. And then there’s the automotive elephant in the room: the 234hp, five-speed Sonata. For a grand more, Hyundai gives you stability control, automatic climate control, alloy wheels and “America’s Best Warranty.”

While you’ve got to hand it to Saturn for building a credible contender in the most deadly automotive sector, it’s what they do next that will ultimately determine the model’s success or failure. 

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82 Comments on “Saturn Aura XE Review...”


  • avatar
    Johnster

    The base Camry and Accord may only have in-line fours, but their damn good I4’s (158hp and 166hp respectively) connected to five-speed boxes that don’t hunt for gears like a pig looking for truffles in a French department store.

    Such a delightful way with words! I laughed so hard I almost forget what were writing about.

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    Ah, what is American? I say it is any idea or concept that comes from or originates in America (North America and the USA to be more specific). Most of what can be considered to be American are ideas. Creative new ideas that are generated by persons in the US. Of course these persons mostly come from elsewhere so what is American can and usually does have some influence from other cultures from around the world. Hence the first automobile was made in Germany, but the automobile industry grew under the influence of American inventors, Ford, Leland, Olds, etc. While the Camry and Accord may be built here in America, I still think of them as Japanese cars. They are designed and conceived by a Japanese company in Japan. Where they are built doesn't necessarily make them American. At the end of the day you can probably conclude that just about anything you want to be American can be American. With Globalization we can no longer use country of origin as the definition of a products nationality. In fact products today are losing what could be considered a nationality. Sometime in the 1970's the nationality of autos started to become indefinable. There was a movement then to buy American. I recall some confusion arising when municipalities ran in trouble purchasing trucks that were actually made in Canada as not in compliance with the buy American edict. With corporations now multi-national, the country of origin may only make sense when describing the location of the corporate governing board. That makes Saturn, a GM product, as American as American can be. But then even this definition has problems. Sony, a Japanese company, owns American based movie studios. The movies are considered to be American movies, even though the ownership of the studio is Japanese. This is probably why brand has taken on such importance in consumer product development and marketing. It is easier to identify the brand than the company that produces the product. In conclusion, nationality of product really doesn't matter at all anymore. Why even Wal-Mart no longer has Buy American signs in its store anymore.

  • avatar
    mrcknievel

    I agree entirely Gottlieb.

    The decisions made to improve upon, or diminish, these vehicles come from American executives, so the product itself should be viewed as American. If we must saddle a vehicle with a national identity, that identity should come from the source of it’s technical specifications and design.

  • avatar
    durailer

    Considering the same car in XR trim has a 6-speed automatic, the 4-speed showing up here is a sore disappointment.

    I gotta wonder if a 5-speed would bring the mileage up to near Camcordia standards.

    Aside from that, I think this car’s better looking than its primary competition -the first time I saw one, out of the corner of my eye, I had it confused for an Audi.

  • avatar
    BostonTeaParty

    As responsive as david hasselhoff on a drink binge…..brilliant, but by all accounts he gets to the bar pretty quick!

  • avatar

    mrcknievel: If we must saddle a vehicle with a national identity, that identity should come from the source of it’s technical specifications and design.

    In which case the Aura should not be considered an American car, since it was designed by Opel in Germany.

  • avatar
    mrcknievel

    In which case the Aura should not be considered an American car, since it was designed by Opel in Germany.

    too-shay.

    I’ll take my hot cup of stfu with a slice of humble pie please.

    *takes off to stare at a spreadsheet*

  • avatar
    labrat

    Megan – an entertaining and fair review. Some comments:

    - All of the exterior shots were of the XR. Don’t know if this was intentional.

    - I hear you on the exterior trim. To make matters worse, our local Saturn dealership is adding chrome wheel well moldings to many of the cars on the lot. Ewww. If Saturn wants to compete on an international stage, making its cars look like Oldsmobiles from the seventies will have the opposite effect.

    - The fake wood on the IP is optional. You can get silvery painted trim on both the XE and XR models; not world class mat’l but much better than the wood.

    - I think one of the major problems with the Aura’s slow sales is the lack of a four cyl/5+ speed auto trans. Economy minded buyers shopping in this segment (which is probably most of the shoppers in the segment) will go straight to the fours. The cheap six is no longer an advantage.

    - Nice work linking to the specs page. This web site is coming along very nicely!

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Not so fast, Frank,
    The technical specs for the Aura come right off the G6. The styling may say Opel, but the vehicle dimensions tell a different story.

    Either way, I have no idea why we continue to get hung up on how ‘Merican the vehicle is. All those consumers who bought Big 3 in the past because they thought they were supporting ‘Merican auto workers were really just enabling the Big 3 to continue making shoddy product. The sooner they heard the truth, the sooner they’d start improving.

    Which is what the Aura represents. Even in its weakest form, the XE, it rates above Camry and a host of other midsize sedans. Huge improvement, and now competitive with the best.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I know people always mention “body roll” as a simple measure of a suspension’s abilities. However, after playing around with my own FWD sedan’s front sway bar (ie, removing it), I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll take more body roll in order to achieve more neutral handling. I’ve discussed this ad infinitum with people on my car forum, and many of the enthusiasts feel the same–most long-wheelbase cars achieve flat cornering by adding understeer via a front sway bar. For most drivers, this is ideal because people have apparently become conditioned to understeer. Just a quick side-note.

