Saturn's mantra for the 2007 Vue Green Line is, "go green without going broke." While GM's first hybrid SUV may use entry-level technology as its green credentials, the Green Line is a competitively priced proposition for those looking for economy and utility. The standard Vue Green Line interior combines a scarcity of technology with some hybrid-only instrumentation and generous cargo space. Despite the lack of gadgetry in our tester, the Vue Green Line has a long list of options, including XM satellite radio and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. Other cabin fixtures are cleanly integrated and easy to use.
Performance is not the Vue's strong suit, although it does provide a comfortable ride around town with enough pep for most urban situations. The hybrid system's electric motor does what it can to help out on the freeway, but this is one car that won't spend much time in the left-hand lane. Our principal concern with the Vue Green Line is its fuel-economy shortcomings: our observed mileage was a long way off the EPA's estimates.
On the outside, the Vue Green Line adopts some of the upscale accents found on the V-6 gasoline Vue models, including a rear spoiler, alloy wheels, and color-coded door handles and bumper fascias. From the cockpit, drivers are greeted with a good view of the road and an even better view of the Vue's large steering wheel, which boasts controls for the stereo and cruise control, as well as a voice-command button linked to the car's standard OnStar telematics system.
Autostop and go green
The Vue Green Line's instrument cluster contains four clear and bright dials, two of which give clues to its hybrid identity. Instead of beginning at 0rpm, the tachometer has a setting called Autostop (found on a number of other parallel hybrids such as Honda's Civic and Accord hybrids) which shuts off the engine when the car is stationary. Autostop on the Green Line works only when the car is in Drive with the brake pedal depressed and the air conditioning set to either economy mode or off. Releasing the brake or turning the A/C on when in Autostop causes the engine to restart with a quiet shudder. The Vue's other hybrid-centric gauge is its charge/assist meter, which lets the driver know when the car's hybrid system is being either charged (by regenerative braking or deceleration), or discharged in response to increased engine load-demand. (For more on how this works in theory and in practice, see below.)
A couple of novel features on the instrument cluster, including the charge/assist meter, announce that the Vue Green Line is a hybrid.
Other than these two hybrid features, the Vue Green Line's cabin is standard GM fare. Our test car was equipped with the baseline audio system, comprising a single-disc CD player with MP3-playback capability controlled via basic but intuitive head-unit controls. To our digital delight, the stereo does come with an auxiliary input jack, in front of which we found a conveniently located holder for our Creative Zen MP3 player.
An upgraded 6-disc, in-dash stereo is available for an extra $650, and XM satellite radio prewiring is available as part of the Vue's Comfortably Safe package, which also includes a 6-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, and head-curtain side airbags--all for an extra $1,225. Also on the options sheet is a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, which comes at the expense of the (optional) power sunroof and adds $1,140 to the sticker price. Hands-free calling is available in the Green Line as part of the subscription-based OnStar program, and requires an active OnStar service contract and either a prepaid-minute package or enrollment in OnStar Shared Minutes Plan. According to GM, however, OnStar-based turn-by-turn navigation is not available on the 2007 Vue Green Line.
It's basic, but the Vue Green Line's stereo can support MP3 discs and has a standard aux-in jack.
The Vue Green Line's HVAC controls are basic but usable, and get a special addition in the form of a green "economy mode" button, which switches the A/C to a reduced power setting to minimize fuel consumption.
Our test car came with the leather-appointed seat and leather-wrapped steering wheel option ($755), which lent the interior some style, although, even with the leather upgrade, our photographer was less than impressed with the level of comfort in the rear seats. The Vue Green Line comes with over 30 cubic feet of storage space, and includes a "rear-cargo organizer"--a unique, plastic fold-out crate in the cargo area that can be snapped into place to prevent grocery bags from spilling over when driving out of the mall parking lot. Seat comfort notwithstanding, there is plenty of legroom in the rear seats for adults, and the front passenger and rear seats fold flat to maximize interior space.
