2007 Saturn Aura
The 2007 Saturn Aura really wants to be a European sport/luxury sedan, but its attempts fall short. It has a fairly beefy high-tech engine and paddle shifters for its six-speed automatic, which make up the sport part of the equation. However, its unruly drive train delivers more power than the car can handle. Although not really a tech feature, plastic-molded faux-stitched-leather door panels horrified us and pretend to luxury in the worst possible way.
Other than the above criticisms, the Aura is a solid sedan comparable to the Buick Lucerne. The handling has a heavy feel, akin to a muscle car. The cabin electronics are GM-standard, with an unspectacular but workable, MP3-friendly, in-dash six-disc changer and a convenient auxiliary input jack. Niceties such as phone connectivity and navigation are left to OnStar.
Questionable interior design
The Aura's cabin is roomy, as befits Saturn's largest sedan. In an attempt to look luxurious, surfaces are covered with glossy plastic intended to look like wood, which is passable, and the aforementioned molded plastic panels in the door, which attempt to match the seats with a stitched leather look. The result doesn't fool anyone, and we don't know why Saturn would even try. The panels also felt a little loose in our review car, which doesn't bode well for long-term durability. The rubberized material over the dashboard is nice, though.
The major tech element in the cabin is the stereo. Its monochrome amber, dot-matrix display isn't very modern, but its six-disc in-dash changer is. The CD changer handles MP3 discs and does a good job of showing ID3 tag information, letting you choose to view the song title, the artist, the album, or the folder name. XM satellite radio is optional with this stereo. One particularly nice feature of this stereo is that it can hold up to six pages with six presets on each. The stereo also has an auxiliary input jack in its face, a convenient feature for hooking up an MP3 player or an iPod.
Hooking up an MP3 player is easy with the front panel-mounted auxiliary jack.
The system uses eight speakers, with two tweeter/woofer combos mounted on the rear deck, a woofer in each front door, and tweeters mounted in the A pillars on either side of the windshield. The sound quality is above average, a little muddy in the midrange but no distortion at higher volume. A subwoofer would have added some oomph to the sound.
No Bluetooth cell-phone integration or onboard navigation is offered, but the Aura comes with OnStar. Buyers get one complimentary year of OnStar's Safe & Sound plan. We've taken OnStar navigation for a test drive, and although it works reasonably well, you have to pay $26.90 a month for the Directions & Connections plan. OnStar also offers a phone service, but you pay per-minute charges, and the car gets assigned its own phone number.
As part of the Enhanced Convenience Package in our review car, a six-way power-adjustable passenger seat and power-adjustable pedals were included, the latter not something we see too often in a sedan. An auto-dimming mirror came standard along with separate audio controls for the rear seat, complete with wireless headphones. This last was a particularly odd feature to have standard, although nice when the kids want to tune out in back while the grown-ups talk in front.
Impressive engine tech
The Aura comes in two trim levels, the XE and the XR. The XE comes with a 3.5-liter V-6, and the XR with a 3.6-liter V-6. These engines don't sound that different until you look at the detail--the XR's engine is much more advanced than the XE's. The 3.6-liter V-6, which we had in our XR review car, uses double overhead cams moving four variably timed valves for each cylinder. It also has an aluminum block whereas the 3.5-liter uses cast iron. The smaller engine only gets two valves per cylinder, moved by a single overhead cam.
In terms of output, the bigger engine produces 252 horsepower at 6,400rpm, and 251 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200rpm. The EPA rates the Aura XR at 20mpg for city and 28mpg for highway. In our mixed driving on freeways and in heavy city traffic, we saw 20mpg.
Paddle shifters mounted to the steering-wheel spokes allow manual shifting of the six-speed automatic.
The power train differences extend to the transmission as well. Our XR had the more advanced six-speed automatic; the XE gets a four-speed. Paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel are standard on the XR, and are active when the shifter is put in Manual mode. During various driving exercises, the six-speed's shifts were very noticeable. It was fun to use in manual mode, although difficult to shift on tight curves when the paddles vertically align at 12 and 6, as opposed to their straight-line 9 and 3 positioning.
We did like the solid feel of this engine-transmission combination, even if it didn't shift as smoothly as some of the more refined six-, seven-, and eight-speeds we've driven. But it's not necessarily engineered well for the car, as we could get extensive front-wheel spin from a standing start. The car does have traction control, but it's not enough to keep the engine in line, as our various fast starts lit up a "Low Traction" message on the instrument cluster display.
For a roomy sedan, the Aura handles well, helped along by stabilizer bars in the front and rear. The car's heavy feel inspires confidence in corners, and the wheels didn't break loose when we pushed it a little. Over rough pavement, we felt the jolts but they were quickly damped out.
Odd switch mounting
Traction control is provided by GM's StabiliTrak system. We were surprised to find the off switch for traction control mounted on the front of the console hatch, where a stray elbow could disengage it. The Aura also has anti-lock brakes on its four disc brakes, and stability control comes as part of the StabiliTrak system.
Air bag coverage is nicely complete, with standard front, front side, and curtain air bags around the cabin. A tire pressure monitor is also standard. In NHTSA testing, the Aura does very well, scoring five stars for front and side impacts. It gets four stars for rollover, but we've yet to see a car score five stars in that category. GM offers three years or 36,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper warranty, five years or 100,000 miles for major components, and a generous five years or 100,000 miles of roadside assistance.
Our test car was the 2007 Saturn Aura XR, with a base price of $23,945. It came equipped with the Premium Trim package ($800), which added leather to the seats, the steering wheel and the shifter; the Enhanced Convenience package ($425), for power passenger seat and pedal adjustment; and a power sunroof ($800). Premium floor mats and Morocco brown leather added $100 each, plus a $650 destination charge brought the total cost up to $26,820, making for a moderately priced big sedan.
The 2007 Saturn Aura and Buick Lucerne compare well, but we would give the edge to the Lucerne for its exterior styling and its lack of faux-stitched-leather door panels. Sorry, but we have a hard time getting over that last detail. For the same price, though less engine power, the Toyota Camry Hybrid makes a pretty compelling choice. Buyers who want the efficiency of a hybrid--and can wait until next year--should look for the upcoming Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid, which we saw at the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show.