Home » The Second-Generation Saturn Vue Lived, Then Died, Then Lived Again: GM Hit Or Miss

The Second-Generation Saturn Vue Lived, Then Died, Then Lived Again: GM Hit Or Miss

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While few cars get to live twice, the vast majority that do so end up going down as icons. The B13 Nissan Sentra gained a second chance in Mexico, the Hillman Hunter became Iran’s Paykan, and license-built examples of the Ford Cortina were the launchpad for a little company you might know as Hyundai Motors. Weirdly, the second-generation Saturn Vue also got a second chance, but instead of putting emerging markets on wheels or launching an industry titan, it simply tried to keep itself afloat. Welcome back to GM Hit or Miss, where we sift through the sands of GM’s pre-bankruptcy product planning to separate the success stories from cars that didn’t meet their marks.

Saturn L Series 1

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In the beginning, there was this car company called Saturn that GM had absolutely no idea what to do with. Huge investment and vast cultural differences allegedly sowed resentment among other GM divisions, and the great Saturn experiment was left adrift somewhere in the ether of bureaucracy. While Saturn didn’t receive any truly unique products after the S-series compacts, a slew of shared-platform cars started trickling in around the dawn of the new millennium. The L-series midsizer was a re-worked Opel Vectra, the Ion shared its bones with the Chevrolet Cobalt, and the Vue was a compact crossover with an architecture eventually shared with the Chevrolet Equinox.

Mk1 Saturn Vue

The first-generation Vue was a great idea with some teething pains — it was a plastic-paneled competitor to the Ford Escape that launched with an unusual powertrain lineup. The 2.2-liter L61 Ecotec four-cylinder engine had guts comparable to jellyfish, and the optional V6 was an insane for no good reason 54-degree three-liter unit borrowed from Opel. While the four-cylinder would eventually get you where you needed to go so long as it was paired with a manual gearbox, the automatic option was an early continuously variable transmission that was seemingly never taught reliability. Numerous NHTSA complaints exist for this transmission (look for ‘3’ or ‘4’ as the sixth VIN digit), many of which cite erratic behavior and high replacement costs.

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Mk1 Saturn Vue 2

Things got better later in the production run, when a Honda J-series V6 was swapped in place of the 54-degree weirdo, the continuously variable transmission was dropped from four-cylinder models, and a hybrid powertrain was offered. However, just a few short years after GM rectified the Vue’s initial problems, it was time to replace the compact crossover with a new one. As you’d probably expect, GM did so in the laziest way possible.

Saturn Vue 1

Remember that Saturn L-series I glossed over earlier? It was a reworked Opel, and GM’s plan for Saturn in the late-aughts was to sneakily disguise Opel products as Saturn’s home cooking, a la steamed hams. The Opel Astra became the Saturn Astra, the Saturn Aura rode on the same platform that underpinned the Opel Vectra, and the second-generation Saturn Vue was a hastily-rebadged Opel Antara. The what?

Opel Antara

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Yeah, in 2006, Opel launched its own Theta platform crossover that shared relatively little with common American fare like the Chevrolet Equinox, mostly because the Chevrolet Equinox sucked. It got curvy new sheetmetal, a much nicer cabin, some semblance of interior technology, and substantial re-tuning for the needs of Europe. It made an excellent first impression, and it needed to. Despite curb appeal, the second-generation Saturn Vue had some deficiencies.

Saturn Vue 2

In 2007, Car And Driver tested a 2008 Vue XR AWD with the V6 engine and recorded an actual curb weight of 4,146 pounds. I’ll give you a second to pick your jaw up from the floor. Fuel economy? I’ll let Car And Driver explain: “Saturn’s 2008 EPA numbers are just 16/22, and in our hands the Vue returned just 15 mpg, which is worse than the 21 mpg we got in the Honda-powered Vue V-6.” So, the Vue wasn’t very efficient or very light, but at least it was practical, right? Well, it would’ve been if the compact crossover class hadn’t just moved up in size. Compared to a 2008 Toyota RAV4, the Vue sported seven fewer cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row seat, and compared to a 2008 Honda CR-V, the Saturn was at a 6.7 cubic-foot disadvantage.

