The 2007 Saturn Aura is a critical car for General Motors; GM will even tell you that to your face. It represents a solid break for Saturn towards the European-inspired brand that it should be. By leveraging the resources of Opel in Europe, GM was able to bring a vehicle with European character to a brand that desperately needed direction. To that end, GM is reinventing Saturn, while still maintaining its no-hassle, no-haggle pricing. Clearly aimed at import-intenders who would normally shop for an Accord, Camry, or Passat, the Aura is representative of this new direction. There will also be an Aura Greenline offered later in 2007 that will use a mild-hybrid powerplant similar to the one found in the Vue Greenline.
There are two trim levels for the Aura. The XE is the base model, with a revised version of GM's OHV V6 that displaces 3510 cc and produces 224 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 220 ft-lbs. at 4,000 rpm, which finds its way to the ground via a 4-speed automatic transmission. The XE is supposed to start around $20,595. The Aura XR, meanwhile, is the top of the line model, receiving motivation from a 3.6-liter DOHC V6 that produces 252 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 251 ft-lbs. at 3,200 rpm. It is paired with GM's new six-speed automatic transmission. The XR also has an optional Morocco Brown interior trim that adds brown leather to the seating surfaces with matching trim on the doors, which definitely lends character to the interior space. Pricing for the XR will start just under $25,000.
Enough with these details, you're probably wondering how it drives. Saturn has its competitors clearly targeted, because the Aura combines a hushed interior at speed with sporting reflexes. In the XR, the 3.6L DOHC V6 provides more than enough smooth power to satisfy any midsize sedan buyer. The standard V6 in the XE isn't too shabby either, but clearly the XR's larger V6 is a competent competitor to the engines offered by Honda and Nissan. Don't get us wrong, we'd still rather have the XE's standard V6 over a four-cylinder, especially if we can't select a manual transmission with the four.
The suspension tuning is sporty on the XR, but is a tad softer on the XE. Actually, in either case, it is a good compromise between control and comfort. This is in contrast to what both Honda and VW have done with their latest models, moving toward softer suspension packages while loosing a little feedback for the driver. The Aura does an excellent job of making the driver feel in control while still providing a comfortable ride. In one instance, we were progressing rapidly down an uneven country road with our new found friend from a Spanish language lifestyle magazine. The cabin of the XE was quiet, and the ride was smooth. So smooth and quiet in fact, that we got a little wrapped up in our conversation about the beautiful countryside. That was until a sharp corner snuck up on us. With a quick expletive, and a flip of the steering wheel, the Aura sent us sailing safely through the corner. Profanity isn't necessary to unleash the car's potential, as we would find out behind the wheel of our own high horsepower XR. Back on the country road, we weren't adverse to whomping on the accelerator to feel our backs press against the seat. A few makeshift speed runs did show there was a little bit of torque steer off the line, but once up to speed the Aura was as solid as a bank vault up to the century mark. Our bravado gave out before the Aura, as we didn't want to find out what would happen if a tractor popped out into our 1.5 lane stretch of twisty tarmac.
The interior is of high quality overall. It is tastefully designed, but we would trade out the fake wood for a metallic finish on the dash. There are a couple short comings that we noticed, as well. Once you step into the vehicle, you're greeted with this nice interior, but when you go to put the key in the ignition, you're introduced to a cheap feeling ignition switch. The key slot seems to be made of tin. Couldn't they have spent a little more money on a better ignition switch? It's a blemish on what is otherwise a nice interior experience. Also, the instrument cluster could also be a little more upscale. Sure, laugh it up, but there is a certain appeal that comes from a well designed and illuminated IP. Go sit in a new VW or Honda and you will see what we mean.
It's nice to see the face of an Opel on our roads, and we hope to see more models with that familiar visage. On the flip side, it's little disappointed to see the derrière of a Pontiac. Who ever decided to ditch the Opel taillight arrangement might be kicking themselves when consumers see too much G6 in the Aura's design. The rest of the design is clean and tasteful, albeit a little bland from some angles. The Aura certainly doesn't offend, but we wonder what Saturn may do to enhance the exterior if they produce a Redline variant.
Overall, the new 2007 Aura is a clear step in the right direction for both Saturn and GM. Now, if they can keep up this practice of bringing Opels to the U.S., we might just see more Saturns on the road than ever.