    I saw one of these Auras up close for the first time yesterday. I commented to the owner (a family member) that she was actually driving an Opel sedan, and she literally did not believe me. I explained the whole “Opurn” (“Satpel”?) business plan to her and she had absolutely no clue. Apparently the marketing is working very well.

  • avatar

    SherbornSean:

    By what metric does the Aura XE rate “above Camry and a host of other midsize sedans”?

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    GM hasn’t exorcised the demons that drive it to minimize consumer value else the larger engined, six-speed Saturn Aura XR would be the base model. Consumers are smarter than that. They will continue to buy Japanese products at profitable transaction prices.

  • avatar
    jaje

    The last several generations of the Camcord was designed and developed in America for the American market as with much of its parts and construction done here too. Whereas, the Aura is an Opel and was designed and developed in Europe. That begs the questions as to how many Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Canadian, soon Chinese, etc. built Chevy’s wrapped in American flags have we seen as of late? This argument is hypocritical at best.

  • avatar

    I’m still not sure how this 3/4 effort is a Car Of The Year by any stretch. 4-speed gearbox? Come on Guys!

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    RF: By what metric does the Aura XE rate “above Camry and a host of other midsize sedans”?

    Purely subjective, but I’d say:
    - looks
    - interior quality
    - power (base)
    - ride
    - handling
    - fit and finish (according to Megan, even)

    In fairness, I would not call the Aura XE the equal of Accord, Altima, 6 or Fusion. The host I am including as comparable includes the G6, Sebring, Avenger, Optima, Galant, Malibu.

    And I would go further out on the limb and say that if you go up to the $25K price point, the Aura XR is in the same league as the Accord EX V6, the AWD Fusion and 2.0 Passat et al. Especially with that Moroccan leather.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    RF:
    By what metric does the Aura XE rate “above Camry and a host of other midsize sedans”?

    Wheelbase.

    /ducks

  • avatar
    Sajeev Mehta

    I’m sure the XE’s engine is still smoother than the 4cyl Camcords, even with the 4-speed’s less than ideal gearing. But the fuel economy angle is dead on: this lower line model is probably too thirsty next to its competition.

    They should make the XR the standard package (make it as cheap as possible for starters, plastic wheel covers and all) and offer the Hybrid at the same price.

    Once again, I gotta say the XR is a sweet sedan.

  • avatar

    The proof of the Auropel will be that GM sticks to their guns and keeps refining it for the next ten years. With the exception of the Corvette (and possibly the CTS), every time they introduce a product which has potential, they seem to lose interest when the public notices that the platform hasn’t been changed in the last eight years because GM decided they needed to put the development money on a winner like the SSR.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I dunno about completely eliminating the XE, Sajeev. Most midsize sales are of the I-4 5AT variety.

    I’d rather see the general role up its sleeves and learn to build the Ecotec with a light pressure turbo inexpensively and with decent fuel economy. The Passat and A4 get decent mileage and good performance out of their turbo 2.0.

  • avatar
    kazoomaloo

    Who do people care how a family sedan handles in the “twisty bits” or reacts when you “mash the throttle”? I understand that this is an enthusiast site, but perhaps such metrics would be better applied to MazdaSpeed vehicles and other sports-oriented offerings. The buyers of the new Auras aren’t F1 drivers, they’re people with wives and kids and budgets… I think Saturn has produced a real winner here that should appeal to the Camcord crowd if the reliability holds up.

    That said, the Accord diesel is going to come here and beat the hell out of everything, I hope, and start the diesel renaissance that VW has failed to get going, assuming they keep the price low. So I say we stop even selling all other cars until that 60 mpg marvel hits our shores.

  • avatar

    This is certainly a nice looking car and it appears relatively competitive to its competition, but what will be the point of having put that much effort into both the Aura and the new Malibu? Could they have spent the resources on just one and put the money into the high quality honda type 4 cylinder engine developement along with a better transmision for the base.

    Maybe GM can’t legally close dealers without reimbursement but they could just make a killer Aura and sell them as both Saturns and Chevys. Better to have one good car than several sort of good cars

  • avatar
    BostonTeaParty

    Frank: how do you know it was designed in germany? its based off an opel platform or is the platform based on the aura?! Plus the guys who reskinned the exterior here in michigan might be a tad upset with your presumptions. So technically its a styled/designed US vehicle. Is the upcoming malibu a german vehicle too even though that was done in a US studio off the same platform?

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    SherbornSean:

    Many auto writers are “hung up” on how “‘merican” a car is only because the manufacturers insist on parading around crying “we’re American” as if that was some sort of feature to excuse poor design and spotty workmanship. “An American Revolution” and “Rethink American” are two of GM’s tag lines that are on just about every advertisement they pay for. Apparently at GM they must think that Canada and Mexico are the 51st and 52nd states, if I lived on either side of the border, I’d be afraid, very afraid. Where the car is made doesn’t matter, the problem is the big 2.8 is hung up on it mattering. They are trying to resurrect the “American cars are better” patriotism we had in the 1970s. Problem is that then, as now, people will opt for the better car, or the better value when it comes down to purchasing a car.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    That 3.5 V6 is a direct descendent of the 2.8 Chevy V6 that came out in 1980 (in the Citation). A little long on tooth?