Saturn Vue Interior

So, the second-generation Vue wasn’t efficient, nor was it competitive on space. Did it do anything well aside from look pretty? Why yes, it was surprisingly good to drive. Smooth, quiet, and with a perfectly firm suspension calibration, the Vue succeeded out on the open road, when its heft and refinement set it apart from its American competition. As Car And Driver put it, “the Vue now behaves as if it were competing against BMW. It’s not, but thanks anyway, Opel.” Acceleration with the top-spec 3.6-liter quad-cam V6 was also solid, even if reliability left something to be desired. General Motors has a TSB out for rod knock on this engine, so that’s confidence-inspiring.

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Saturn Vue 3

Other powertrain options included a 169-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, a 222-horsepower 3.5-liter pushrod V6, and a 172-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder series hybrid, but the quad-cam V6 was the real headline-grabber. Sure, the second-generation Saturn Vue wasn’t the fastest or most practical compact crossover on the road, but it was the right sort of car for a discerning customer willing to overlook practicality and fuel economy. It was also a victim of terrible timing.

In addition to the launch of the Saturn Vue, something else happened to General Motors in 2008: The whole company filed for Chapter 11. The global economy had just suffered a harder breakdown than anything Job For A Cowboy could dream of concocting, and America’s largest automaker suddenly was unable to fulfil its liabilities. NBC News reported that as part of a bailout agreement, GM had to cull four U.S.-market brands from its portfolio, and Saturn didn’t make the cut. In 2009, Autoblog reported that the planned Vue Two-Mode Hybrid was canned. After the 2010 model year, Saturn shut its doors for good, and that should’ve been the end of the Vue’s story. Except it wasn’t.

Chevrolet Captiva Sport

Look, if you had a fully-homologated crossover SUV and an assembly line in Mexico all tooled up for production, you probably wouldn’t want to kill it after just three model years either. However, Chevrolet had the Equinox, GMC had the Terrain, Cadillac had the SRX, and Buick was about to get the smaller, more urban Encore. There was no showroom that the Vue could cleverly hide in, but then GM had a brainwave — what if it wasn’t sold to retail customers at all? Yes, the Vue would return as a fleet-only vehicle, destined for use by holidaymakers and wearing the Chevrolet Captiva Sport nameplate.

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The crazy part of all this is that it sort-of worked. Chevrolet sold nearly 130,000 Captiva Sports to various fleets in America, leaving the Equinox nameplate for retail buyers and juicing the last out of Saturn. In 2014, GM killed the Captiva Sport, and the second-generation Saturn Vue was finally dead, but not before GM pulled a move that would confuse Autozone employees for years to come.

Saturn Vue 4

The second-generation Saturn Vue had some positive traits, but it was also a miss in almost every conceivable way. From terrible timing to subpar space efficiency to a gargantuan curb weight, its misses tally higher than its hits, and it’s looked at today with an air of “oh yeah, that existed.” While it’s generally true that it’s hard to keep a good car down, it’s also hard to keep an uncompetitive car up. Still, if anyone would attempt the latter, it would have to be General Motors, right?

(Photo credits: Saturn, Opel, Chevrolet)

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Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
9 months ago

Finally, I agree on a miss.

It might’ve been more refined that your average GM schlock, but it’s about as exciting as a dull fart. Like, the kind you get from bland, underseasoned stew—basically my mother’s cooking, bless her heart. Nothing sonorous or interesting, nothing particularly smelly. Just a fart. A dull, mid fart. That’s this car.

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
9 months ago

I leased a first-gen Vue–AWD with the Honda engine–and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great sleeper car, as it was much quicker than it looked like it deserved to be. It wasn’t Corvette fast, but it was still fun to smoke the era’s Pet Boys-equipped Neons and Civics at red lights.

Saturn had its critics, but I was sad to see the marque die along with Oldsmobile and Saab. All three brands gave me joy over the years. Now I get why the old men lamented the passing of Studebaker and Hudson when I was a kid.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
9 months ago

GM’s newer products still tended to run heavy in this era, but even so the gen-2 VUE was portly. One sort of upside though was it did have have a sort of feeling of solidity or refinement over a number of others in the class.

The I4 though was a dog, I remember being shocked at how sluggish it was off the line. We had a 2.2/4AT 1st-gen VUE in the family that got around fine (and replaced by a 2.4/4AT Aura), so not a mismatched comparison.

The driving position wasn’t great either, IIRC the steering wheel didn’t telescope (or if it did, not enough) so it sat a bit far away, and the seat cushions were on the short side. But back seat comfort was improved over the park bench of the first VUE, even if it had less room.

