The 2009 Saturn Vue Hybrid sports some mighty fine fuel economy ratings for its size -- 28 combined mpg evokes economy cars, not 3,800-pound compact SUVs. But the Vue Hybrid's MSRP starts at about $28,000, which is thousands more than the base price of a Honda CR-V or a four-cylinder Toyota RAV4. To its credit, the Vue Hybrid is nicely equipped, boasting such upscale standard features as alloy wheels and automatic climate control, and buyers will also likely benefit from a federal tax credit. Nonetheless, the Vue Hybrid's 4-5 mpg edge over its rivals may not seem significant enough to justify spending all that extra cash.
Though a more complex "two-mode" Vue Hybrid is promised for the near future, the current model continues to shares its mild hybrid technology with the Aura Hybrid sedan and its corporate cousin, the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. Unlike the more complex systems found in the Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota's various hybrid vehicles, the Vue Hybrid's small electric motor provides negligible assistance during acceleration and is incapable of powering the Vue by itself. Instead, the electric motor's primary purpose is to restart the gas engine when it shuts down at a stop. Most of the Vue Hybrid's fuel savings derive from the gas you're not burning when the Vue is stationary. These savings are remarkable, though -- the Vue Hybrid betters the conventional four-cylinder Vue by 6 mpg, whereas the Aura Hybrid manages just 2 extra mpg.
Beyond its green credentials, the Vue Hybrid features solid road manners, plenty of standard equipment and a high-quality interior. However, it's hampered by a mere 56 cubic feet of maximum cargo space -- the segment-leading RAV4 boasts 73, and most other compact SUVs are at least in the 60s. There's also no all-wheel-drive option. In other words, the 2009 Saturn Vue Hybrid is an SUV that doesn't haul a lot of stuff and can't go off-road, a combination that doesn't exactly set our pants afire.
The Vue Hybrid seems mired in a no-car's land between conventional four-cylinder small crossover SUVs and the Ford Escape Hybrid (and its Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute siblings). The traditional four-cylinder SUVs are cheaper and still reasonably fuel-efficient, while the "full" hybrid Escape yields 32 combined mpg, produces fewer emissions and don't cost that much more. If you're sold on the Vue but want to burn as little gas as possible, the Vue Hybrid makes perfect sense. Otherwise, the above-mentioned models will likely serve you better.
The 2009 Saturn Vue Hybrid is a compact crossover SUV available in one trim level. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry, cruise control, full power accessories, automatic climate control, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, OnStar and a six-speaker stereo with single-CD/MP3 player, auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio.
The Comfort and Convenience package adds rain-sensing wipers, heated mirrors and windshield washer nozzles, an eight-way power driver seat and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Premium Trim package adds leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped shift knob and heated front seats. Other options include a sunroof and a six-CD changer.
The Vue Hybrid sports the kind of high-grade materials one expects to find in European cars, which makes sense given that the Vue is essentially a rebadged Opel Antara from GM's European division. Controls are simple and well marked, and an array of chrome-accented round shapes, from the gauges to the air vents and climate controls, lends a sense of style that's rare in this segment. Brushed-aluminum accents on the steering wheel, door panels, parking brake and shift knob add to the upscale ambience.
Front seat comfort is generally adequate, though some folks may find the seat cushions a bit short and the seats somewhat lacking in lumbar support. The comfy second-row seats recline and offer decent legroom. There are no prominent battery packs or other components to impinge on interior room, but the Vue Hybrid still musters just 56 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, which isn't much for an SUV.
The 2009 Saturn Vue Hybrid is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that produces 172 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. A small electric motor provides a smidgen of extra help during acceleration, but its primary role is to restart the engine after it automatically shuts off at a stop. Energy normally lost during braking is recouped by the Vue Hybrid's regenerative braking system. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard, and the Vue Hybrid comes only with front-wheel drive.
Fuel economy estimates are 25 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined.
Don't expect brisk acceleration from the 2.4-liter four-cylinder, as it's saddled with 3,800 pounds -- that's some serious poundage for a compact SUV. Also, don't be alarmed when the engine shuts itself off at stoplights. The ride is soft, but the 2009 Saturn Vue Hybrid never feels floaty and soaks up bumps with assurance. On the downside, the Vue Hybrid's electric power-assist system feels numb and imprecise.
The Vue Hybrid comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, active front head restraints and OnStar. In government crash tests, the 2009 Saturn Vue Hybrid achieved a perfect five stars for both frontal and side-impact protection. Likewise, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Vue its highest rating of "Good" in side and frontal-offset crash tests.
The 2009 Saturn Vue Hybrid loses last year's "Green Line" moniker but is otherwise unchanged.