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2007 Saturn Vue Green Line

Saturn's first hybrid vehicle debuts as Vue Green Line

As if there isn't enough debate about gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles already, Saturn adds a new twist in summer 2006 when its first hybrid debuts. The 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line sport utility vehicle offers improved fuel economy over gas-only Vues via a less complicated hybrid system than the one used in Toyota's popular Prius and Ford's Escape Hybrid.
2007 Saturn Vue Green Line

The Vue Green Line also promises to arrive in showrooms with a hybrid price premium of only $1,500 or so over the price of a comparable four-cylinder, gas-only Vue. This could put the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price under $23,000, which is some $4,000 less than the current lowest-priced hybrid SUV, the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid.

"The Vue Green Line is expected to be the lowest-cost hybrid-powered SUV in the market," said Mark LaNeve, vice president of vehicle sales, service and marketing for Saturn's parent company, General Motors Corp. "Its lower price allows us to offer the fuel-saving benefits of hybrids to a wider group of customers."

With production planned to start in July, Saturn officials won't announce final pricing until the summer. But they are talking up the benefits of the Vue's hybrid system, estimating fuel savings at some 20 percent over a gas-only Vue. Specifically, Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak estimated fuel economy of the Vue Green Line at 27 miles a gallon in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway, which compares with 22/27 mpg in a gas-only, four-cylinder-powered, two-wheel-drive Vue with automatic transmission.

Pleasant ride
Consumers won't notice much difference between regular Saturn Vues and the hybrid on the outside. Basically, the Green Line retains the Vue styling, which is neither brutish nor wimpy for a compact SUV. There are some subtle, new openings in the grille for air flow, and new tires that are designed for low rolling resistance. There's also hybrid badging on the side and back.

Remember that all Vues wear dent-resistant, plastic, body side panels. This continues into the hybrid Vue. These body panels can withstand a grocery cart banging into them and dings from adjacent car doors - all without any lasting evidence of damage. Still, because these plastic panels need room to expand in the heat of a sunny summer day, the gaps between some Vue body panels are larger and not as attractive as those found on other vehicles, such as Toyotas and Hondas.

Underneath and inside, the hybrid Vue has most components of the regular Vue, and the Green Line rides about the same as do other Vues. There are mild vibrations over bumps and body sway in high-speed curves. But there's no truckish bounciness.

Driver and passengers have good views over traffic around them because of the Vue's higher ride height. Note, though, that the Vue doesn't sit so high off the pavement that adults have to hoist themselves up to get inside.

Inside, the Vue Green Line has modern-looking audio and ventilation controls, and standard equipment includes remote keyless entry, cruise control and power windows, door locks and outside mirrors.

I just wish the rear seat cushion was updated, too. It's flat, feels thin and doesn't extend far enough to provide the support for my thighs that I like. And I'm 5 feet 4 with short legs.

2006 Saturn Vue Interior

Rear seatbacks are split into one-third and two-thirds sections that fold down to accommodate long cargo items. Cargo space behind the hybrid Vue's second row seats is 30.8 cubic feet, the same as it is in gas-powered Vues. This is different from other hybrids, where a large battery pack is typically stored by the rear seat and impinges on cargo room. But the battery pack in the Vue Green Line is smaller than that of other hybrids - again because it's not designed to power the vehicle all by itself - so there's no reduction in cargo space. There is, however, a weight gain of more than 120 pounds over a gas-powered, four-cylinder Vue.

No all-wheel-drive
There are several ways that the Vue Green Line is simpler than other hybrids already on sale.

For one thing, the Vue Green Line will be the first hybrid SUV available in front-wheel drive only. Officials said there will be no all-wheel-drive offering, as there are for the three current hybrid SUVs on the market. These are the 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX 400h. The front-drive-only choice may limit the appeal of the Vue hybrid to people who aren't interested in four-wheel traction on their SUVs.

System is less complex

While the Vue Green Line uses an electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery pack to supplement a 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower, this Vue cannot run beyond a few short seconds solely on electric power.

Typically, this short electric-only operation comes when the Vue is just starting up from a stop and the gasoline engine is just getting started. This electric-only time is limited because the Vue's hybrid system is designed primarily to supplement the gas engine in acceleration maneuvers, say, when the driver wants to pass another vehicle on the highway. The electric power is not meant to provide propulsion on its own. This means that Saturn didn't have to re-engineer the Vue's powertrain.

Instead, the Vue's electric-drive motor is combined with the vehicle's alternator, which is simpler and less complicated than Toyota's use of two electric motors as well as a planetary gear. The Vue's system includes regenerative brakes that recapture energy when a driver is braking. This energy is stored in the battery pack, where it can be retrieved for electric motor uses. And, because the battery pack doesn't need to provide enough power to propel the vehicle all by itself, it's smaller than expected.

As a result, the rectangular pack sits tidily behind the back seat, under the cargo floor, where it does not impinge on storage space, though in the test Vue Green Line the battery pack looked a bit like it was welded into place in a backyard garage.

Ford and Toyota hybrids also pair gas engines to electric motors and battery packs and include regenerative braking. But these SUVs also can travel for somewhat extended periods on electric power, with the gas engine off, thereby offering more opportunities for fuel savings. As an example, a Highlander Hybrid recently tested traveled down a residential street, all on electric power. And it moved from stop to stop in congested traffic, again, all on electric power.

Like the competitors, the Vue does save gas by turning off the gasoline engine when the vehicle comes to a stop, say, at a stoplight, and the system determines there's no big energy demand, such as high-speed air conditioning, that necessitates that the engine remain on.

In these circumstances, the engine starts automatically when the driver lets up on the brake pedal. And in testing, the Vue hybrid's engine on/off and electric power additions came on smoothly, while in some of the more complex hybrids there has been occasional roughness, a feeling as if the vehicle's about to stall, in transitions.
Measuring fuel savings
Perhaps a more niggling issue for buyers of the Vue Green Line is the fact this SUV doesn't calculate the kind of mileage it's getting. Because the Vue's electronics are old, they do not gather data that would tell a driver if he or she got 25 mpg or 27 mpg or 30 mpg on a trip, according to Larry Nitz, executive director of GM's global hybrid powertrains.

An aftermarket chip or sensor that could tap the vehicle's "communications bus," as Nitz put it, wouldn't get any mileage info, either. This leaves a busy driver to trust that she is getting the fuel savings promised.

Note there is a green "Eco" light that comes on in the dashboard to tell a driver if she is, at that moment, getting better than the official fuel economy rating. But this light operates by reacting to such things as when a driver is coasting and letting up on the gas pedal. It is not tied to any real-time calculating.

The solution for buyers is to manually calculate their miles-per-gallon - a cumbersome and disappointing development in this day when even many non-hybrid cars have electronics that automatically calculate and report fuel mileage.

Vehicle System Overview
Overview of Vehicle System

2007 Saturn Vue Green Line
5-door Hybrid SUV
Fuel Delivery :

Sequential injection with returnless fuel delivery system

106.6 inches
Overall length:
181.3 inches
Engine size:

2.4 DOHC inline 4-cylinder

Hybrid-enabled Hydra-Matic 4T45-E electronically controlled four-speed automatic
Fuel mileage:

27/32 (city/highway)


Under $23,000