HOT_HATCH
HOT_HATCH
9 months ago

I sold these back when they were new and they were a tough sell. To GM’s credit you could get it in some fun colors. They had a blue with purple/pink pearl which was pretty cool in redline trim.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
9 months ago

I rented a Captiva recently. Felt heavy, underpowered, a snooze fest to look at, just barely comfortable. Uncompetitive against other rentals I drove, like Nissans Kicks, Rogue or Rogue Sport, go figure. MPG sucked, too.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
9 months ago

Totally forgot about these. But, 15 mpg?!? Get a used Trailblazer that had more room. And wait, what vehicle were we talking about again?

Mthew_M
Mthew_M
9 months ago

Fun 2G Vue fact – in the XEs, with FWD you got the 2.4 ecotec and a 4-speed auto, but, if you got AWD, you got the 3.5 ‘High Value’ Pushrod V6, with the 6T70 6-speed automatic. Not overly noteworthy in and of itself, but, this is the only time GM coupled the newer 6AT with the outgoing ‘Metric/Small Corporate’ bellhousing pattern, so, that bell is a way to bolt the newer auto to most 80s/90s FWD drivetrains – the Buick 3800, the 60 degree V6s, Northstar*, etc. Just another fun little useless tidbit to add to your collection of useless knowledge.

For the Vue, I always kinda wished Saturn had gone with the ROW Chevy Captiva body – it’s slightly longer than the Antara, and, to my eyes, has a nicer look to it. Also would have allowed them to have a 3rd row option, which was in vogue in the segment at the time. Always wondered why they went with the smaller Antara for the ‘bigger is better’ US market.

*Northstars (and the Olds V8 and Shortstar V6) technically have their own bellhousing bolt pattern, but, they are similar enough that they can work with Metric stuff.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
9 months ago
Reply to  Mthew_M

I’m guessing they were following Opel’s lead on that one for the design. Opel may not have wanted two 3-row vehicles in the lineup, with the Zafira (and smaller MPVs in general) still doing well. Even the RAV4 of the time was different lengths with a shorter wheelbase version for Europe.

I do agree it might have made more sense to steer toward the Captiva for North America and capitalize on the 3-row market since it was hot here at the time like you said, though to that I imagine GM was protecting the Lambda SUVs if you wanted something with 3 rows. Or just leaving more room between the VUE and the Equinox, which did run larger vs. the Saturn.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
9 months ago
Reply to  Mthew_M

I was an owner of a 2007 Aura 3.5 at the time, and I did not know that there was any application of that engine with the then-new 6-spd transmission, so thank you indeed for that tidbit! I even remember looking at Vues at the dealership whenever I brought my car in for service, and I don’t remember seeing a 3.5 in stock, it was always the 3.6 or the Ecotec.

I remember being sorely disappointed when the end of Saturn was announced, and yet the dealers wouldn’t budge on the Vue prices (they were overpriced on their best day). I get that Saturn had fixed pricing, that was one of the things I loved about them. But Saturn effectively did not exist any more, and the dealers had leftover Vues just sitting there for months. I couldn’t believe that none of them would budge on the price.

I was further soured on GM when my Aura needed to have its sharkfin antenna/GPS unit replaced under warranty. The soon-to-be-nonexistent Saturn dealer told me that Chevrolet dealers were forbidden from doing warranty work on the Aura, even though it came off the same Kansas City line as the Malibu, and the antenna part that I needed was the same on both cars.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
9 months ago

Have a Vue XR in the garage with the 3.6. If it wasn’t for rust I’d never get rid of it. Excellent ground clearance, small enough to fit anywhere, can tow 3500 lbs.

The CRV and RAV 4 your looking at 1,500 – 2000 lbs towing. (not even as much as the Panter platform sedan). That’s not even 2 jet skis.

I’ve been trying to convince my wife to look at a 2014 captiva. That would at least be 5 years newer.

Mthew_M
Mthew_M
9 months ago

For the Captiva, I think the V6 was only offered for the 1st year? I know they were 4-cyl only by the time they were discontinued. Which is a shame, probably means they cancelled it rather than switch it to the LFX.

NebraskaStig
NebraskaStig
9 months ago

This article (and series) gave me an epiphany… Somehow, someway The Autopian and Ken Burns need to do a history of automobiles series.

