- Helping you drive happy

2002 Saturn VUE

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Alex Law
GREENVILLE, SC: By adding the "aggressively priced" Vue sport-cute to the lineup of its no-hassle, no-dicker, money-back-guarantee Saturn retail chain, GM of Canada expects to take a "significant piece" of a very hot segment.

This would have to happen in the face of stringent competition from several strong manufacturers, but it seems utterly do-able for any number of reasons.

In the first place, it's hard to over-estimate the attraction of the "respectful" Saturn retail environment for many consumers, who hate the thought of buying a vehicle from a traditional dealership, and usually for very good reason.

While it's possible that buying, say, an Escape from a Ford dealer or a Tribute from a Mazda dealer could be pleasant, it's just as likely that it could be terrible. The latter situation is made more likely by the fact that the Escape and Tribute are selling well, since that tends to crank up the arrogance levels in many traditional dealerships.

Say what you will about Saturn being the Ned Flanders of the automotive world (as I have), it's invariably true that its retailers deliver the best buying experience in the business, and they don't make you haggle over price.

So when GM says the front-drive Vue with the 2.2-litre 4-cylinder engine and a 5-speed manual transmission will cost $22,495, that's what it will cost.

It also means that the same model with the VTi continuously variable transmission will cost $23,715, that the 4-cylinder all-wheel-drive model with the VTi will cost $26,055, and that the 3-litre V6 all-wheel-drive model with a four-speed automatic will cost $30,155.

GM says that "popularly-equipped" Vues will range from $24,570 to $28,918, that all those prices include the $830 destination freight charges and the $100 air conditioning tax, and that production will begin in November for customer ordering by the end of the year or early in 2002.

For a lot of people — thousands of them, actually — that will be all they need to know to make them buy a Vue. Well, that and the fact that it's good looking, but even that's not that critical to people who really don't want to visit a regular dealership.

But there are other people in the market for a sport-cute who should find the Vue appealing for the fact that — regardless of the dealer experience — it's a fine little car.

Under a promise to keep driving impressions to myself until November 1, I can't go into too many specifics, but I will tell you that you won't have to put up with the Vue in order to enjoy the Saturn encounter. This vehicle stands on its own and would be worth having with any car company name on it.

You don't even have to drive the Vue to appreciate it; you only need to climb into it. Right off you can feel that Saturn succeeded in its goal to make a car that's easy to get into and spacious for everyone save the person who ends up in the middle seat in the back.

The interior's well laid out, the controls are easy to reach, and the seats are good. Four of the seats fold down, by the way, as part of Saturn's effort to make Vue as versatile as possible. They've succeeded there, as well.

The big technological deal with the Vue is undoubtedly the VTi, which is the first mass market application of a continuously variable transmission, with many others likely to follow in due course.

Essentially, the VTi is an automatic transmission with the gears, which means it operates more smoothly and economically and delivers better fuel economy. Saturn says they've even tuned it to deliver some decent performance aspects.

It's a little pricier than a regular automatic transmission is over a manual shifter, but the extra cost will be partly recouped by the higher fuel economy. There will also be people who will welcome the absence of the gear-shifting that automatics must do to deal with changing circumstances. When it's done right, a continuously variable transmission is seamlessly smooth.

As tuned for the Vue, the 2.2-litre engine delivers 143 horsepower at 5400 rpm, and 152 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. With the 3-litre V6, the key power numbers are 181 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 195 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm.

On the subject of fuel economy, GM also released the estimated Transport Canada numbers for the various models in city, highway and combined city-highway driving: the 4-cylinder front-drive manual is 10.7/8.4/9.8, the front-drive VTi is 11.2/8.4/9.8, the all-wheel-drive VTi is 11.2/9.0/10.2, and the V6 automatic is 13.0/9.8/11.8.
Alex Law
Alex Law
Automotive expert