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    Opel of Germany is owned by General Motors. Therefore it is a product of an American Company and I would say it is as American as are the Japanese Honda’s that are produced in Ohio.

    I will admit it get to be very confusing. Are Polo shirts made in Malaysia an American product or are they Malaysian? Is a Kodak camera made in Asia still an American product or is it a product of Asia? Is Starbucks coffee an American brand or is it Brazilian since the beans were grown in Brazil. Oh we will never truly know now will we!
    Besides the Aura is a very nice car and I hope it is succeeds. It appears to me to be just as good an appliance as all of the other cars with which it competes.

    By the way why do cars with automatic transmission now all come with tachometers? The answer to this question will provide you with the knowledge of why cars are not what they used to be.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I’m still not sure how this 3/4 effort is a Car Of The Year by any stretch. 4-speed gearbox? Come on Guys!

    Keep in mind that back in the Dark Ages/Dark Days of American Auto History (early ’80′s) the GM X cars, Chryco K-cars, and AMC Alliance were all COTY. I think RF has alluded to back room deals to reach these conclusions.

    That said, I rented an Aura a few weeks back and was duly impressed – it may not be class leading but it was competitive enough for Joe Blow. I don’t see too many enthusiasts jumping on it (unless the XR gets down to low 20′s). I do wish they made a wagon version for the complete euro touch.

    What I liked most was the visual presence – it is aggressive looking with a great stance, and the interior, while lacking in some materials, was well laid out and very handsome.

    Of course, shiny stuff easily distracts me…..

    I’m glad to see Saturn finally starting to find their mojo. About time. They’re becoming what Oldsmobile should have become 10 years ago to stay alive – a semi-sophisticated alternative to near luxury Euros.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    Sajeev-”I’m sure the XE’s engine is still smoother than the 4cyl Camcords, even with the 4-speed’s less than ideal gearing. ”

    In head to head tests I think those two “4-bangers” have generally been regarded as smoother than Da Generals 6-pot pushrod antiques.

    This option is only important (IMHO) to people with “cylinder count” security problems.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    “labrat:
    June 25th, 2007 at 9:16 am
    - I hear you on the exterior trim. To make matters worse, our local Saturn dealership is adding chrome wheel well moldings to many of the cars on the lot. Ewww. If Saturn wants to compete on an international stage, making its cars look like Oldsmobiles from the seventies will have the opposite effect.”

    Ain’t this the truth! Saturn isn’t the only doemstic auto brand having problems reinventing itself because its dealers just don’t get it. I live in New Jersey where certain Cadillac dealers in the northern part of the state “customize” CTS sedans for the older, gold-chain crowd. Lots of gold trim and – *GAG* – vinyl roofs (in the 21st century!).

  • avatar
    mikey

    The Camry and the Accord are70% American?Really you learn something everyday.So that explains the UAW and Toyota/Honda workers making eyes at one another.
    Now as far as Canadian vs American cars we settled that one years ago with a thing called free trade.Before that it was called the auto pact.Basiclly for every car assembled in Canada and shipped to the US we brought one back,not a bad plan really.
    Now the leftys up here, [and we got lots of em] don’t like free trade,and they don’t like big American cars,or any car for that matter.But what really pisses em off, is to be refered to as the 51st state,no matter how accurate a statement it might be.
    I think the assembly point is how one determines a cars nationality.
    If you own an Impala you are keeping a Canadian auto worker in a job and I thank you

  • avatar
    Drew

    I really don’t understand why they don’t offer the same choice of engines in the Aura that they offer in the Sky.

    This would mean a 2.4L 177 HP base model which would compare nicely with the Camry/Accord if they offered it with a 5 speed auto. It might not be as refined, but for those who shop by the numbers, it would be right in the hunt.

    The XR’s current engine might be acceptable, but I think that the Sky’s direct injection 2.0 turbo with 260 HP and 260 ft-lb of torque would be better. I suspect that it weighs less than the V6 as well – which would improve weight distribution and thus handling.

    Seems win-win to me. Which, of course, means that GM won’t do it.

  • avatar
    tms1999

    It may have been designed in Germany, but compared to its epsilon siblings served in the US (Pontiac G6, Chevy Malibu/Maxx) there is little diferenciating it in the drivetrain (3.5 high “value” V6, 4 speed 4T65-E) it’s the same thing found over and over.

    Same platform, same old v6, same very old transmission. The Aura is only worth it for the 3.6 and 6 speed. Even if GM decided not to deliver a proper MT with the V6 (What? Nobody wants a MT with a V6! Yes, just ask Honda and Mazda)

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    ash78 – If you want to reduce understeer, you can either remove the front bar, or add a larger rear bar. The latter will also reduce body roll, and is generally considered optimal for the enthusiast driver.

  • avatar
    airglow

    Bunter1: June 25th, 2007 at 12:31 pm Sajeev-”I’m sure the XE’s engine is still smoother than the 4cyl Camcords, even with the 4-speed’s less than ideal gearing. ” In head to head tests I think those two “4-bangers” have generally been regarded as smoother than Da Generals 6-pot pushrod antiques. This option is only important (IMHO) to people with “cylinder count” security problems. The 3.5L V-6 in the Aura is newer than the V-6's in the Accord or Camry. Whine about pushrods all you want, just don't call a 2 or 3 year old engine an antique.

