Click above to view high-res gallery of the Saturn VUE 2 Mode Hybrid

We attended the New York-area "GM Collection" event this week, which is basically an opportunity for journalists to drive a variety of 2009 models up at Bear Mountain, an hour or so outside Manhattan. What we didn't know going in was that GM would bring along three production-spec examples of the '09 Saturn Vue 2 Mode Hybrid, and that this would be the first opportunity to take the new gas-electric 'ute for a spin. Bear in mind that this impression is based on about 25 minutes of shared time with the car (we buddied up with Jalopnik's Wes Siler). The official full-dog-and-pony-show media launch event is set to take place in December, and we'll be on hand for that as well. For now though, follow the jump to see some initial impressions of the new Saturn hybrid.

All Photos Copyright © 2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

The Vue 2 Mode Hybrid is pretty self-explanatory: it's a Saturn Vue, and it's the first non-GMT900 ride to get the 2 Mode hybrid setup. It'll slot above the existing Saturn Vue "light" hybrid (née Green Line) in the lineup, targeting drivers who desire fuel economy on par with the four-cylinder hybrid, but want more power and/or towing capacity. The 2 Mode Vue's gas engine is a direct-injected version of the widely-used 3.6L "high feature" powerplant. In this case, it makes 262 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque and only front-wheel-drive is available. (The Vue Red Line we reviewed last year, by comparison, made 257 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque with the non-DI version of this engine.)

It works in concert with the hybrid sysyem, which incorporates a pair of 55 kW electric motors, a 300V battery, regenerative braking and the 2 Mode transmission, which sports two electronically variable modes and four fixed mechanical gear ratios to optimize efficiency at both lower, around-town speeds and highway velocity. Unlike the light hybrid system in the other Vue Hybrid, the 2 Mode can run in EV-only mode at low speeds, in addition to doing all the other stuff you expect, such as killing the engine when stopped. The result is a projected fuel economy rating of 28 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. This, with a 3,500-pound tow capacity and a projected sticker price of around $33,000.

Appearance-wise, it looks just like a Vue XR. Only the Vue XR doesn't have three hybrid badges (one on each fender and one on the tailgate) and four hybrid decals (one on the windshield, one on the rear window, and the gigunda things that span the wheelbase along the lower door panels). Short of getting a full "HYBRID" bus wrap on the thing, you can't really announce your greenie status any more unless you head to the Toyota store.

If you've driven a conventionally-powered 3.6L Vue, you're not really in for anything earth-shatteringly different. When you twist the key, the car powers on, but the engine doesn't fire (a green car icon in the instrument cluster tells you the car's good to go), and at low speed it'll stay in battery mode if you keep a light enough foot on the gas pedal. Punch it, and the Vue pulls strongly and accelerates at a reasonable clip, either under engine power alone or while getting an assist from the electric motor as well. Like we said, it feels basically like the gas-only XR. At 4,265 pounds, it's almost 200 pounds heavier, though.

Interior? The tach's replaced by an "efficiency gauge" that shows you how you're using the powertrain (battery on one extreme, engine on the other) and also incorporates a separate gauge that indicates the battery's level of charge. If you opt for the nav system, then you get an animated powertrain graphic on that screen, as well. The rest is no different than its sister vehicles. The battery is stored under the rear cargo floor and does not intrude into the cabin space at all. There's no spare tire as a result – the Vue 2 Mode just comes with a compressor kit.

So, first impression? Nice ride. It does all the hybrid stuff you want/expect it to, and it performs well when called upon. The projected mileage numbers are good, but the FWD Escape Hybrid does better; it's less muscular, though, and only tows 1,000 pounds. If you're really set on a Vue and don't need the towing capacity that the 2 Mode setup affords, the light hybrid Vue costs almost $5,000 less and delivers very similar fuel economy at 25 city/32 highway, according to the EPA. One thing's certain: you've got some choices now, which is certainly not a bad thing.

We'll come back with more detailed impressions after Sam gets a longer look at the car in December.

All Photos Copyright © 2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.

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