Hear me out. It would be a decades show featuring history on manufacturers (big and small). Steam to combustion to hybrid to EV. Societal aspects and needs. Import v. Export economical impacts. Military storage as well as technological gains. Travel and Automotive Magazines. Shows. Blogs.

It’d cover Rte 66 and other Americana roads while also going through the expansion of the Interstate and Toll roads.

Don’t say there’s not enough time. Every episode is almost 2HRs. 12 part, non-chrologic. 1st episode : The Wheel and Rust.

Silver Serfer
Silver Serfer
9 months ago

I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce myself before my first comment. I just a person that followed a few rising stars that found somebody smart enough to fund their dream to start perhaps the greatest car and vehicle website yet in existence. I latched on to this greatness when I emailed one Jason Torchinski. I falsely accused Mr.Torchinski of liberalist views, and he replied: I’ve been falsely accused of being a Liberalist, I’m a Monarchist. From then on in, I knew he was my guy. He writes interesting things about obscure objects. Since that’s right up my alley, while I also appreciate actual reviews more often than not included in his articles. My beliefs were confirmed when I saw Mr. Torchinski on I believe it was the history channel, I’m afraid to look it up for fear you’ll overestimate my intelligence. I said to myself This man knows cars and that’s all that I’m looking for in a website,so here I am finally. Seems you all only like to talk cars, and I learn a lot here, I like to enjoy learning from those that know more than me. So I’d like to thank all the people responsible for this website I’ve been enjoying since it opened. My personal thanks to the people who had a vision, took a chance, risking real money, on solid people who all made it happen through hard work and determination. That’s America. I’m Sam.

Silver Serfer
Silver Serfer
9 months ago

So I’m going to assume given current advertising standards, it’s a loss for the win?

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
9 months ago

When the Antara based Vue came out I was deeply disappointed that you couldn’t get the Antara’s trick bicycle rack. This was one of GM’s better ideas where the rear license plate was mounted on a sliding frame with two fold out wheel tray style bike mounts.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
9 months ago

I feel like this article is lacking the distinction that even though the Antara was ‘designed’ in Europe, the underpinnings of this model were very much from the Daewoo-designed Chevy/Holden Captiva 7. At this point Daewoos were still in the cheap-and-not-nearly-cheerful stage, like a contemporary Hyundai but somehow blander. I think this arguably made these Antara Vues much less appealing than the other SaturOpels like the Astra (a genuinely good car) or the Aura (flawed, but interesting). Being turned into a fleet-only basic Chevrolet (anyone remember the rental-only Malibu Classic?) seemed apropos of this as its lineage basically made it the big brother to the Chevy Aveo. I wouldn’t say GM Daewoos started to be competent until the Cruze, and even then you have to wait until gen2 for decent quality. Nowadays of course almost all their small CUVs are either Daewoo or SAIC descended.

Anchor
Anchor
9 months ago

I think my only real issue with this series is that the existence of a TSB or any mention among the NHTSA of any kind of issue is proof that the entire run is unreliable and should be avoided. There are tons of TSBs covering multiple issues for every single car on the road, if it’s a sign of guaranteed failure then you should really just avoid cars.

This comes up in regards to the HFV6 especially. Do you know how many timing chains and rod bearings I watched get changed or personally changed? Very few. But hey, maybe the two different Chevy dealers I worked at just didn’t get those sorts of cars and they all went to different dealers.

Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
9 months ago
Reply to  Anchor

More likely, the dealers (and by extension, the service writers) just didn’t want to do those jobs, particularly under warranty. Ford 3.5 ecoboost V-6 suffers from cam phaser rattle, particularly on cold starts. Some dealers replace them willingly, others put the owners off until the warranty runs out.

Anchor
Anchor
9 months ago
Reply to  Hondaimpbmw 12

Nope

For Canada
For Canada
9 months ago

Speaking of the GMC Terrain and Antara, markets in the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf got a completely different version of the GMC Terrain based on the Antara/Vue/Captiva Sport. I have no idea why considering the Gulf markets are extremely American when it comes to regulations and tastes and pretty much every other GMC sold in the area was exactly the same as North American models, but it exists. Probably the only GMC exclusively sold outside the Americas?

Nowadays the Middle East just gets the regular Terrain but there’s still time to do a bonkers rebadge of the new Baojun-based Captiva that some markets get, especially since brands like Haval and Chery are starting to eat the Big 3’s lunch in the Gulf, might as well sell the Chinese offerings.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
9 months ago

I have often wondered what car/truck/suv previously built might have been ahead of its time that if you had the money and rights you could select build body/engine/transmission has to be bolt on that might just be profitable to a new stand alone car company?

