2007 Saturn Vue Greenline Road Test
Is it possible to build a reasonably priced crossover vehicle with a hybrid powerplant?
The folks at Saturn say, Yes, and they believe they are proving it with the recently introduced Vue Green Line.
On the surface, they surely have met their goal. They have taken a front-wheel-drive Vue, replaced its standard four-cylinder gasoline engine with General Motors mild hybrid powerplant and put it on the market at a starting price of $23,370.
That represents only about a $2,000 premium over a similarly equipped, conventionally powered four-cylinder Vue, and it is nearly $4,000 less than a similar Ford Escape with full hybrid power.
Mild hybrid power? Full hybrid power? Whats the difference?
Both employ a gasoline engine and an electric motor but the mild hybrid does not have all of the fuel saving features or complications (a.k.a. higher cost) of a full hybrid. The primary difference is that the mild hybrid cannot operate on its electric motor alone.
The Vue Green Line employs a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and a relatively small motor/generator rated at 19 horsepower to generate a total of 170 horsepower, 27 more than the Vues standard 2.2-liter, 143-horsepower engine..
The electric motor gives the gasoline engine a boost during acceleration and restarts it after automatic engine shut-off at traffic stops. Gasoline is saved and exhaust pollution is reduced through the engine shut-down and fuel cut-off during deceleration.
Also during deceleration, the electric motor reverses itself and become an electrical generator, helping to slow the vehicle down and replenish the vehicles 14.5 kW nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
The battery pack in the Vue has a meager output compared to the batteries in full hybrids in Ford and Toyota products.
Thats why the Vue Green Line cannot operate on electric power alone and why it will not shut down at traffic stops if the air conditioner and/or windshield defogger is on. On the other hand, the smaller battery pack fits beneath the cargo floor and does not steal valuable space.
The Vue Green Lines fuel efficiency is rated by the EPA at 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the open road, officially beating the gasoline-powered Vue by 5 mpg in both categories.
In real-world driving, which included suburban jaunts and two 150-mile trips, both interrupted by lengthy stop-and-go traffic jams, I averaged between 23 and 28 miles per gallon of regular fuel. Had I been driving a conventional Vue, Im certain that my fuel-mileage figures would also have dropped significantly below its EPA numbers.
To keep modifications at a minimum, thereby saving costs, Saturn retained the standard four-speed automatic shifter instead of opting for a more responsive and frugal continuously variable transmission.
I found it to be poorly matched to the hybrid powerplant in certain situations.
Acceleration from a stop was modestly acceptable, and the Vue was able to cruise comfortably at highway speeds. But if a spurt of power was needed on a hill or in a passing situation the response from the engine compartment was, well, weak and belated.
When the transmission would finally agree to step down a gear, the difference in ratios was so great that the response was a noisy surge in engine speed with little corresponding change in vehicle speed.
Another cost-saving oddity was the near lack of any instrumentation to let the driver know when he was conserving fuel, or that he was even in a hybrid. A small ECO sign located on the lower left side of the dashboard lights up green when the powerplant is functioning frugally. Its not conveniently placed and doesnt show up well when the driver is wearing sunglasses.
Other than that, and a few Hybrid tags on the outside of the Vue, the only evidence of hybrid power was a dashboard gauge that showed when the special battery pack was taking a charge and when it was supplying power to the electric motor.
To be fair, it should be noted that the Vues days are numbered. Its introduction dates all the way back to October of 2000 and its replacement is expected next year based on the PreVue crossover vehicle unveiled at the New York International Automobile Show. Perhaps changes are coming that will better integrate the hybrid powerplant into the new vehicle.
Saturn general manager Jill Lajdziak says Saturn plans to be a leader in hybrid technology so it seems certain that the Vue I drove is more of a first step than a final destination.
On a positive note, the Vue feels solid, supplies a comfortable ride, handles reasonably well and is a manageable size for people who spend a lot of time in urban settings.
It also has room for up to five adults, a 30.8-cubic-foot cargo compartment that can be expanded to 63.8 cubic feet by folding the rear seatbacks forward and a lot of standard amenities.
Included in the base price are air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, remote keyless entry, steering wheel controls for the sound system and an inside rear-view mirror with automatic dimming, compass and temperature gauge.
Standard safety features on the Vue, which has a five-star government crash test rating, include crumple zone construction, dual front airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, one year of the OnStar emergency communications system and daytime running lights. Side-curtain airbags are optional.
The only option on the test vehicle was a leather appointments package for $775. Add the $625 delivery charge and the total comes to $23,750.
The Vue Green Line is not the answer to everyones transportation needs, but it will work well as an economical suburban and urban workhorse for delivering kids, picking up groceries and a host of other chores associated with the growing family.