  • avatar
    kjc117

    LOL, 4 speeds and only 224bhp out of 3.5 liters?
    Saturn’s /GM greatest advantage is the American guilt trip. Otherwise, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Hyundai beats them not to mention the Ford Fusion/Mazda 6.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Nice review. The Aura nd the new “crossovers” are among the more attractive vehicles The General has offered here in quite a while. If only they could have been here like 5 years ago. This is what comes from playing “catch-up” when what is needed is “leap-frogging.”

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    The 3.5L V-6 in the Aura is newer than the V-6’s in the Accord or Camry. The Toyota 2GR-FE preceded the GM LZ4 to market by a few months. Talk about an apples to oranges comparison: Toyota mill gets better fuel economy and more horsepower than the LZ4. Cost: A stripper Camry V6 LE in my neck of the woods can be had for $22,200, not quite halfway between the Aura XE and XR.

  • avatar
    Jonathon

    Dave M: A wagon version is supposed to be out in a couple years on the new Epsilon II platform.

    kjc117: Remember that the 3.5 is a pushrod engine. That means it gets less horsepower per liter than an overhead cam engine (though they do have some other advantages). So 224 hp is actually pretty good for a pushrod engine of that size.

  • avatar
    omnivore

    I’m curious, what are the advantages of a pushrod engine? I’m not being sarcastic, just trying to educate myself…

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    Sorry for the late responses, guys… very late night.

    labrat

    I think my original draft mentioned the optional brushed metal (much less tacky IMHO), must not have survived the edit process. I also forgot to mention the garish door trim that’s embossed to look like leather stitching. Gag-worthy.

    Samir

    I’m sure it was the XR version that really won it car of the year. This one is pretty poopy.

    SherbornSean

    I’ll agree that it’s better than the base Camry, especially in terms of interior quality and fit and finish. Ride and handling they’re pretty par for the course. The G6 is pretty similar to the Aura too.

    Sajeev

    I agree. Why bother putting a crap V6 up against a totally superior one that gets nearly identical gas mileage? Ridiculous. Make the XE a 4-banger 5-EAT that can really compete w/ the Camcord.

    Kazoomaloo

    Do you drive on the interstate much? The engine was so sluggish punching the throttle was the only way to elicit even the most half-hearted of responses from it. If you’re merging onto the interstate, or trying to pass someone, you do care about those sorts of things. And most people that live in hilly parts of the country car about how much body roll there is, and how easily the car steers through curvy roads. I’m sure backseat passengers care too… especially if excessive roll or lean means increased queasiness.

  • avatar
    86er

    The XE’s faux wood trim is cringe-worthy

    This is how you do fake wood:

    http://img517.imageshack.us/img517/8824/crownvic5zc0.jpg

  • avatar
    detroit1701

    I do not think that the average U.S. car buyer thinks to him or herself — “I am going to buy a Honda Accord because it is American.” Justifications like that tend to be afterthoughts in the mind of someone who has already made up his or her mind. That said, I disagree with the reviewer’s overbroad and sweeping statement implying that Accords and Camrys are more “American” than American cars. Please do some research on such contentions before they are made, because they tend to spread misinformation, which in turns gets repeated and becomes “truth.” For instance, more the half of Camrys are imported into the United States with ZERO American parts content. How much of the billions of dollars of investment into the development and engineering of the Accord was done in the United States? Where do profits that fuel engineering, marketing, efficiency improvements, R&D, etc. go to?

    Furthermore, one should also “rethink imports” with the idea that it has been simply more profitable for Japanese automakers to build U.S./Canadian-spec cars here, rather than in the high-cost land of Japan. The value of the dollar versus the yen may be THE consideration for where to manufacture Japanese cars made for N/A.

    That said, the XE is disappointing, for the reasons that many above have already observed. Perhaps the XE brings people into showrooms so that they will eventually purchase an XR. The Japanese blazed the trail for boring, reliable, adequate sedans. They already have a headstart. The Aura is a good step forward, and hopefully when the Vectra and Aura merge, and when the next generation Fusion comes out (in a world where all mid-sized sedans more and more seem to resemble Acuras), the Americans will get it (more) right.

    GM has to stop dumbing down its products. There were better engines to put in the XE. Hopefully GM is preparing that new 2.9L V6 Euro Turbo Diesel, 1.9 CDTi, and diesel hybrid engines for the N/A market, or they will be in trouble.

  • avatar
    Jonathon

    omnivore: Pushrods are smaller and less mechanically complex (which means they’re cheaper). For instance, the 4.6L Northstar V8 is physically larger than the 7.0L LS in the Corvette. I’ve also heard that they produce better low-end torque, and GM frequently claims this as a reason for keeping them around.

