A hybrid family sedan has never been so affordable. True, the Saturn Aura Greenline is not a full hybrid on the order of a Toyota Camry hybrid or a Nissan Altima hybrid, but it does get respectable fuel economy and it does have enough features to make it an excellent value.
Sure, you can get a Toyota Prius for about the same price. If you like its funky look and smaller size, you will be rewarded with best-in-class fuel economy and they're even discounting the price on them these days. But, if you want a nice conventional sedan with plenty of room and a great ride, the Aura Greenline is your ticket. Let's take a closer look.
We had an Aura Greenline waiting for us at the Atlanta Airport for my wife and I to use for our visit to my wife's family in southern Georgia and Jacksonville Florida, so needless to say, we put plenty of miles on the car.
Our first impression of the Saturn was its smooth, quiet ride and a very comfortable interior. I knew that the car had a sticker price of just over $22,000, but this car was so well equipped, I thought it must have had a number of options added that would substantially raise that price. A quick check of the window sticker printout showed only one added option package: the $375 Preferred Package which added an 8-way power driver seat adjuster, steering-wheel mounted audio controls and outside heated mirrors. This brought the total price to $23,070 which included the $650 destination charge.
The standard features on this car included an automatic transmission, trip computer, alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, front-side and head airbags, power windows, door locks and mirrors, and even automatic climate control air conditioning. Not at all bad for any mid-sized sedan in this price range, let alone a hybrid sedan.
Now, let's talk about the hybrid part of this car. GM calls this a "Mild Hybrid" as opposed to a full hybrid like the system found on the Camry and Altima hybrid sedans. A mild hybrid system is less expensive to manufacture, but does not provide the full benefits that are available on those other systems. What it does provide is a fuel economy boost of about 20% over the base Aura XE, but that car has a V6 engine while the Aura Greenline has the 4 cylinder powertrain from the Saturn Vue Greenline.
If you compare the Aura Greenline with a non-hybrid Camry, Accord or Altima with a 4-cylinder engine, fuel economy is only marginally better by one or two miles per gallon.
But, EPA ratings of 28 mpg city and 35 mpg highway are nothing to sneeze at for a car as inviting as this Aura and it does carry a federal income tax credit for hybrids of $1,300 which should be counted when you calculate the final cost for the car.
All hybrid vehicles have one thing in common, the ability to recapture the energy lost while braking to slow the vehicle down. A hybrid vehicle uses a process called regenerative braking. This system uses the drag from a motor/generator to slow the car down while recharging a high-voltage battery. Later, the energy stored in that battery is used to power that electric motor/generator to assist the gasoline engine to propel the car, thereby saving fuel.
The Saturn Aura Greenline will save fuel in the following ways:
Shutting off the engine when the vehicle is stopped, to minimize idling
Restarting the engine promptly when the brake pedal is released
Enabling early fuel shut-off during vehicle deceleration
Capturing vehicle kinetic energy during deceleration (regenerative braking) to charge an advanced nickel metal hydride battery
Performing intelligent battery charging when it is most efficient
Performance is typical for a 4-cylinder mid-sized sedan, meaning not at all exciting. Acceleration is adequate for most drivers with a 0 to 60 acceleration blast taking a bit under 10 seconds. The engine sounds like it is trying real hard but the results are a bit underwhelming.
Steering response was very good, but not as good as the top-of-the-line Aura XR with its low profile performance tires mounted on 18 inch wheels. Normally, sharp steering requires low profile tires with short sidewalls, but this will affect ride quality. Given that the Aura Greenline was shod with 16 inch tires that were optimized for fuel efficiency, the tires did a decent job overall, especially when it came to riding comfort and a low road noise levels.
Seat comfort was quite good. In fact, before I started my trip, I was having a problem with some back pain, but the 3 hour drive from the airport corrected the problem quite nicely thank you very much. The rear seat offered plenty of room which came in handy when I piled 3 people back there for a 30 mile trip to my in-laws favorite restaurant. Even my father-in-law, who was almost 6-feet tall was comfortable sitting back there.
Despite the lethargic acceleration, I actually enjoyed driving this car. Since most people who would own this car are more interested in fuel economy than blazing acceleration, I paid particular attention to driving the Aura Greenline smoothly, trying to coax as much fuel economy as I could given the driving conditions.
For the most part, the temperatures in southern Georgia and Florida the week we were there was just shy of the 100 degree mark, so the AC was working pretty hard. With a mixture of highway driving and creeping through small towns in deepest, darkest Georgia, trying to avoid the ever present speed traps (the primary source of income for some of these towns), we averaged 28.8 miles per gallon over about 1000 miles. Not at all bad for a comfortable mid-sized sedan with plenty of room for five.
Trunk space was better than I expected given the location of the hybrid battery. With 13.1 cubic feet of storage area, I was able to get all our luggage in with room to spare (and we don't pack light). The back seat will also fold down with a 60/40 split seatback allowing the trunk to be expanded into the rear seat area, but we never needed to use that feature.
I was disappointed with the fit and finish of the interior. It looked inviting and was comfortable, but on closer inspection, a number of panels just didn't line up quite right. This is a minor detail that most people won't even notice, and it is not something that will affect reliability. I just put it out there because some of Saturn's competitors don't have a hint of these types of quality issues
.GM is up against some hefty competition in this marketplace and they need to get it right in the details as well as the overall vehicle design, which in the case of the Saturn Aura, is right on target.
Standard Equipment (partial list)
2.4 liter 164 horsepower 4 cylinder engine with hybrid assist
4 speed automatic transmission
Four-wheel anti-lock brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Brake Assist
Vehicle Stability Control
Dual front side-mounted airbags
Front and rear head airbags
Tire pressure monitoring
Split folding rear seatback
Remote power door locks
2-way power driver's seat
Tilt and telescopic steering wheel
Automatic climate control air conditioning
Dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors
AM/FM in-dash single CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo with 6 speakers
OnStar telecommunications service, includes hands free phone
Major Available Options
Preferred Package Includes: 8-way power driver seat adjuster, steering-wheel mounted audio controls and outside heated power-adjustable mirrors.
Power glass moonroof
For more information on the Saturn Aura Greenline, visit saturn.com
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