In 1985, Saturn was created as a response to the successful Japanese automobile imports in the USA. When I think of Saturn, I think of the 1993 Saturn SL that we had when I was growing up. It was aquamarine blue but in certain light, it was green. With that in mind, I was excited to review a Saturn. Replacing the disappointing L-Series family sedan, the Aura was intended to revitalize Saturn. Based closely off the European Opel Vectra, the Aura combined a European driving experience with European styling. It was a success as it garnered the North America Car of 2007 award. It was discontinued in 2009 due to Saturn being terminated as a result of GM’s bankruptcy.
The front end is completely identical to an Opel/Vauxhall Vectra. With that said, it is a clean and minimalist design. Prominent headlights and a nicely trimmed grille with a single chrome bar help complete the look. The side profile is the most exciting aspect of this sedan. The window line is crisp, and the shapely fender flares give it some athleticism to the side profile. The rear is clean as well. It is well detailed as evident by the exhaust opening and the bumper design. A single bar running across the trunk lid finishes off the look. The taillights are slightly too banal for my taste. For some reason, I really like the wheel design as they are unusual but they accentuate the athletic design nicely. The interior is similar to other GM models, or more specifically Chevrolet models. The interior is appealing and inviting, and the orange lighting is reminiscent of older Saturns, including our 1993 SL. To sum up, the Aura is a good looking sedan inside and out.
To drive, the Aura is very European. Some people may find the steering too heavy, but to me, the steering weight is ideal. It is nicely balanced and always quick to turn. There is a sense of fluidity that enables it to carve corners so well. I was amazed at its tire grip, and how no matter how hard I pushed, the tires would not squeal at all. The only flaw I have with the handling is the steering’s road feel. Or rather, the lack of it. The ride quality feels European as well. It is supple and well controlled. Bumps are present but they are not intrusive or uncomfortable.
This XE version comes with a 224 horsepower 3.6 liter V6 engine (XR versions have a 252 horsepower version of the same engine). Acceleration is good, and the Aura feels quick overall. At low revs, it lags in response but go past 3,000 rpm and it pulls. On the XE version, a four speed transmission is standard (XR versions make due with a six speed). It is not very responsive, and it could shift better. Fuel economy is lackluster at around 20 mpg overall. For 2008, the Aura XE received a 169 horsepower four cylinder engine as its standard engine and a six speed automatic transmission.
When it comes to refinement, the Aura fares well in this aspect. The 3.6 liter V6 is refined, and there is no unwanted vibration or grumble. Wind noise is suppressed but the suspension clunks over some road surfaces. The V6 is boomy at low revs but then it transcends into a growl as you floor it.
Unfortunately, the fit and finish is a reminder of GM’s cost cutting days. While it is noticeably better than GM’s other products, it is lacking. There are panel misgaps everywhere, and the center console is flimsy. The storage compartments are not very well finished, and many surfaces feel like they will break off. However, the dash feels soft to the touch. The controls are intuitive, and the gauges are easy to read. I thought it was odd that there was no gear selector indicator in the gauges. The cloth seats are comfortable although some may find them not soft enough. It is easy to get comfortable. The rear seats are roomy. However they can be uncomfortable due to being sloped at an awkward angle, and they are mounted too low. Rear visibility is problematic as it is obscured by thick rear pillars. The low roofline means access is not as easy as it should be. The trunk is a decent size, and the trunk lid is nicely outlined.
It really is a shame that when Saturn was terminated, the Aura went down with it. It really is a compelling alternative to the typical Accord/Camry/Altima clan. Sure, the quality is not the best but it is easy to overlook that simply because of the way it drives. After I got out of this car, I could not stop thinking about this car. Maybe its because we had such good memories with our 1993 Saturn that I grew connected to this Aura. The only thing that would complete the package is a manual transmission. Other than that, it is a winner.