  • avatar
    NN

    The Aura seems more American than the credit it is given here. The design is clearly based off of the German Opel design, but has been stretched to fit the larger G6 body (I believe the difference is in the wheelbase), and does look different from the European model. Frankly, the American version looks much better. I just checked out the Vectra in London recently, and it looks frumpy compared with the Aura, which ironically looks more European (Germanic, specifically) to my eyes. Also, all the powertrain stuff–the 3.5 & 3.6 V6′s, plus the 4 & 6 speed trannys, I believe are all built in the US, and all designed here, save the 3.6 V6, which was an international effort between Australian, European, and North American teams.

    Final assembly of the Aura is in Kansas. So the Aura was at least partially designed here, partially engineered here (even if both of those jobs were just “Americanizing” European designs), and then is assembled in the US with mostly US parts.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    airglow
    The particular configuration (3.5L) maybe recent but the basic design is very old.

    Personally I think the pushrod/dohc arguement misses the point. It is the two valve layout that is the problem.
    Once variable valve geometry hit the game the multivalves historical weaknesses, poor economy and low end torque died.
    It doesn’t work the other way for two valve engines because you can make the multi-valve area smaller when you want it to be, but the two valve intake area can’t grow to help it’s weak point of power output. Check the specific output of a Z06 against nearly any Honda engine. It’s rather feeble by this measure, it can’t breathe.
    IMO the two valve OHV is headed to the same place it sent the flathead.
    Cheerio,

    Bunter

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Detroit1701 on the Accord: “Where do profits that fuel engineering, marketing, efficiency improvements, R&D, etc. go to?”

    You might be surprised where Honda’s profits go. I am an owner of Honda stock, which I purchased on the New York Stock Exchange, as an American citizen who was born in the US and lived all my life in the US.

    In this case, the profits went to buying a canoe.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    The “American” car debate is getting silly in the modern world. How is a Ford Fusion with a largely Japanese design team and a Mexican factory an American car? As far as where the profits go, that is a rather moot point as all the US based automotive players are loosing money AND are investing what money they do have in China and other foreign countries. Meanwhile the “Japanese” companies are opening factories and design centers in the US on a regular basis. Profits from Japanese brand vehicle sales are being invested in the US and returning to US based shareholders as well as to Japanese shareholders. One place the profits go less to is the management as Japanese top managers generally consume only about 10% of the salary and benefits that their US based counterparts do.

    Current North American Camrys and Accords are designed mostly in the US and are generally not sold in the rest of the world (actually the US style Accord is sold alongside the ROW Accord in some places).

    The reason GM still builds their pushrod V-6 engine family is because it is cheap cheap cheap. One must wonder if the chronic intake manifold gasket failures of that engine family have finally been fixed or not. I would venture to guess that Toyota and Honda’s high tech four valve, DOHC, variable valve timing 4 cylinder engines would be more expensive for GM to duplicate than the the 3.5L is to build.

    The latest Aura seems to be in the finally sort-of-competitive camp, kind of like an Altima. One would think that the worlds formerly largest automotive company would be able to hit the ball out of the park, but instead they are settling for singles and doubles while counting on the home team advantage.

    Close, but no cigars.

  • avatar
    umterp85

    Alex Dykes: “Many auto writers are “hung up” on how “‘merican” a car is only because the manufacturers insist on parading around crying “we’re American” as if that was some sort of feature to excuse poor design and spotty workmanship”

    Does this include Toyota ?? They seem to be doing a hell of a job wrapping themselves in the American flag as well…in a more tempered way…but still doing it. Toyota seem to get a pass though while the domestics continue to get bashed. That said—the product should speak for itself—no need to wrap the flag around it…no matter if you are GM or Toyota.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    unterp85: Yep, that sure does include Toyota. And now that they are master of the game they can keep production in Japan for many many models.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    “Jonathon:
    June 25th, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    omnivore: Pushrods are smaller and less mechanically complex (which means they’re cheaper). For instance, the 4.6L Northstar V8 is physically larger than the 7.0L LS in the Corvette. I’ve also heard that they produce better low-end torque, and GM frequently claims this as a reason for keeping them around.”

    All of this is true… and yes, pushrod (or overheard valve) engines do generally produce more torque – and lower in the rev range – for a given displacement compared with overheard cam designs.

    It’s good to abandon the bible of absolute performance numbers when having such a discussion. One has to consider how a given vehicle will be used. OHC designs can offer considerably more power – but it’s much higher in the rev range. If you’re offering a family car that will be driven around town and in traffic with automatic transmissions – then OHV (pushrod) engines with healthy, low-end torque make more sense. If you want a high-performance sports sedan for the road, OHCs make more sense. It appears that, via the option sheet, a prospective Aura driver can choose which car he or she wants.

    Also… much of the OHV engine’s smaller size can be readily noticed because OHC engines are considerably taller (those camshafts up top). So, if packaging is a concern – such as with the Corvette – OHVs can offer an advantage.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Please excuse my typing. Overheard cam? Overheard valve? OVERHEAD!!! But, then again, you knew that, didn’t you? :)

  • avatar
    jurisb

    guys it doesn`t matter in which country is the vehicle assembled, what matters what country is the origin of the manufacturer of the due car. period. If accord is designed and manufactured in usa, it is still a pure bred japanese car, because it is engineered by a japanese company and mastered by japanese headquarters by a company that belongs to a japanese stock index nikkei.period. as saturn belongs to an american company, yet is designed and engineered by a german opel company, you can consider it a german car. the company that is responsible for blueprint origin is the origin of the car. so a chevy that by engineering blueprints origins from korea by a korean registered company, is considered a korean car, no matter where it is assembled.

