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2008 Saturn Vue XR review: 2008 Saturn Vue XR

2008 Saturn Vue XR

Kevin Massy
8 min read

Photo gallery:
2008 Saturn Vue XR


2008 Saturn Vue XR

The Good

The 2008 Saturn Vue XR delivers BMW X3-beating performance and Lexus-standard cabin tech, all for around $30K.

The Bad

The Vue XR suffers from slight torque steer off the line and lets in too much road noise in freeway driving. Bluetooth hands-free calling is not available on the model.

The Bottom Line

The 2008 Saturn Vue XR is a stylish performer with some advanced optional cabin technology, including an intuitive touch-screen navigation and music system.

Saturn is on a roll, proving that it can turn out decent models in a variety of segments. Its Aura sedan was voted the 2007 North American Car of the Year at this year's Detroit auto show; its Sky and Sky Redline roadsters have been smash hits; its Green Line hybrids have flown the eco-flag for GM; and now it is set for another success with the launch of the 2008 Vue XR. The Vue has undergone a major upgrade from its 2007 incarnation, with the new model featuring a more flowing body style, an overhauled interior, and the addition of some impressive technology and comfort options.

From the outside, the Vue XR--the performance-tuned member of the lineup--has a bold, aggressive stance: its bulging front fenders give the car attitude, while its grilles suggest that there is some real performance to back up the looks. From the side, the Vue's swooping roofline and raked D-pillar are evocative of the body style of the 2007 Honda CR-V, while its tapered rear end fortunately avoids the ugly fate of the boxy Outlook and GMC Acadia. As we found in our test, the attraction of the Saturn Vue is more than skin deep, as it demonstrates admirable performance and delivers some impressive technology features.

Test the tech: BMW bashing
It just so happened that on the same week we had the Saturn Vue XR in the CNET garage, we also had the 2007 BMW X3 3.0si, a comparable car in terms of size, engine specs, and on-paper performance credentials. While the Vue XR's 3.6-liter V-6 has a displacement advantage over the X3's signature BMW in-line six-cylinder plant, the horsepower figures for the two cars are almost identical, with the Bimmer squeezing 260 horses out of its engine and the XR just behind with 257 horsepower. Torque figures are equally close, with the Vue XR getting the slight upper hand with 241 pound-feet, compared with the X3's 225 pound-feet. Faced with two cars with such closely matched specifications, there was only one thing that any self-respecting automotive journalist could do: race them.

We pitted the Saturn Vue XR against the BMW X3 in timed 0-to-60 mph runs.

For our performance face-off, we decided to test the 0-to-60 acceleration times of both cars (with traction control off) using a performance computer. First up was the Vue XR, which managed a first 0-to-60 run of 7.65 seconds: not blisteringly fast, but it felt peppy off the line, and its midrange pickup was impressive. In our second run, we managed to go quicker, getting to 60 mph in a sprightly 7.35 seconds. During fast launches in the Vue XR, we did notice some considerable torque-steer as the car tried to veer to the left, but it was nothing that we couldn't handle, and we returned the Saturn feeling pretty impressed with its performance.

2008 Saturn Vue XR2007 BMW X3 3.0si
Engine3.6-liter V-63.0-liter I-6
Power257 horsepower260 horsepower
Torque241 ft.-lb.225 ft.-lb.
Weight4,325 lbs.4,012 lbs.

While the Vue XR has a bigger engine, it has slightly less horsepower than the X3.

Next up was the BMW X3. Despite giving away some engine displacement to the Vue XR, the X3 had an advantage in weight, size, and horsepower. It also had a BMW badge on it, which is a useful asset in any performance contest. With Senior Editor Wayne Cunningham behind the wheel, we pulled the X3 up to the start line and waited for the performance computer to reset. Off the line, the X3 demonstrates a more linear acceleration than the Vue XR; however, the Bimmer lacks the midrange thrust of the Saturn. Our first run confirmed these suspicions, as the X3 reached 60 mph in a laggardly 7.62 seconds. There was one run left for BMW to assert its performance dominance. Wayne gunned the throttle off the line, and the X3 felt quick through the gears, but the performance computer told a different story: the Bimmer could manage only 7.50 seconds. The Saturn Vue XR had carried the day, and with it the bragging rights of beating out the incumbent in the sport-tuned compact crossover SUV segment.

In the cabin
The interior of the 2008 Saturn Vue XR is impressive. In keeping with the car's sporty exterior styling and demonstrated performance capabilities, the cabin has a couple of sporty design cues, including imitation carbon-fiber trim on the dash and door sills, and bolstered seats to keep you seated during hard cornering. Our test car was equipped with the $1,075 Premium trim package, which gave us leather-appointed seats, a leather-wrapped shift knob, and heated driver's and front-passenger seats. The most unique design element of the cabin on first impression is the parking brake, which looks like a kite handle. Our Vue XR tester was also equipped with the optional navigation and upgraded audio systems, at a cost of $2,145 and $325, respectively.

As we have seen in other recent General Motors SUVs such as the 2008 Buick Enclave and the 2007 GMC Acadia, GM's navigation systems are well designed and a pleasure to use. The system's touch-screen LCD display features large buttons and an intuitive menu structure that make programming destinations straightforward. We are especially impressed with the bright, colorful, crisply rendered maps and the individually designed landmark icons that make it easy for drivers to orient themselves in dense urban areas: in San Francisco, for example, the maps feature bespoke graphics for Grace Cathedral, Coit Tower, the Ferry building, and the Transamerica building.

