Pluto May be Gone, But Saturn Has a New Star
Although today’s Saturn is no longer the independent division it once was, its new leader is anything but business as usual. Wielding a bold vision and a sense of style that would make the Fab Five proud, Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak and her team have created the Aura, an elegant and refined family sedan intent on luring import buyers back to the “Made in America” label. Spawned from an Opel platform, the Aura displays the strength and drivability of a fine European sport sedan with a uniquely American interior that is hand’s down the best looking piece of automotive art these Botox battered eyes have seen in quite some time. The Aura’s interior is also the product of feminine know-how, wrestled away from the bean-counter types who think that drab interior plastics are as aesthetically acceptable as the clip-on tie.
From the outside, the Aura can easily be mistaken for a new Volkswagen or even an Acura. The wonderful overall fit and finish should have no problem satisfying those accustomed to Honda and Toyota products. The Aura’s clean lines are neatly outfitted with tasteful chrome accents and capped by large jeweled headlamps up front and brilliant red LED tail lights in the rear. Even the side repeaters have a jewelry-like quality.
The Aura’s interior delights the senses, especially when bedecked in luscious Moroccan Brown leather. Realistic faux wood trim is surrounded by high quality soft touch plastic on the dash, armrest and center console creating an upscale interior far superior to anything found in Pontiac’s G6 or Chevrolet’s Malibu. Standard amenities are numerous and include front and rear side-curtain airbags, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power windows and door locks, an AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 player and a power driver’s seat.
Thanks in part to the optional power adjustable pedals, the driving position is near perfect and the comfortable seats offer plenty of support for this long-legged gal (even in six-inch heels). Logically laid out and easy to operate controls complement the 240-watt sound system, which rivals some high-end stereos in sound quality and clarity. At night, soft orange lighting fills the cabin from the steering-wheel mounted controls to the backlit door pulls to the ceiling-mounted projectors that illuminate the console shifter. It’s like Paris at night (the city, not the tramp).
The Aura is offered in two trims: XE and XR. The XE trim features a 224-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 teamed to a four-speed automatic, while the pricier XR receives a 252-horsepower, dual-overhead cam V6 mated to a six-speed automatic with a manual shift mode that includes steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. After driving both trims I can safely say most people will be perfectly happy with the XE. The engine pulls strongly and the four-speed automatic actually felt more responsive during passing maneuvers than its six-speed sibling.
Those who have an ear for fine mechanics and less engine noise will want to opt for the XR, which also accelerates a bit quicker yet achieves nearly identical fuel economy figures. There’s also the XR’s standard StabiliTrak stability control, which is a marvelously ingenious feature designed to help overzealous driver’s keep control of their vehicles. It’s a shame GM can’t adapt the technology to work with my eye liner and mascara brush! Conservationists will be happy with the Aura’s fuel economy figures, which the EPA rates as 21 city/29 highway for the XE and 20 city/28 highway for the more powerful XR. Next Spring, the Aura Hybrid will be available, so if fuel economy is your first and foremost concern, I suggest you wait for its debut.
As for the Aura’s overall ride and handling qualities, I can safely say they rival, and in some cases surpass, those of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. A return to a hydraulic rack and pinion steering setup (it’s electronically assisted on other GM cars) provides a nicely-weighted steering wheel with good feed back and positive on center feel. The Aura’s exact steering takes the car where you tell it without the vague feel that leaves you second guessing if you’re going to clear the curb (or worse yet, the $250,000 Lamborghini that just cut you off.) The compliant yet firm ride displays little lean or roll and the cabin is thoroughly isolated from the outside world, allowing passengers to converse normally even when cruising at 75 mph.
There is, however, a bit of vinegar in the punch bowl, for as good as the Aura appears at first glance, the car has no long-term data. That means it’s anyone’s guess as to how well the Aura will hold up over time and, more importantly, how well it will holds value. Compounding matters are the Korean cars, the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, which also post lower resale values than the Camry and Accord but cost thousands less up front. With an MSRP of $20,959 for the XE and $24,595 for the XR, the Aura offers no such bargain. On the other hand, the Aura’s sophisticated styling and attention to detail make it a desirable alterative to the more generic imports and that may be enough for many Saturn loyalists itching to come home.
Saturn is a gay-friendly company.
Read other Saturn reviews by Gaywheels.com’s writers