  • avatar
    Maxb49

    Honda’s clean diesels are on their way and Toyota isn’t exactly known for standing still on the automotive development front.

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    “guys it doesn`t matter in which country is the vehicle assembled, what matters what country is the origin of the manufacturer of the due car.”

    By that logic Nissans are French, since Renault owns a controlling interest in Nissan and Nissan’s CEO is French.

    The Chevy Colorado is by your definition Brazilian, or perhaps Japanese, since the primary design work was done by Isuzu and a Brazilian design center.

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    # Maxb49:
    June 26th, 2007 at 6:16 am

    Honda’s clean diesels are on their way and Toyota isn’t exactly known for standing still on the automotive development front.

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

    What’s not to believe? Honda sells a 2.2L diesel 4 in Europe that is considered to be quite excellent. The US-spec will have some additional emissions controls but will be quite similar otherwise, and will show up this fall on the new Accord. Honda has also stated they have a V6 diesel in the works for their bigger cars – Ridgeline, Pilot, Odyssey.

  • avatar
    Jonathon

    “The Chevy Colorado is by your definition Brazilian, or perhaps Japanese, since the primary design work was done by Isuzu and a Brazilian design center.”

    I believe the correct term is Jazilian.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Technically, any vehicle built between Tierra Del Fuego and the Aleutian Islands is “American”…
    I would consider buying any mid-sized coupe/hatchback in the 18-20K range with a good perfoming I4 (0-60 <9sec), good MPG (25cty/33hwy) and a manual tranny (that doesn’t shift like a hammer in a bucket of rocks).
    Is there an “American” car that fits the bill?

  • avatar
    blautens

    American? German? Or is it from someplace much further away…Saturn? Regardless, wouldn’t be on my radar screen were I shopping this class.

    I’ll be a sport and let Enterprise slide me this instead of a Camry next week, though, and give it a spin.

  • avatar
    omnivore

    shaker–the upcoming Saturn Astra?

  • avatar

    Gottleib:
    Ah, what is American? I say it is any idea or concept that comes from or originates in America (North America and the USA to be more specific).

    Most of what can be considered to be American are ideas. Creative new ideas that are generated by persons in the US. Of course these persons mostly come from elsewhere so what is American can and usually does have some influence from other cultures from around the world.

    I think what matters to people who worry about national origins is where does the money go. Are we supporting US workers and the US economy more than others when we buy the car? My guess is that at this point this is probably somewhat ambiguous, what with so many cars domestically manufactured by foreign companies ,but maybe someone else can give us a clearer picture.

  • avatar

    Sajeev Mehta: I’m sure the XE’s engine is still smoother than the 4cyl Camcords, even with the 4-speed’s less than ideal gearing.

    I don’t know about the Aura, but I bought my ’99 Accord several years ago after driving a rental 03 or 04 Impala 6cyl for a month. When I tried the Accord out, I was truly amazed at how smooth and responsive–refined–the engine was. Different class from the Impala.

  • avatar
    Maxb49

    What’s not to believe?

    Everything. Automakers hype up mysterious future products in hopes bringing you into the dealership to buy something now! That’s right, they are selling you today’s Accord on tomorrow’s supposed diesel. I have a friend who bought a Toyota Sequoia because “Toyota’s gone green”. Yeah right, unless green means dollar bills.

    Honda sells a 2.2L diesel 4 in Europe that is considered to be quite excellent.

    That’s nice. Ford, Mercedes Benz, Chrysler, Toyta, et. al. have really nice diesels too over in Europe. Problem is, Europe isn’t America.

    The US-spec will have some additional emissions controls but will be quite similar otherwise, and will show up this fall on the new Accord.

    Oh it will, will it? How do you know this? Do you work for Honda? Recall back to the redesign of the Ford Expedition this past year. Ford went so far as to list a 4.4 litre diesel as an option on their truck. Where is the diesel engine?

    I don’t care if you are Ford, Honda, Chevy, or Packard. Auto corporations have been hyping up inferior products and gouging consumers for years. I’ve had it with their BS. No consumer should fall for the halo car trick (or dream of a halo car in this case).

  • avatar
    Maxb49

    Also… much of the OHV engine’s smaller size can be readily noticed because OHC engines are considerably taller (those camshafts up top). So, if packaging is a concern – such as with the Corvette – OHVs can offer an advantage.

    Pushrod engines should be in every car. Low end torque aside, their packaging is perfect for better fuel economy. Even the greatest (possibly fastest) sports car in the world, the Saleen S7, uses a pushrod engine.

  • avatar

    More on what is American from the 2007 Consumer Reports Annual Auto issue: parts made by suppliers account for about 70% of the cost of a car; 80% of the US-built camry comes from the US, compared w/ 30% of the Fusion.

    Nonetheless, CR’s source says that “across their lineups, American companies build a lot more of their cars and parts domestically.”

    I’m still not going to buy them unless they improve.

