Monday, April 16, 2007

Saturn Vue Green Line: A Hybrid For the Masses?

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A few months ago we bought a new car. During our search, we heavily considered a hybrid, but had trouble finding one that was both large enough for our growing family and priced within reason. I have always been a supporter of fuel efficient vehicles, but found it discouraging that the models on the market didn't fit the needs of the average American family. Saturn has found a way to fix that with the Vue Green Line Hybrid, which combines ample space for tots and their associated gear and a sticker price that won't force you to sell off a kid just to pay for it.

On a Tuesday morning, two guys from GM hand delivered a Silver 2007 Vue to my front door. The car looked pretty nice. Unfortunately, the delivery men did not. They were a bit surly and couldn't answer the few basic questions I had about the vehicle. They did help me transfer my stroller and car seat, though. Luckily, Sam was at Jesus school, so I had a some time to spend online getting info on the Vue. I found that the SUV gets an EPA estimated 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 32 miles per gallon on the highway, and has a base price of $23,495. When I played the 'Build Your Own' game and tricked it all out with a sunroof, heated seats, and satellite radio, it still only came in at $26, 750.

One way Saturn has managed to keep the shock off the sticker is by using a simpler version of hybrid motors that are already on the market. In the Vue, the battery assisted motor only kicks in when the car is at a stand still, or when you need a boost to pass another vehicle. Because of this, the battery packs are much smaller than other hybrid models. On the plus side, they take up almost no storage space in the car, but on the negative side, the car cannot run solely on battery power. This is also why the Vue has lower economy ratings than the other hybrid SUVs on the market. The battery also supplies power to the radio, lights and air conditioning when the gas engine isn't running. One piece of information the GM guys could have provided that would have made my driving experience more pleasant is that there is a small green button inside the vehicle that, when pressed, also economized the AC. I wasn't aware that this feature was on, and I found it mildly annoying that the AC cut out every time I came to a red light. Otherwise, my first day of driving was a satisfying one.

The Vue drives like a normal vehicle in most circumstances. It was only slightly noticeable that the gasoline engine stopped when at an intersection. The transition from gas to battery that occurred when going down hill was the only thing I found a little alarming. When the system would switch to battery charging, I noticed a slight deceleration. After a while, I got used to it. The standard stereo was fine, although if I were purchasing one, I would probably go for the upgrade. There was plenty of room in both the front and back seats for passengers, baby and miscellaneous stuff. There was less room in the trunk area than I would have liked, but I drive a looooooong station wagon and can fit three strollers in my cargo space, so I'm a little biased. SOB sat in the driver's seat as well, and he said that he was impressed that it drove like a normal car. Being on the tall side, he also appreciated the extra head room, especially when loading Sam in and out of the back seat.

At the end of the week, the GM guys came right back to my front door and took the car. Again, they could have used a touch more charm, but I can't really complain about door-to-door service. I'm glad that Saturn is making a car that has some environmental conscience, and a price that won't send most people running for the hills. Knowing that GM has the capacity to manufacture a car that runs entirely on electric power, it's a little disconcerting that we're not able to move further in that direction. However, I read somewhere that future models will have even better fuel economy ratings, so there is hope. This car is a great way to help spread the hybrid mentality to as many people as possible.

And? I got a free car for a week!

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