By Keith Burton
The Saturn Vue Green Line is such a vehicle. It is among the latest high-tech hybrids that are available for public purchase at your neighborhood Saturn store. The Saturn Vue brings to the table hybrid technology in a lighter, more easier to afford form that many folks will find very appealing. That’s because for just under $24,000 hybrid technology is now available in a truly useful and ulitarian vehicle that has real world use.
The Saturn Vue Green Line is what some would call a “light” hybrid. That is, unlike other hybrid vehicle’s such as the Toyota Prius, the Saturn Vue Green Line cannot run solely on its batteries. Instead, it uses an electrical motor/generator and its battery pack to supplement the power of a small four-cylinder engine with more torque and horsepower to improve mileage. Not a lot, but by a significant measure. What you get is a mid size SUV with fuel use that is a bit more than a regular four cylinder Vue. In real world use, between 25 and 32 mpg for the Green Line as compared to the standard four cylinder’s 22 and 27.
That may not sound like much, but it is significantly better, plus the Vue Green Line comes in as the least expensive hybrid SUV you can buy and you get the panache of owning a hybrid.
There you go. It is the hybrid thing, the technology, that makes the Vue Green Line appealing. True, it doesn’t get 60 mpg, but even the best of the hybrids don’t get their EPA rated numbers. That is mostly due to the way the EPA runs tests. It’s the real world that count. And, yes, the electric drive hybrids do get good fuel mileage, but mostly it is in the low to mid 40’s.
However, you do pay for that pure hybrid technology and you do not get a vehicle that is as affordable and offers as much utility as you do in the Saturn Vue Green Line. Other hybrids can add as much as $4,000 to the price of their regular gasoline engine counterparts. This is money that even with high fuel prices, you cannot recover in the typical ownership cycle of a new vehicle.
What most people buy then is the “idea” of hybrid technology, which is a vehicle that is doing its part to cut fuel consumption, thus, it improves the environment. That is plenty reason enough for people to buy into a hybrid vehicle. And it, like many things in life, this is a matter of scale. You can buy a hybrid with even more technology, and pay for it, or you can go with something a bit less.
The Saturn Vue Green Line is such a vehicle. We think General Motors and Saturn is onto a good thing here, even though the Vue Green Line is not on the high end of hybrid technology. Why? Because they have a version that makes the technology affordable to more people.
The standard Saturn Vue is already a pretty nice light SUV. It has plenty of room for a young family, comes with a lot of attractive features and it is nicely styled. Adding the hybrid element brings the “technology” factor to the table that many folks desire.
The Vue Green Line’s innovative 2.4-liter hybrid powertrain is rated at 170 horsepower, an increase from the 143 hp provided by the 2.2-liter engine in the conventional four-cylinder Vue. This maintains the vehicle’s sporty feel, with acceleration better or equal to many non-hybrid SUVs.
The Vue’s hybrid system reduces fuel consumption by:
Additionally, the system provides additional power from the electric motor/generator during launch, when required. At wide-open throttle, such as during a passing maneuver, the system improves acceleration feel by using the motor/generator to bolster the gasoline engine to achieve maximum power.
The new hybrid system also is designed to automatically maintain full accessory functionality, including climate control, when the vehicle is stopped, so that hybrid operation is transparent to the driver and passengers. The Vue Hybrid allows an appropriate balance between fuel economy and comfort by providing a system with two driver-selectable operating modes. An economy mode favors fuel economy by limiting the affect of air conditioning, while the other mode favors maximum passenger comfort and defogging performance.
We found the system to be nearly transparent in operation. That is, the Vue’s hybrid system works without a lot of bells or whistles telling you what is going on. When you stop, the engine stops. Lift your foot off the brake, and before you can get your foot to the gas pedal, the engine has restarted and is ready to go. Many passengers, even unknowing drivers, were not even aware that the engine had shut down at the stop light. The engine start and stop feature is nearly silent and the vehicle doesn’t suffer from any shake, as on some other hybrid systems when their engines are silenced.
A small gauge on the instrument cluster indicates when the batteries are charging and discharging, but that is it. You don’t get any gee-whiz TV displays of the technology, like on the Toyota Prius. That lack of display is a downside for some techno freaks, but not having to watch a video game of what your hybrid is doing is a plus for paying attention to the road.
One thing you will notice with the Vue Green Line, is the very light steering at low speeds. The electrically powered steering provides a lot of assist in parking and low speed situations, which has the effect of making the Vue Green Line feel light on its feet and very maneuverable. But as speeds increase, the steering stiffens up and feels very normal. Keep in mind that this is no sports car, so steering feel is lacking a bit. But you will get used to it, and maybe, even like the way it drives.
The rest of the Saturn Green Line is pretty much like other small SUVs. You have lots of room inside, good visibility and carrying capability that such a vehicle has to offer.
We also found that the fit and finish inside and out better than in past GM vehicles. The plastics have a better sheen and texture, and the colors matched. Overall, the Saturn Vue Green Line feels and drives like a quality product.