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2007 Saturn Aura
Lou Ann Hammond

Introduction
Saturn has introduced an all-new mid-size sedan called the Aura. The 2007 Saturn Aura is the company's first truly credible entry in the most competitive segment of the automobile market. Compared with Saturn's last mid-size car, the unloved L-Series sedan and wagon that died quiet deaths back in 2004, the Aura is decidedly modern and fresh, with Euro character and aesthetic flair. Interestingly, the Aura has none of the plastic body panels that made Saturn famous in the 1990s.

The Aura is based on the same safe, solid architecture as the Saab 9-3, which sells for thousands of dollars more. Compared with the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion, the Aura is well equipped with safety and comfort features.

Aura comes with a choice of two powerful V6 engines. (And a hybrid model is on its way.) The Aura is competitively priced: The base XE starts at less than $20,495 and comes with a 224-horsepower V6 and four-speed automatic. The more powerful XR features a 252-hp V6 and six-speed automatic. Both V6 engines offer good fuel economy, rated 20 mpg city and 28-29 mpg highway.

The cabin is tastefully done and laid out well. All the controls work very well and the sound setup is particularly convenient. Saturn's interior materials are still behind the leaders in the segment, but the design is pleasing. We preferred the cloth over the standard leather option, but we liked the Moroccan Brown leather that's available on the Aura XR model.

Underway, the Saturn Aura is quiet and handles well. We found it drives like a European family sedan, taut and responsive, with brakes, suspension and powertrain working together to respond to the driver's wishes. This is not surprising, given the Aura shares its structure with the German Opel Vectra. Model Lineup
The 2007 Saturn Aura comes in two trim levels, the base XE and the more powerful XR. All models are front-wheel drive.

The Aura XE ($19,845) features a 224-hp V6 engine, front-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, 17-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, keyless entry, automatic headlights, cruise control, and a six-speaker sound system with CD/MP3 player.

The Aura XR ($23,845) features a 252-hp V6 and a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control paddles on the steering wheel. The Aura XR also features automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, front seat heaters, a remote engine starter, an eight-speaker stereo with an in-dash six-disc CD changer, rear audio controls, a universal garage door opener, 18-inch wheels, and fog lamps. (The destination charge is $650.)

Options for the XE include a Preferred Package ($375), which includes an eight-way power driver's seat, steering wheel radio controls, and heated power mirrors; a Convenience Package ($700), which includes heated front seats, remote starter, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and universal garage door opener; an Advanced Audio Package ($725), which includes an eight-speaker stereo with in-dash 6CD and rear audio controls; and alloy wheels ($400). Options for XE and XR models include an Enhanced Convenience Package ($425), which includes a six-way power passenger seat and power adjustable pedals; a Premium Trim Package ($1050), which includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather upholstery and heated front seats; a power sunroof ($800), which includes a sliding, multi-panel panoramic sunroof ($1500), premium floor mats ($100) and XM Satellite Radio ($199). Moroccan Brown interior trim ($100) is available on the XR.

Safety features that come standard on all models include anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes and traction control. XR models come standard with electronic stability control. Passive safety features that come standard include front seat belts with pretensioners and load-limiters, dual front air bags, front seat-mounted side-impact air bags (for torso protection in a side impact), and front- and rear-seat curtain air bags (for head protection in a rollover or side impact). Be sure to wear those seat belts because they are your first line of defense in a crash. Walkaround
The Aura is the largest of all Saturn sedans, fitting in the mid-size category, where Saturn's last players, the L100 and L200 sedan and wagon, failed to make much of an imprint. The Aura is based on the same platform as the current Saab 9-3 and the Europe-only Opel Vectra, the latter with which it shares many of its styling cues.

In front, the Aura features a broad grille with a thick chrome insert flanked by almond-shaped, multi-element headlamp units. The nicely sculpted front bumper houses tiny fog lamps on the Aura XR. With big engines and front-wheel drive, the Aura has a requisitely long nose, but thanks to nice tapering of the bumpers, it doesn't look disproportionately front-heavy.

The bodysides are clean tastefully sculpted, with a healthy bit of chrome detailing on the door handles and window trim. The Aura rides on a long, 112-inch wheelbase, which contributes to an elegant, planted appearance. The rear door is particularly long, however, making it more difficult for your rear-seat passengers to climb in and out in tight parking lots.

All Auras XE models ride on 17-inch wheels; steel wheels with wheel covers are standard; attractive alloy wheels are optional. XR models ride on dressy 14-spoke, 18-inch machined-surface alloy wheels. A power moonroof is optional, and if that's not enough, a four-panel glass panoramic roof is also available, bringing the sun into both rows of seats. Both glass roofs come with sun shades. The sun shade for the panoramic roof is motorized.

The Aura's rear end is dominated by glitzy, high-mounted taillamps that mirror the headlamps' almond shape while incorporating two strips of fast-illuminating LED brake lights. The bumper is tall, which doesn't help loading cargo into the trunk in any way. The rear bumper has subtle cutouts to accommodate twin chrome exhaust tips. Interior
The interior of the Saturn Aura is tasteful, if somewhat bland, with an assortment of materials of mixed quality. Control operation is straightforward and the ergonomic layout is ideal. Many secondary controls are shared with other models in the GM family, including the stereo, turn signal stalks and steering wheel.

Front seats offer reasonable support for most people, though we would like to see better lumbar support. We found the fabric upholstery to be of high quality. The quality of the optional leather on both the XE and XR seemed marginal, however, with the only exception being XR models equipped with the cool-looking Moroccan Brown interior featuring uniquely grained, embossed leather seating inserts. The available eight-way power adjustments for the driver made it easier to get comfortable than in the six-way manual seats. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, though it feels one size too large for this car. At least with leather-equipped cars, the steering wheel feels good in the hand thanks to soft leather wrapping, which is far preferable to the grainy urethane texture of the wheel of cloth-equipped Auras.

