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Saturn Vue Red Line gets raves

Friday, May 21, 2004

This vehicle has numerous engineering innovations and safety features.

Hurray for Saturn! Although the previous Vue, a 2003 model, was OK, it was nothing special when compared to compact SUVs from Ford, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai and Kia. But the 2004 Vue "Red Line" model changes everything, and is truly something to rave about.

I picked up the new Vue last week on a rainy, cold, miserable day, and as soon as I pulled out onto the rain-soaked street I was glad I was in the sturdy, all-wheel-drive SUV. After waiting and waiting for a break in the traffic on Siemers Drive, I finally saw my opportunity and stepped on the gas. That's when I was startled by the glare of headlights bearing down on me through the side window. I impulsively jammed the throttle and the all-wheel-drive system provided enormous grip as the powerful V-6 engine sent 250 horsepower toward the pavement. A lesser vehicle would have spun its tires, and I might not be writing this article right now.

But even if I had caused an accident, I might have survived thanks to the Vue's high-tech construction and dual-stage air bags. Known for its engineering innovation, the Vue is fitted not only with numerous safety features, but also with Saturn's famous polymer body panels, which resist dents and eliminate corrosion. The Vue's long wheelbase provides a comfortable ride and makes for a roomy interior, and combined with a competitive price, handsome styling and friendly dealerships, the 2004 Saturn Vue Red Line is an appealing product in the compact SUV category.

For example, this Vue doesn't drive like the previous model. The electrically boosted power steering system is now a pleasure to use, feeling positive and well-centered at highway speeds. The ride is even smoother and quieter than the previous model. The interior is more refined, materials are of a higher quality and construction tolerances are improved. The model I drove had leather seating surfaces that added a touch of luxury, and other features such as seat heaters and power adjustment allow the driver to get comfortable behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel. That wheel had another nice feature that you'll appreciate when the sun goes down: lighted cruise control buttons! Thanks, Saturn!

But the biggest news is the Red Line's power plant. Saturn claims it's the most powerful engine in a compact SUV. Maybe. All I know is that the 250 horsepower Honda V-6, combined with GM's wonderful five-speed automatic transmission, transforms the 3,600-pound Vue into an all-wheel-drive hot rod! Put the pedal to the metal and you'll see 60 mph in a flash, without any wheelspin, fishtailing or other adolescent nonsense. That kind of performance will embarrass a lot of "sporty" cars.

The Red Line is a limited-edition Vue available with front-wheel-drive ($23,955) or all-wheel-drive ($25,605). The Red Line's stiffened suspension is lowered an inch and rides on aggressive 18-inch aluminum wheels and Bridgestone performance touring tires. The Honda V-6 engine is standard and the Red Line's electric power steering is calibrated for a sporty feel. Unique front and rear ends and a chrome exhaust tip distinguish the Red Line Vue from other models.

The Vue Red Line is distinctive and visually striking, and the test vehicle's unusual "electric lime" color caused a lot of head-turning and controversy. My wife and the hostess at Applebee's liked it, but my waitress did not. Did you know that women now purchase 60 percent of all new vehicles?

The Vue's exterior design is sensible and practical, with strong lines that avoid the bubble effect that some mini SUVs share. A squared-off design makes for a roomy interior, and allows bulky items to be loaded with ease. In terms of size and price, the Vue is larger than a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV4, but smaller than a Toyota Highlander. Its large lift gate provides easy and efficient access to the rear cargo area.

As mentioned, the polymer body panels provide a rugged, dent-resistant exterior, and are responsible for much of Saturn's owner loyalty.

Inside, chrome accents brighten the instrument panel and new white-faced gauges give the Red Line a sporty look. Entering the Vue is easy, thanks to wide door openings and a low step-in height. Visibility is great -- there's no "closed in" feeling that you get in some vehicles. Heating and air conditioning controls are logical and easy to operate, but the window switches and side mirror controls are located on the center console, which seems odd.

My test vehicle, equipped with the Red Line package, air conditioning, stereo CD changer, power windows and locks, auto dimming mirrors, cruise, center console, two power outlets, all-wheel drive, anti-lock braking, fog lamps, child safety door locks, anti-theft system, roof rack, power driver's seat, leather-appointed seating, power sunroof, heated seats and OnStar, listed for $30,360. In addition, Saturn says Vues can be towed behind a motorhome with all four wheels on the ground. Now that would be a view I could get used to!

Steve Robertson of Robertson's Creative Photography is a car enthusiast and former staff writer/photographer for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at srobertson@ semissourian.com.


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Steve Robertson
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