  • avatar
    moto

    ash78:

    carlisimo is right. DO NOT remove the front anti-roll bar of a FWD vehicle. Almost all FWD sedans are tuned for understeer (stable handling, not high performance limits). By removing the front anti-roll bar, you increase body roll, which worsens tire contact and further reduces lateral handling.

    To achieve more neutral handling, add a stiffer rear anti-roll bar.

    Safety Note: if you increase the stiffness of the front anti-roll bar without increasing the rear anti-roll stiffness, then you may induce oversteer, which can be dangerous for the inexperienced driver.

    Read Carroll Smith’s “Tune to Win” before messing with the suspension of your car.

  • avatar
    moto

    Paul N – yes, the 3.5 V6 engine still works after all these years. Much like the horizontally opposed 6-cylinder Porsches, the inline-6 BMW’s, Honda’s venerable K series fours, VW’s VR6, small-block Chevys, the terrific Buick 3800 series V6 engines, etc. No company changes engine block configuration unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

    The only real advances to internal combustion engine technology in the last 30 years have been in lighter/stronger materials and better control of air, fuel, and spark. Thus, engine layout is probably the last thing worth critcizing. If anything, the fact that the layout has been used for over 25 years is a testament to how well it works.

    That said, cheers to VAG/Audi for implementing direct injection to their engines – a huge leap forward. GM also needs to implement direct injection, but there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the basic 3.5 engine architecture.

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    I drove an XE from NY to DC, and I have to say… I’d rather have an Aura any day over a comparable Camry. Honestly, Camrys haven’t been very impressive lately in terms of interior quality, exterior design or competent dealers. The Aura is much more athletic looking and a cohesive design. The snarkey comments in this review are cute. But the reality is that the Aura is a compelling option for people who are tired of the blandness that has existed for so long in the family sedan category.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    I must agree with blue adidas, the current generation Camry is a nothing special car. The exterior is ugly, the interior cheap feeling and the ride/handling combination ho hum. My wife and I recently test drove one and both agreed that we like our 2003 Accord much better than the 2007 Camry.

    VW also in many ways made the current generation Passat a less desireable car than the one which went before.

    If the competition keeps lowering their game and Saturn continue to up theirs then things are going to get really interesting.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    “Safety Note: if you increase the stiffness of the front anti-roll bar without increasing the rear anti-roll stiffness, then you may induce oversteer, which can be dangerous for the inexperienced driver.”

    I think you have the front/rear roll bar stiffness visa-vis under and oversteer backwards.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    jthorner- If nissan is partially owned by renault, means nothing for the origin of the car, what matters is the goddamned physical engineering input with your hands and brains. the company that has the biggest share of engineering and blueprint input, can be considered a builder country. if nissan is even owned 100% by renault, but still the cars body/frame ,engines ,etc are designed by a japanese nissan that is based in japan and run by a japanese headquarters, the product is still considered japanese. if the new silverado`s engineering work was done by isuzu, if the platform and engines, and safety cage was designed by isuzu, and not ordered to be built by gm from her own blueprints, then we can consider it a japanese car. If brazil has a gm subsidiary , that designs trucks, yet the design company is not an independent brazilian registered engineering company, we can at least consider it non- brazilian.well chrysler voyager is also assembled in austria by chrysler european division subsidiary, but noone considers those voyagers austrian cars. because they were not designed and engineered by an austrian registered company.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    JThorner — you said that all Nissans are French because the firm is partially owned by Renault, which is run by a Frenchman. Except that Ghosn is actually Lebanese-Brazilian.

    Where does this ridiculous nationalism end?

  • avatar
    shaker

    Omnivore:
    It (the Astra) is defintely worth considering, but if it’s heavier in US Spec form, the 140HP mill might be insufficient. (I believe the first ones will be re-badged Opels, with domestic construction depending on its popularity.)

  • avatar
    airglow

    jthorner:
    June 25th, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    The “American” car debate is getting silly in the modern world. How is a Ford Fusion with a largely Japanese design team and a Mexican factory an American car? As far as where the profits go, that is a rather moot point as all the US based automotive players are loosing money AND are investing what money they do have in China and other foreign countries. Meanwhile the “Japanese” companies are opening factories and design centers in the US on a regular basis. Profits from Japanese brand vehicle sales are being invested in the US and returning to US based shareholders as well as to Japanese shareholders. One place the profits go less to is the management as Japanese top managers generally consume only about 10% of the salary and benefits that their US based counterparts do.

    Current North American Camrys and Accords are designed mostly in the US and are generally not sold in the rest of the world (actually the US style Accord is sold alongside the ROW Accord in some places).

    The reason GM still builds their pushrod V-6 engine family is because it is cheap cheap cheap. One must wonder if the chronic intake manifold gasket failures of that engine family have finally been fixed or not. I would venture to guess that Toyota and Honda’s high tech four valve, DOHC, variable valve timing 4 cylinder engines would be more expensive for GM to duplicate than the the 3.5L is to build.

    The latest Aura seems to be in the finally sort-of-competitive camp, kind of like an Altima. One would think that the worlds formerly largest automotive company would be able to hit the ball out of the park, but instead they are settling for singles and doubles while counting on the home team advantage.

    Close, but no cigars.