Timothy Swanson
Timothy Swanson
9 months ago

We had a 2st gen VUE, 2.2 with the manual. It was actually pretty fun to drive, even with the torque steer if you revved it hard. After a few warranty fixes, it was a reliable vehicle for us, and got good mileage for its size.

Lardo
Lardo
9 months ago

No mention of the Saturn Red Line Vue? Honda motor with some street stuff. They were good. Didn’t know they were so heavy which only makes the performance more impressive.

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
9 months ago
Reply to  Lardo

The first gen Vue with the 3.5 Honda V6 was significantly lighter than the second gen Vue with the GM 3.6. About 400 lbs lighter. Not sure where the bloat was in the second gen as it wasn’t any larger and had less room inside.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
9 months ago

Do one on the Chevy Orlando that Canada got but we didn’t

I know you covered the Orlando when someone brought one down here, but it’s worth a hit-or-miss article.

The Astra is also a good candidate for this series.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
9 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

The Orlando appeared to be a pretty good package. What confuses me is that, while it was Canada exclusive, you barely ever see any on the road up here. Often Canada exclusive vehicles are not such a big sales flop. They are worth offering in this market. I’m not sure how GM missed on that. Perhaps it just didn’t drive well, but that doesn’t preclude a large chunk of people who don’t care from still buying something. It’s natural competitor the Mazda 5 did really well and you still see tons on the road these days, despite having left the factory with built in rust accelerant.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
9 months ago

You guys also got the Kia Rondo with a manual, first and second gen, while down here we only got the first gen Rondo and automatic only.

The Orlando is basically a Cruze wagon.

I wish they sold the Orlando down here 😀

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
9 months ago

Now that you mention it, I just got back from visiting 2 different cities in Canada, and don’t recall seeing a single one. Plenty of comparable 5s and Rondos (including the later Rondo), and other Canada-only models like Micra, B-Class, X-Trail, but no Orlandos.

David Escargot
David Escargot
9 months ago

Ah yes… the rebadged wonder that is the Holden Craptiva… a unemployed drug dealer/addicts car in my area

SK2807
SK2807
9 months ago
Reply to  David Escargot

There is a Craptiva at my local train station right now with no plates and police tape on it. Can confirm what you just said.

Acrimonious Mofo
Acrimonious Mofo
9 months ago

I find the whole premise of this series a bit baffling. GM vehicles from this era are, by and large, resoundingly adequate, and/or aggressively mediocre—the Vue proudly boasts both of these traits. It’s neither a hit nor a miss—just ultramegaokay.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
9 months ago

I like to think of the series as channeling GM’s basic mojo (since I dunno, the ’90s?) – a ton of different(ish) vehicles, some pretty good, others bafflingly bizarre, and often no way to know at the beginning which would be which.

Ford on the other hand had a solid if small and unadventurous product range, and Chrysler was more notable for the occasions when it made actual good stuff.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
9 months ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

Meh. Some people shop Target, others Wallmart. Same crap, different styles.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
9 months ago

GM is good at giving 90% and famous for being inconsistent

Last edited 9 months ago by Dogisbadob
Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
9 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

GM is also famous for bringing out a novel idea that is deeply flawed, then fiddling with it until they get it pretty close to right. Then they drop it. (See Corvair, Fiero).

Kasey
Kasey
9 months ago

I was just thinking about the Captiva, as there’s probably 5 or 6 of them putting around my area. Roughly the same amount of Chevy Classics around too, which was also a keep producing it for the fleets deal.

Sam Blockhan
Sam Blockhan
9 months ago

These were also available as the Holden Captiva in Australia, Daewoo Winstorm in South Korea and GMC Terrain in the middle east.

Alec Harvey
Alec Harvey
9 months ago
Reply to  Sam Blockhan

*Craptiva

3WiperB
3WiperB
9 months ago

I had a Vue with the Honda Engine and transmission, and it was a sleeper. Way more power than it needed to have.

OnceInAMillenia
OnceInAMillenia
9 months ago

My folks have a Vue with the Honda engine, and it’s the only GM car I’ve ever been in that didn’t feel like it was intended to be on a Hertz lot, if that can be counted as a compliment

Last edited 9 months ago by OnceInAMillenia
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