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NEW CLASS LEADER

Elegant, sporty Saturn sedan rivals top upscale imports

By Bruce W. Smith for GCN

With all the financial troubles at General Motors, there’s one bright spot emerging from the most unlikely of brands within the corporate automotive giant—Saturn.

Once perceived as the brand to go to for an entry-level car, Saturn has suddenly taken on the role of leadership in quality, style and performance at GM. The Saturn Vue SUV and Sky roadster lead the way earlier this year. Now the Aura, which will be in dealers by mid-August, hits the road.

The front-wheel-driven 2007 Aura four-door is a sleek, spacious, sporty mid-size sedan aimed at taking a bite out of Toyota Camry and Honda Accord sales.

Our recent test drive in two Aura offerings—the entry level XE ($20,595) and upscale XR ($24,595)—revealed the newest example of little Saturn taking a big swing at the top-selling imports is right on the mark.

VERY ATTRACTIVE LINES

Everything about the Aura exudes a certain richness and elegant styling from the outside. In fact, it exudes a much more European style more akin to what you’d see in a BMW than what we’ve come to expect from GM cars in the last couple decades.

The car looks muscular, yet elegantly expensive.

The wheels are pushed out to the very corners, the body is thick, the roof very flowing, the chrome trim bright but not overpowering, and the lights integrated into smooth corners. Best of ll, the gaps between body panels are tight, giving the car the looks of precision craftsmanship.

“The bold, sophisticated design of the Aura represents another step in Saturn’s revitalization,” said Jill Lajdziak, Saturn general manager.

“This is a fun-to-drive sport sedan that will appeal both to current Saturn owners and to those who have never considered shopping at one of our retail stores.”

ECONOMICAL POWER

But it takes more than a stylish exterior to sell. Mid-size German and Japanese sedans the Aura is competing against are known for two things: power and fuel economy. The Aura also has both.

The base model XE is equipped with the 224hp 3.5L V6 with a four-speed automatic. It has no trouble moving the Aura along briskly an in any type of traffic—and doing so economically. The EPA figures are 20 city/29 highway, which are the same numbers as the V6-equipped Camrys and Accords.

Those looking for even more sportiness to their sedan will love the Aura XR with its 252hp 3.6L V6 and six-speed automatic. Yes, a six-speed.

The all-new Hydra-Matic 6T70 six-speed automatic transmission found in the Aura XR is the first use of what is said to be a very important addition to the GM Powertrain portfolio. The transmission provides strong performance combined with equally strong fuel efficiency (20 city / 28 hwy).

Those wanting a sports-car-like driving experience need only shift the selector into “M” and use the steering wheel-mounted “paddles” to manually control the up/down shifts. Shifts this way are not lightening fast, but they provide rewarding amount of driver input when those twisty roads beckon a more exuberant driving style.

The Aura’s chassis and suspension design accommodate that driving style with aplomb. The car, in either trim, is one of the better handling and riding mid-size sedans on the road.

RICH INTERIOR  

Saturn Aura designers have done a splendid job of making the interior of the new sedan look and feel like a much more expensive car.

Premium materials with low-gloss appearance and tight tolerances throughout exhibit excellent fit and finish, while unique color combinations for the trim and upholstery exude contemporary style.

An interior trim piece flows across the instrument panel and wraps around onto the door panels, giving the Aura a very neat integrated appearance.

The center console is simple in design, yet somehow fits the overall look of the interior. Cloth or leather the car is quite comfortable whether sitting in front or back.

Speaking of comfortable, if you love leather don’t even hesitate ordering the optional ($100) Morocco Brown interior. It’s worth every dollar above the $800 premium leather upgrade package.

Add in a host of class-leading safety features found in the new Aura and you have a very strong competitor for the top-selling imports.

Our take overall: Other brands at GM should be following Saturn’s lead-and the imports should take heed that this little GM brand is on a fast track to the top. This Aura is a good one. –Bruce W. Smith 

(Don’t miss our review of the all-new Saturn Sky Redline coming next month.)