Due to its anonymous styling, middle-of-the-road performance and cut-rate cabin, Saturn's L-Series, the company's previous midsize family car entry, was never a favorite of ours. (And based on sales figures, nor would it seem to have been a favorite of the general public.) But Saturn's fortunes in the midsize sedan market are changing. For the 2007 model year, it's releasing its new Aura, and this one finally looks to be a car that you'll want to take a look at.
As is the case with most General Motors products, the 2007 Saturn Aura's mechanical underpinnings are similar to those used in other models. In the Aura's case, it uses a stretched version of the "Epsilon" platform that's also employed for the Pontiac G6 and Chevrolet Malibu Maxx. The Aura is front-wheel drive and features a MacPherson strut front suspension and a four-link independent rear suspension design.
For the outside, Saturn chose to give the Aura a European look. The car's chiseled physique draws inspiration from some Opel products (a European-only GM division), while the cabin has an upscale ambiance never before seen in a Saturn. Further differentiating the Aura from its other GM relatives is the Aura Green Line, GM's first hybrid passenger car ever.
Saturn sees the Aura as a sport sedan, so even base models get 17-inch wheels as standard, while the sportier XR model wears 18s. Two of the three powertrains offered in the Aura merit special mention. The spirited 3.6-liter V6 in the XR is the same mill used in the Cadillac CTS and comes with a six-speed automatic transmission that's not available in the Caddy. The Green line hybrid version makes the Aura one of the few cars in this segment available with that gas-sipping technology, though in real-world testing we've found its increases in fuel economy to be middling.
Overall, the 2007 Saturn Aura looks to be one of the more interesting midsize sedans available for 2007. With strengths including a balanced approach to ride and handling, upscale styling, a classy cabin and generous safety features, this is a Saturn that's finally competitive against the leaders in the midsize family sedan segment.
Three trim levels are offered for the 2007 Saturn Aura midsize sedan. The base XE comes with 17-inch wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories and a stereo with a CD player and auxiliary input jack. The XR is more of a luxury sport sedan, as it includes 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, a power driver seat, a six-disc CD changer, heated front seats, remote vehicle start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Notable options include power-adjustable pedals, a four-panel panoramic sunroof, two-tone "Moroccan" leather trim and XM Satellite Radio. The Green Line is the hybrid version, and other than having 16-inch wheels (versus 17s) its equipment level mirrors that of the XE.
With a cabin that's 3 inches longer than that of the already roomy Pontiac G6 and Malibu Maxx platform mates, the Aura treats rear passengers to a lavish amount of space. Quality materials and a pleasing mix of simulated wood and metallic accents give the cabin an upscale ambiance, while acoustic glass for the windshield and front windows contributes to the serenity. The optional four-panel panoramic sunroof provides a larger than normal opening when retracted and a see-through roof when it's closed.
The mainstream Aura, the XE, comes with a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 224 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque and it's coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission. The upscale XR comes with a 3.6-liter, DOHC V6 that sends its 252 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed automatic that can be shifted manually via paddles behind the steering wheel. The 2007 Aura Green Line has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor; together, they make 164 hp and 159 lb-ft of torque. A four-speed automatic comes standard on the Green Line. Fuel economy estimates range from 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway for the XR to 28/35 mpg for the Green Line.
Given the 2007 Saturn Aura's European roots -- the car's chassis is also used for the Saab 9-3 -- you'd expect capable and confident handling, and that's what it provides. Minimal body roll and a smooth, hushed highway ride make the Aura a great long-distance companion. Thankfully, the Aura uses hydraulic power steering that provides more feedback and a more linear feel than the fussy electric power-assist units used in its GM cousins.
With the 3.6-liter V6, acceleration is strong and smooth at any speed -- with six gears to choose from, the power is always on tap. GM's workhorse 3.5-liter V6 provides respectable punch as well, along with excellent fuel economy.
The Green Line hybrid is a disappointment. Unlike its competitors, the Aura Green Line can't run solely on electric power while in the city or in rush hour traffic, thus hurting its mileage potential. In an Edmunds.com comparison test, the Green Line was the slowest to 60 mph and averaged just 26 mpg, compared to figures in the low 40s for the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima hybrids.
Standard safety features for all 2007 Saturn Auras include four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, the OnStar emergency communications system, front seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Stability control is standard on the XR and Green Line but not available on the XE.
Saturn takes a leap upmarket with the handsome and athletic Aura midsize sedan. Based on the same platform used for the Pontiac G6 sedan, the new-for-2007 Saturn Aura features a powerful engine lineup as well as a more upscale cabin. A hybrid version debuts later in the model year.