For years, Saturn built mundane cars that looked and felt -- for lack of a better word -- cheap. Its midsize family sedans were no exception. Not too long ago, rumors swirled regarding the demise of the brand. But the opposite has happened. General Motors has hooked Saturn up to the rejuvenation machine, and the brand is in the process of reinventing itself and moving upscale in style, performance and features.
The new Saturn Aura is a cornerstone of the Saturn turnaround. The euro-influenced Aura has a distinctly sporty edge in both design and performance. And after years of bringing up the rear in the midsize sedan market, Saturn finally has a true competitor.
Current Saturn Aura
Available in two trim levels -- XE and XR -- the Saturn Aura is one of the more distinct midsize sedans on the market. It is built on a stretched version of General Motors' "Epsilon" platform, and has a surprising amount of legroom in the rear seats.
In fact, there are many things that will surprise buyers, including the Saturn Aura's excellent design sensibility. The cabin is nicely styled with just the right amount of (faux) wood trim or metallic accents. And to show how far Saturn has come, there are two sunroof options, including a four-panel panoramic sunroof.
The attitude isn't just skin deep. Both Saturn Aura trim levels are equipped with strong V6 engines and sporty features and equipment. The XE trim comes with 17-inch wheels (alloy wheels are available as an option) and a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 224 hp. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard. Air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, StabiliTrak stability control, traction control and a six-speaker audio system with CD player and auxiliary input for digital music players also come standard.
The XR gets a more powerful 3.6-liter V6 engine, which bumps power up to 252 hp. The standard transmission is a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, two words that you would never have thought could be associated with Saturn vehicles. But this is a different era for the company. Other standard features on the XR include 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, a power driver seat, heated front seats and a premium stereo with eight speakers and a six-CD changer. Interestingly enough, a navigation system is not available with the Aura, even as an option.
In reviews, our editors found the Saturn Aura matched up well with other cars in its class. In many areas, it runs at the front of the low-$20,000 midsize market. The pickup from both V6 engines is strong, but especially so in the 252-hp XR. The Aura offers a nice balance of tight, precise handling characteristics and comfort. The XR is even more of a treat to drive, thanks to its smooth, even power band and agile chassis. Steering is well weighted and road noise is low.
Our editors' one serious bit of criticism regards the XE's four-speed automatic tranny, which was found to be poorly suited to the base engine. The six-speed automatic in the Aura XR, however, is wonderful. Other complaints were limited to nitpicking interior fit and finish, a reminder that, while the Aura is miles ahead of previous Saturn offerings, there are still some things that could use more attention.