    Facts, Facts and Damned Facts. I really hate to confuse you with the truth, but here goes. The 3.5L V-6 (LZ4) in the Aura was ALL NEW in 2005 for the 2006 model year, so any head gasket problems would have to be all new too. You maybe thinking of the 3.5L (LX9) which has been discontinued and was based on the old 3.4L/3.1L/2.8L V-6 family. The OHV engine layout is NEWER than the OHC layout historically speaking. And yes, the OHV layout, especially in “V” configuration is significantly smaller, lighter and cheaper to build than the OHC layout.

    Honda, and worse yet Toyota support far fewer US jobs per car sold than any of the Big 3 by several multiples. But keep telling yourself buying Toyota is better for the US than buying a Saturn, you may even convince some people who don’t believe in facts and data.

  • avatar
    airglow

    David Holzman:
    June 26th, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Sajeev Mehta: I’m sure the XE’s engine is still smoother than the 4cyl Camcords, even with the 4-speed’s less than ideal gearing.

    I don’t know about the Aura, but I bought my ‘99 Accord several years ago after driving a rental 03 or 04 Impala 6cyl for a month. When I tried the Accord out, I was truly amazed at how smooth and responsive–refined–the engine was. Different class from the Impala.

    Whichever engine your rental Impala had, it wasn’t the 3500 LZ4 in the Aura. You either had a 3400 or a 3800 in the Impala. My old company car was a 3400 fleet model; I won’t argue that a 4 cylinder Accord’s engine is smoother. But I certainly would argue the old 3800 is smoother than any 4 cylinder I’ve driven, and has something called torque, something absent in every atmospheric 4 cylinder I’ve ever driven, including a 05 Accord.

    My wife’s 96 Accord was the most disappointing car I’ve EVER driven. It’s the car that convinced me automotive journalist are mostly liars or mentally incompetent. The 96 Accord was noisy, slow (can you say “torque-less”) and Spartan in every way. Throw in an AC system that would have trouble keeping you cool in Alaska and I still can’t see how Honda sold so many of these.

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    Throw in an AC system that would have trouble keeping you cool in Alaska and I still can’t see how Honda sold so many of these.

    You know, I have yet to find a Honda that didn’t have a weak A/C. Even my integra, great as it was, had a crappy A/C. The best I’ve ever seen are usually in Fords… you’ll freeze to death, even under heavy acceleration.

  • avatar
    vento97

    VW also in many ways made the current generation Passat a less desireable car than the one which went before.

    Which is why my wife and I intend to hold on to our 2003 Passat GLS. The leather interior package still rivals that of much more expensive marques. And the handling is pretty good, too.

  • avatar
    Mcloud1

    I don’t understand the whole thing with comparing the Aura with the Camcord. To me, the Aura and Camcord are like an apple and an orange. GM instead should be putting Camcord up against the Chevrolet Impala, as I believe that is their true Camcord fighter.

  • avatar
    sjg

    I’m always facinated by the confusion about who “owns” the brand and the owners nationality.

    Follow the money! Who ever controls the money, controls the company. If the money flows to an American company, guess what, it’s American. Who cares if work is done in another country? Why should the American auto industry be hindered by building (or designing) their products in the US? Take a look at just about every other American company. Where do you think Apple, Trek, or Dell builds their products?

  • avatar
    willbodine

    I can’t help but notice what a design improvement the Aura is over the first Saturn mid-sizer, the LS (also Opel-based) it replaces. If only this Aura had been the original LS. It demonstrates perfectly GM’s dilemma…they keep playing catch-up when they need to play leap-frog.

  • avatar
    Cblue

    I’m not much of a car enthusiast… just an average American that was looking for a car. I test drove the Camry LE and Aura XE, both for the same price. I bought the Aura. The Camry was plain, inside and out. The Aura felt better, has more acceleration, better interior, exterior, etc.

    Yes, Camry gets 4 miles more per gallon, but I’ll sacrifice a little. Besides, I drive rather safely and conservatively – I don’t “floor it” when a traffic light turns green like a lot of people do.

    I never considered buying a Honda. I was never impressed with the feel of the car. Also, I live in a very hot part of the USA. I need an A/C that actually works during the summertime..

  • avatar
    njnikusha

    Ok gus let me just say that i like Saturn brand, they make descent cars but its as good as it gets for saturn ……….for now. what i find disturbing with Aura is that in 2007 it was named as ” BEST CAR OF THE YEAR” but managed to sell only 60.000 of ‘em

    sorry saturn but your quality is as far from perfect as a planet saturn from us

  • avatar
    njnikusha

    well better than pontiac i guess

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    The Saturn Aura is hands down a better car than the rental car base bland Camry with it’s wheezing 4 cylinder and hesitating 5 speed automatic tranny that almost everyone in car forums has complained about and very noticeable on 3 out of 4 Camrys I have tested. The 3500 V6 which is the same setup in my 2007 Malibu is a rock solid powertrain and I would never in a million years trade it for a Camry or Accord 4 banger. And for those worried about mileage, the 3500/4 speed automatic cars I have driven on pure highway trips have have seen as high as 35 and quite often 34 MPG with a 4 cylinder spanking V6 and 224 HP. The Auras exterior is much more pleasing than the bland generic plain Camry with it’s taxi cab cheap plastic wheel covers, no bodyside moldings and frumpy front end treatment.


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