New Truck Review '04 Saturn VUE Red Line
A 250hp, 242-lb-ft, Five-passenger AWD Sport TruckReaction Time
Likes: monster grip in the corners on wet, dry, or crumbling pavement; balanced handling, great road feel, good brakes; fun balance of performance and fuel economy; roomy with sporting interior styling; comfortable seats with firm side support; generally not fans of green, but this color works on the VUE Red Line
Dislikes: plastic interior trim

Compared with a fullsize pickup, this '04 Saturn VUE Red Line midsize ute test unit feels like a Miata. It's tossable, catchable, and very well-balanced. You can hang it out past the limits of the tire's grip and it still behaves with no unexpected moves. And it's got enough power to make it fun to drive. Even on our test loop, a twisting two-lane that jumps to 7,000-feet in less than 10 miles, it had enough power reserve to accelerate adequately in the thin air. The VUE Red Line's 0-60-mph time of 8.2 seconds doesn't classify it as a road rocket, but it's still quick enough to move through traffic with confidence.

The tuners at Saturn put together a great package with grippy tires backed with shock rates, spring rates, and roll bar rates tuned to provide terrific control over most roads and speeds you're likely to encounter or generate on the street. We were impressed by how well the suspension package controlled body motion and roll rates, even when we threw it through a set of serious switch backs, but was still compliant enough to keep the tires stuck on the road in a variety of road surfaces and speeds. The spring rates and rear weight bias give a very good ride. We appreciated how it swallows expansion chamber chop with near sedan-like ride quality on California freeways. It's very good for a sport-tuned suspension.

The steering wheel features thumb detents and good-quality leather with interesting stitching. The rim is a substantial size, letting your hand feel the sensitive and precise steering. A good amount of vibration comes through, letting you know what the tires are doing. Though we concede that some of the steering sensitivity comes at the cost of a higher level of road noise.

The VUE Red Line's AWD system gives this SUV amazing grip. In loose, off-camber, switch-back turns that usually gets inside wheels of even good LSDs spinning wildly, this driveline grabbed the traction up front and to the outside and squirted off the corner. It didn't have to delay picking up the throttle at all.

This test unit's brakes were surprisingly good. Our test loop runs up and down a series of switch backs with one of the steepest climbs in the lower 48. It's a good loop to push brakes to the limit. We had to really drive hard into the corners, late-braking on the downhill portion of the loop to get the brakes to fade.

The only nits we have to pick with the VUE Red Line is the quality of the plastic interior trim; not the overall design, but the materials choice. The layout and styling elements of the dash and interior space is smart, efficient, and fun. It's just the plastic looks too much like, well, plastic. Other than that, we have a high opinion of the unit. It surprised us with good performance, fun style, and lots of attention on the road. The VUE Red Line should be top on the list for a snowboarder or other action-sports hero without the wallet for an X5 or SRX.

Year/make/model: '04 Saturn VUE Red Line V-6 AWD
Base price: $24,055 (not including DFCof $575 or Red Line package)
Price as tested: N/A
Vehicle type: midsize, 4-door sport utility; front-engine, transverse-mount, front-wheel-drive, and all-wheel-drive versions Construction: body frame integral
Engine: 3.5L V-6 (L66) aluminum block and heads; DOHC with 4 valves per cylinder
Horsepower: 250 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 242 @ 4,500 rpm
Fuel: reg.
Transmission: MJ8 (AWD) 5-speed electronic automatic
Suspension: F: independent, strut-type with coil springs, antiroll bar. R: independent, trailing arm with three lateral locating links, antiroll bar and coil springs
Wheel: F&R: 18x7.5-inch cast aluminum
Tire: F&R: P245/50SR18 Bridgestone Turanza all-season touring blackwall radial
Brakes: F/R: rear-vented disc/drum with power assist and ABS
Wheelbase (in): 106.6
Length/width/height (in): 181.3/71.5/66.5
Track (in): F: 61; R: 61
Turning circle (curb to curb): 39.4 ft
Curb weight (lbs): 3,630 (wt. dist: 57/43)
Tow rating (lbs): 1,000 without trailer brakes; 3,500 with EPA city/hwy/combined mpg: 19/25/22
Fuel-tank capacity/range: 16.3 gal/350 mi (est.)
Acceleration 0-60: 8.2 secs