In the AutoblogGreen Garage: 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line

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People have a variety of reasons for buying hybrid vehicles, one of which is saving money on fuel – they go green to save some green. For others, there's the sincere motivation of environmental stewardship. And for others still, though they may be loath to admit, there's an undeniable ego aspect – think of that hybrid badge as the automotive equivalent of a polo pony on a collared shirt.

The one "problem" with hybrids is that they cost more than non-hybrid cars – you pay a premium for the technology. That added cover charge may be enough to keep some from getting past that green velvet rope. To try and address this, General Motors has developed its Green Line "light" hybrid system.

GM was obviously watching closely as other companies like Toyota, Honda, and Ford made waves and grabbed headlines with their high-profile hybrid vehicles. In response, GM earmarked Saturn to be the brand to offer a mass-market hybrid, and it would go after customers by marketing an inexpensive alternative to other, more costly hybrids. The result is the 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line.

Follow the jump for our full review.
The hybrid Vue employs GM's Belt Alternator Starter (BAS) system, which in this application uses a 36V battery mounted under the floor behind the rear seats in conjunction with an electric motor connected to the car's 170-horsepower 2.4L Ecotec four-cylinder engine. The whole kit is said to improve overall fuel economy by 15 to 20 percent (assuming you also implement fuel-conscious driving techniques, as well). Unlike the competitors' hybrids, the BAS in the Green Line does not allow the car to be driven on electric power alone. The electric motor is instead used to provide added boost on acceleration when necessary. This is a bone of contention for some, who deride the Green Line for this specific reason.

The hybrid battery powers the electric motor and also provides juice to supplemental systems (A/C, lights, etc.) when the Vue's primary fuel-saving mechanism – the Auto Stop mode that kills the engine when the car is stopped and idling – is engaged. In addition to the stop/start feature, the fuel system will shut off during deceleration. The only transmission available is a 4-speed automatic.

This nets the Vue Green Line an EPA city/highway fuel economy rating of 27/32 versus the 22/27 rating the less powerful non-hybrid FWD 4-cylinder Vue attains when equipped with the auto. It's no secret that EPA ratings are to be taken with a grain of salt, but the Green Line's numbers are good enough to give Saturn bragging rights for having the highest EPA highway rating of any SUV. (This probably had a lot to do with why the Vue was selected to be the General's entrant into the hybrid marketplace.) Finally, the Green Line's base price is set at an entirely reasonable $22,370.

Despite the criticism from some corners over its not being a full hybrid, we looked forward to driving the Green Line. After all, "real" hybrid or not, it promised to offer favorable fuel economy along with substantial utility. The way things worked out, we took delivery of our Cypress Green Vue immediately after living a life of luxury behind the wheel of the delightful yet thirsty Cadillac Escalade for a week. Talk about a dichotomy. Where the Escalade is all-new and put luxury, amenities, and power (403 hp on premium unleaded) above all else, the Vue Green Line offers improved economy and some new tech on an aging vehicle due to be replaced the following model year.

This is as good a time as any to discuss the Vue Green Line's looks, which are obviously dated. The '07 Vue is the oldest vehicle in the Saturn lineup, and as such, it still sports the brand's once-signature plastic body panels, and in another (final) nod to nostalgia, it's also built at the Spring Hill, TN plant. The car was facelifted for the 2006 model year, and unfortunately, that refresh involved the addition of a new front fascia that incorporates a completely ridiculous-looking fake grille between the headlights. It serves no purpose except to unnecessarily uglify the car's nose, and we really wish they had left that space as a painted area with a simple badge in the middle, because the false radiator grille is just silly.

In profile, the Vue looks like it has since inception. The slab-sidedness of the car is mitigated by a sculpted indentation that runs through both door panels, while body-colored fender flares add some visual substance, as well. The Green Line's flanks receive circuitry-patterned "Hybrid" badges that let others know it's more than the average Saturn SUV. The Vue's rear end is actually nicely detailed – more than any other part of the car. That's where you'll also find the square Green Line badge and another "Hybrid" logo.

In terms of ornamentation, Saturn keeps it to a minimum. A standard "skid plate" package is included, as are simple, attractive 16" five-spoke alloys wrapped in General low rolling resistance tires. On the roof, the rack is deleted for aerodynamic purposes and a spoiler is added to the trailing edge. In summary, the exterior appearance is a mixed bag. The front end has some issues, and the rest of it is bland but inoffensive. If you don't like the way the '07 Vue looks and can wait to make your move, you'll be rewarded with the all-new Opel Antara-sourced Vue in the spring, which will also have this same Green Line setup available. An even more efficient 2 Mode hybrid powertrain will follow later.