Unlike "full hybrids" that can run entirely in electric mode, GM's first hybrid SUV features a simpler hybrid technology known as Belt Alternator Starter (BAS), which is a low-cost approach to getting a coveted "hybrid" badge on its model line. The BAS concept works by replacing the belt-driven alternator and starter motor with an electric motor that serves as a generator and a motor.
In the Vue Green Line, the BAS system integrates a 36-volt NiMH battery--mounted beneath the rear cargo area at the expense of a spare tire--with GM's 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder, variable-valve-timed Ecotec engine. The result is a dual-propulsion system that enables the battery-powered electric motor to assist the gasoline engine when accelerating from standing or when load demand is suddenly increased (for passing or merging, for example). The BAS system also features regenerative braking that turns the electric motor into a generator to capture kinetic energy (from braking and deceleration) and convert it into electricity to recharge the battery.
The Vue's battery pack is tucked away under the rear cargo area.
In practice, the Belt Alternator Starter system takes some getting used to, especially when the battery is using the car's incipient kinetic energy to charge. We have noticed in other hybrids that regenerative braking can lead to increased travel in the brakes and some noticeable vibration feedback through the brake pedal. In the Vue Green Line, it is less the braking and more the regenerative deceleration that is disconcerting. When you take your foot off the gas pedal, the car will coast along for a few seconds, and then the needle on the charge/assist meter swings to the left and the car experiences a sudden drag. In cases where we would usually just coast, we found ourselves having to reapply the accelerator to maintain a constant speed--hardly ideal for an eco-friendly car.
When the motor was used for assistance (indicated by the charge/assist needle swinging to the right), we did notice a positive effect in the Vue Green Line's performance. The entry-level, gasoline-only Saturn Vue comes with a 143-horsepower, 2.2-liter engine, which doesn't have the luxury of electric assistance, and we can see why Saturn chose to upgrade its powerplant (albeit marginally) to the 170-horsepower Ecotec. Even so, the 4-cylinder, variable-valve-timed plant needs all the help it can get, and the electric motor's 14.5kW of extra power is a welcome addition when the throttle is wide open. Around town, the Vue delivers a comfortable ride, autostopping and restarting smoothly, and delivering surefooted handling thanks to its front and rear independent suspension. Its electric-power assisted, rack-and-pinion steering was far too light, however, for our driving tastes.
One of the more ostentatious of the Vue Green Line's features is its "Eco" light, a green, back-lit icon on the instrument panel that lights up when the car's instant gas mileage is meeting or exceeding the EPA estimates. Unfortunately, this did not light up enough during our one-week trial of the car: over 200 miles of mixed city and highway driving, we observed an overall gas mileage of 17.8mpg--well below the EPA's estimate of a combined city/highway figure of 29mpg.
Safe and sound
With maximum 5-star safety ratings for front and side impact, the 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line is among the safest vehicles in its class. There are dual-stage driver and front passenger airbags with occupancy sensors for the front seats. Head-curtain side airbags are also available. Standard on all 2007 Saturn Vues, the Green Line's rollover sensing system responds to extreme forward and lateral movements by activating the front seatbelt pretensioners and deploying the car's head-curtain side airbags (where fitted). GM's OnStar telematics service comes as standard on all new Vues, with owners receiving a free 1-year subscription to OnStar's Safe and Sound plan.
All new Saturn Vues come with a 1-year subscription to GM's OnStar Safe and Sound service.
Our Saturn Vue Green Line tester came with a base price of $22,995, including destination charges. To this, $755 was added for leather appointments, bringing the total to $23,750.
The Saturn Vue Green Line is entering a market that has been so far been dominated by the Ford Escape and Mercury Marnier hybrid SUVs. With its competitive price and high (estimated) gas mileage, it is likely to hold its own by attracting customers who want a practical SUV with a hybrid badge, but without a hybrid sticker.