GM's latest-generation in-dash navigation system is attractive and user friendly.

When entering destinations, drivers are faced with simple programming interface that starts with the Destination hard button. Addresses can be spelled out using a predictive touch-screen keypad or selected from an extensive points-of-interest (POI) database. We found the refresh times for new screen to be surprisingly quick for a DVD-based system. When underway, the Vue's navigation system provides turn-by-turn voice guidance in a humanlike, conversational tone--a welcome change from the robotic intonation of the 2007 Audi A4's nav system that we tested last week. Although the Vue's navigation system does not offer text-to-voice technology, it does display the name of the current street and the distance to the next turning. When approaching a turn, the screen divides in two with a reduced-size version of the regular map on left, and a close-up bright blue arrow showing the suggested route on the right of the screen.

The Vue's in-dash touch screen doubles as a control interface for selecting and controlling audio sources. With the optional navigation system, drivers get a single-disc, in-dash player with the ability to handle Red Book CDs as well as MP3 and WMA compressed audio discs. For playing digital audio discs, GM has devised a system called Music Navigator, which we have to hail as the best factory installed in-car digital audio interface that we've seen. Music Navigator works by indexing all the information on an MP3 disc, then providing an extremely user-friendly means of navigating all the songs on the disc. The initial scan of a disc takes between one and three minutes, depending on the amount of music you have stored on it.

Music Navigator indexes all the tracks on an MP3 disc and provides an easy method of browsing tracks.

With the scan process complete, the system presents drivers with a split touch-screen menu: On the left a series of options enables the selection of music by folder, album, or artist; while on the right, individual tracks are listed six at a time. We found the system to be a straightforward and intuitive means of browsing our tunes while on the road and a vast improvement over most factory-installed music interfaces, which are often more trouble than they are worth. In addition to its disc-playing capabilities, the Vue's standard stereo can be used to play music from portable digital audio players via an auxiliary input jack conveniently located on the front of its faceplate.

To make the most of all these audio sources, our car came spiffed up with the optional upgraded 180-watt advanced audio system, which gave us 10 speakers (in place of the standard system's 6-speaker arrangement) and an eight-inch subwoofer in the cargo area. The upgraded audio system delivers an immersive sound with a solid, visceral bass note, and bright, clear highs. Drivers can tweak the audio output, courtesy of the Vue's onscreen EQ mixer, which enables them to select one of five preset acoustic configurations or to customize their own output. As with most other GM models, there is--disappointingly--no Bluetooth hands-free calling interface available with the Vue XR. Those who need to make calls on the road can do so only through the Directions and Connections package in GM's Onstar telematics service.

Under the hood
As we proved in our showdown with the BMW X3, the 2008 Vue XR 3.6-liter V-6 plant delivers plenty of performance credibility to back up its sporty profile. The Vue's XR's six-speed automatic transmission and variable-valve timed engine represents a significant leap forward in terms of power train technology, compared with that of the 2007 model. While it managed to hold off the BMW during fast launches, the Vue XR's real performance value is in midrange acceleration. Burying the pedal in third or fourth gear results in a slight lag, followed by a rush of power that gives you plenty of capacity for passing maneuvers or freeway mergers. For those who don't want to rely entirely on the automatic transmission, the Vue XR is available with what Saturn calls a TapShift manual shift control (a $150 option on the Vue XR), which takes the form of a rocker switch on the left-hand side of the gear shifter.

Our Vue XR was optioned up with the TapShift controller, giving us the ability to shift the six-speed transmission for ourselves.

The TapShift selectors can be used to influence the transmission according to a driver's own preferences: we found it to be an extremely permissive shifting controller, allowing us to take the engine right up to red line in each gear without intervening with an upshift. In freeway driving, the Vue XR feels competent and well balanced, although we did notice a lot of noise penetrating the cabin on rougher segments of road. In city driving, the XR felt nimble with some body roll in hard cornering but mostly exhibited decent handling and road-holding, thanks to its all-wheel-drive system.

Drivers who want the utility but not the sport of the 2008 Saturn Vue can opt for either the base 169-horsepower, 2.4-liter Ecotec engine or the 3.5-liter V-6 option making 222 horsepower. For those who want more sport and swagger, the Red Line version of the Vue comes with the same engine that's in the XR, but with the added goodness of a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, and the TapShift feature as standard.

In sum
Our 2008 Saturn Vue XR came with a base price tag of $26,270, to which we added $2,145 for the navigation system; $1,075 for the Premium package (leather trim and heated seats); $505 for the Convenience package (rain-sensing wipers, remote vehicle start, heated windshield washers); and $325 for the upgraded sound system. With destination charge, our silver pearl review model rang up at a very reasonable $30,945. With this kind of money to spend, potential buyers might consider the 2007 Honda CR-V or the Mazda CX-7 neither of which deliver the same level of performance or interior tech. Those wanting comparable features with comparable performance could drop an extra eight grand on a loaded 2008 Subaru Tribeca. Overall, we are impressed with the Saturn Vue XR, which muscles its way into a crowded segment with admirable performance, a well-equipped cabin, and a competitive price tag.


2008 Saturn Vue XR

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 8Performance tech 8Design 8


Trim levels XRAvailable Engine GasBody style SUV