The Vue's '06 update included the interior as well, and it's not a bad place to be at all. Our tester was outfitted with the $755.00 Leather Appointments Package, so all the seats were trimmed in light tan hides that nicely complemented the attractive Cypress Green finish outside. The upper dashboard and center stack are done in black and offer good contrast to the rest of the interior. Aluminum accents trim the shifter and flank the radio and HVAC controls. The familiar GM corporate stereo takes up residence in the stack, and the simple HVAC controls are positioned directly below it. There, you'll find one of the few visual clues that you're riding in the Vue hybrid: the green "e" button, which enables the air conditioner's economy mode. The console-mounted shifter is surrounded by the power window and mirror controls, and frankly, we're not fans of their centralized location (don't worry, GM moves them to the armrest in the '08 Vue). The steering wheel is GM's very good three-spoke unit that sees duty in a number of other vehicles. It's home to the cruise control as well as redundant buttons for the key radio functions. A reasonably-sized storage bin and cupholders (which can be hidden under a sliding cover) are located between the front seats.

The instrument panel is refreshingly simple, with classic round, easy-to-read gauges. This is where you'll see the other two tipoffs that the Vue has the hybrid system installed. To the right, a Charge/Assist gauge lets you know whether you're getting help from the electric motor or in the process of charging the battery that powers it. On the left side, a green "eco" indicator will illuminate to let you know when you're achieving maximum fuel economy. Unfortunately, the Vue doesn't have a driver information center, so there's no way to take a look at what kind of mileage you're getting while underway. Save those receipts, use your trip odometer, and break out the calculator after each fill-up if you want to monitor it more closely.

Driving the Vue is a generally pleasant experience overall. The 170-horsepower underhood is more than enough to move it briskly, and if you give the car enough throttle to have it engage the electric assist, it really feels quite responsive. The 2.4L Ecotec is a tad noisy, but not annoyingly so. The car's Auto Stop system works exactly as advertised, and while the changeover is noticeable, more than one passenger commented about how impressed they were with the promptness of the engine restart once the brake was released. We'd like to see a stop/start system like this implemented in more vehicles, as it's an easy way to help cut back on fuel consumption, hybrid or not.

Steering isn't overly assisted and the Vue's turning circle is reasonably small, making it easy to maneuver. Overall ride quality on smooth roads is plenty fine, but we made a couple of round trips into New York City with the car – one to the Bronx and one to lower Manhattan – and the low-rolling-resistance tires the car is equipped with really seem ill-suited to roads where imperfections are numerous. On a couple of occasions, we experienced some unnervingly skittish behavior after passing over a pronounced seam or other bump at highway speeds. We understand the desire to maximize economy, but we'd trade some of that away for better road feel and handling any day of the week. If this were our car, the low-resistance Generals would be replaced with grippier rubber when the time came. Outside of those occurrences, we found the Vue to be a comfortable highway cruiser and easy – even enjoyable – to use in both the suburbs and the city.

Finally, the little SUV is blessed with abundant cargo space, especially when the second-row bench is folded flat. The front passenger seat also folds over so you can carry longer items and still close the rear hatch. The Vue doesn't come with one of those ubiquitous cargo nets to keep small items in check. Instead, it has a collapsible solid basket/crate that clicks into place very quickly and is perfect for hauling groceries or other items you don't want rolling around in the cargo area. When not in use, it folds right back up and gets stowed below the rear cargo floor. Very nice.

So, after a week behind the wheel, how did the Vue Green Line shape up? We drove it like we would any other car and we got a little over 25 miles per gallon combined. Can you get a number like that with a regular four-cylinder Vue? Probably. But with a more concerted effort to drive economically, the Green Line likely has more to give in that department. In any case, you'll be hard pressed to find a vehicle that offers as practical a package as the Vue combined with the hybrid setup at its price.

Speaking of price, consider this: We went on and spec'd out a 4-cylinder (144 hp) FWD Vue in Cypress Green with tan leather, the same stereo, skid plates, a rear spoiler and 16-inch alloys. It came out to $23,015, not including the destination charge.

Our Vue Green Line had all of the above plus the hybrid system and 26 additional horsepower. It stickered for $23,750 including destination charge. On top of that, the Vue Green Line qualifies for a $650 federal tax credit. Compared to the similarly-equipped, less-powerful standard model, the '07 Vue Green Line is a deal that's worthy of your consideration.

All photos Copyright ©2007 Alex Nunez / Weblogs, Inc.

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