The Relay is Saturn's first minivan and it marks a kind of departure for the carmaker. Since the brand's introduction, GM has billed Saturn as "a different kind of car company" and for the most part it has stayed true to that formula. The Relay is Saturn's first all-steel paneled vehicle, and it's not going to be the brand's last. Saturn is calling the Relay a crossover sport van, but really it's a minivan that shares most of its mechanical components with other GM vans. Saturn hopes to capture buyers who want the versatility of a minivan but prefer the rugged looks of an SUV. With its simple styling, the Relay stays true to the Saturn formula. More upscale-looking than other Saturns, the company's van offers plenty of luxury along with the expected versatility. Seat-mounted side airbags for front- and second-row occupants are optional for 2006, certainly a worthwhile addition, although many competitors now offer three-row airbag coverage.
Inside, the Saturn Relay seats seven, and the fold-flat third-row seat offers a 50/50 split, allowing families to carry a mix of passengers and cargo. The interchangeable overhead console works on a rail system that allows owners to move, rearrange or add storage components as they see fit. In addition to the standard rear DVD entertainment system, the Relay is available with a 40-gigabyte PhatNoise mobile digital media system that allows owners to store and play thousands of MP3s and/or several dozen movies. We're not entirely sold on the whole "crossover sport van" concept. To our eyes, the Relay looks more like a minivan with a really big and flat front end. Subjective styling issues aside, the 2006 Saturn Relay offers budding families a myriad of interior features and solid overall competence, but still doesn't match the driving dynamics, conveniences or safety features of the best-in-class minivans.
The Saturn Relay comes in one size and two trim levels, Relay 2 and Relay 3. Standard Relay 2 amenities include power windows, mirrors and locks; air conditioning; an eight-speaker sound system with a MP3-capable CD player; a rear-seat DVD entertainment system; the OnStar communications system; cruise control; and keyless entry. The Relay 3 adds rear air conditioning, a power driver seat, alloy wheels and upgraded storage. An all-wheel-drive system is available, and is bundled with a rear load-leveling suspension. Other noteworthy options include the PhatNoise portable 40-gig digital media system, a remote vehicle startup system, a 115-volt AC outlet, dual power-sliding side doors, rear park assist, XM Satellite Radio, leather seating and a sport-tuned suspension.
The Saturn Relay seats seven, and the fold-flat third-row seat offers a 50/50 split. A pleasing two-tone color scheme with faux wood accents dramatically brightens the interior atmosphere of the van. Folding center trays (with cupholders) between the first- and second-row seats are available. An overhead rail system provides rear-seat access to climate and entertainment functions, and can be outfitted with various storage containers. Springing for the PhatNoise digital media system saves you the hassle of juggling DVDs on road trips, while an optional remote vehicle start system makes it easy to warm up the van on cold mornings.
The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V6 that makes 200 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque. A 3.9-liter V6 with 240 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque is optional on the Relay 3, but only on the front-wheel-drive version. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard.
The standard V6 power plant is down on power compared to its competitors, so we recommend you opt for the stouter 3.9-liter V6. The Saturn Relay's suspension is on the soft side, yielding a smooth ride and average handling for this class. Upgrading to the optional sport suspension does provide more responsive handling, though maneuverability in tight spaces is still compromised by the van's large turning radius. Braking capability is average among minivans.
All Relay models come standard with four-wheel antilock disc brakes. Side-impact airbags for first- and second-row occupants are optional, but there's no protection for passengers seated in the third row. The StabiliTrak stability control system is available when the Relay is equipped with the optional Safety and Touring packages. The NHTSA gives the 2006 SaturnRelay a five-star rating (out of a possible five) for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal crashes. For side-impact crashes, the Relay earned four stars for protection of front occupants and five stars for the rear occupants. In frontal-offset crash testing conducted by the IIHS, Saturn's minivan earned a "Good" rating (the highest).
Second-row side-impact airbags are newly optional. A power passenger-side sliding door is now standard on the Relay 3, along with first-row side airbags and traction control. An optional 3.9-liter V6, rated at 240 horsepower, is new for 2006.