Ergonomics are quite good. The front-seat elbow rest cleverly extends into the B-pillar for an additional four centimeters of elbow room, to accommodate taller drivers who slide the seat rearward. The cover for the center console slides fore and aft for comfortable elbow resting on the inboard side. Outward vision through the windshield and side windows is good. The rear shelf, however, is quite high, blocking a fair amount of vision through the rearview mirror and increasing the size of the blind spots, especially for shorter drivers.

The deep-set, electroluminescent speedometer and tachometer are lovely, illuminated in a modern-looking amber shade. A trip computer/vehicle information display is nestled in the speedometer. However, the display is too small to show more than 16 characters at the same time. Therefore, only one aspect of the trip information (the trip odometer, standard odometer, fuel economy, the gear indicator for the manual mode for the XR's six-speed automatic, and so on) can be viewed at any given time. There has to be a way they could have gotten more information displayed at the same time.

Interior trim is mixed in quality but pleasingly designed, with padded materials covering the curvaceous dash top and door panels, but less impressive hard plastic most everywhere else. There are other materials as well, including generous swaths of silvery metallic or wood-grained plastic trim, made more attractive by chrome details in many well-placed locations. We would like to say that these materials are up to snuff compared with Toyota, Honda and even Hyundai, but in truth, they're not quite there. At least the panel fit is tight and among the best we've seen on an American product.

All controls, buttons and knobs feel upscale feel in their operation. Controls for the standard, six-speaker, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo as well as the optional, 240-watt eight-speaker sound system with six-disc changer include presets that are not band-specific; in other words, AM, FM and optional XM stations can exist in the same bank of buttons; no need to change bands. This makes a big difference when jumping around to your favorite stations in everyday use; most systems require pushing two buttons to do this rather than one. Also on the premium audio system are separate rear-seat audio controls with two infrared headphones. Best of all, all Aura stereos come with auxiliary input jacks for iPods and other MP3 players.

The Aura does not offer an optional navigation system, but it does come with a year of OnStar services, which now offer clever turn-by-turn directions. This navigational feature, offered on any vehicle with OnStar 7.0 and later, delivers the guidance benefits of a conventional, map-based navigation system with voice commands, but instead of requiring the driver to input the destination information, the driver calls the OnStar center, and the live advisor can assist in finding and then inputting the destination information, then uploads the route information to the car which then gives turn-by-turn instructions based on vehicle location. Directions also appear on the radio faceplate display. Downsides are the lack of a visual map, and the requirement that the vehicle be in range of cell phone service to input destinations, since a live advisor is required to input the destination information. Advantages include the reduction in component complexity, the convenience and safety of hands-free operation, and cost: map-based systems cost up to $2,000.

The climate controls that come standard as well as the optional automatic climate controls are single-zone only. Also, there are no rear-seat air conditioning ducts, a glaring omission in this class of car. At least the XR's standard remote engine starter can help get a head start on heating or cooling the vehicle before occupants get inside.

Rear-seat occupants enjoy generous accommodations, provided there are no more than two of them. Three-across is a squeeze due to the relative narrowness of the cabin. Rear-seat comfort for two is good, however. Outboard headrests are height-adjustable into the tall, nicely contoured seatback. Legroom is increased by scalloped front seat backs. There's no fold-down armrest for back-seat passengers, however.

Interior storage space is unremarkable. The glove box is modest and the door pockets are too shallow to be truly useful, but the two-tiered center console can hold several CDs and other items. One 12-volt power point is mounted alongside the fold-out ashtray, with another one located in the center console. In front of that are two cupholders, a change holder and a cell phone cubby, all of which can be shrouded by a roll-top cover.

Trunk space is generous at 15.7 cubic feet and the cargo floor is wide and flat. Indeed, the Aura has more trunk capacity than what's offered by the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Mazda 6. Liftover height is high, however. The accessory trunk mat is reversible, carpeted on one side but covered in a rubbery material on the other side to use for muddy items. We only wish there was an assist grip somewhere inside the decklid lining to allow one to close the trunk without touching dirty sheetmetal.

All told, the Aura's interior is comfortable in spite of its occasionally sub-par materials and missing features like a rear armrest and rear-seat air registers. And while it doesn't quite match the refinement of, say, the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, it is a huge accomplishment for Saturn and one that should more than satisfy its owners. Driving Impressions
On the road, the Saturn Aura behaves very much like a European family sedan. In other words, it has a taut feel with good steering quality and an overall feeling that the brakes, suspension and powertrain are in agreement with each other. This is not surprising, given the car's structural roots, which are shared with the fine-driving Saab 9-3 and Opel Vectra.

The XE's 224-hp 3.5-liter V6 and four-speed automatic are good enough for most drivers, in our opinion. The base 3.5-liter V6 is much more powerful than the four-cylinders found in most of the base models of the Aura's competition. It could be a touch smoother and quieter under full-throttle, but the strong acceleration speaks for itself. Even better, the engine quiets back down to near silence as soon as cruising speeds are attained.

The XR's 252-hp 3.6-liter V6 is considerably stronger and more relaxed in character, thanks to a more sophisticated engine design. The six-speed automatic comes with optional Tap-Shift paddle shifters on the steering wheel to make manual shifting possible when the selector is moved from D to M. While the XR's engine and transmission are undeniably more enjoyable than those of the XE, they are not so much better as to warrant buying the XR on that basis alone, which is meant to be a testament to the quality of the base 3.5-liter engine rather than a criticism of the 3.6-liter motor. (The XR's Moroccan Brown leather option comes to mind, for example.)

Fuel efficiency is excellent for both models and compares favorably with other mid-size sedans. The Aura XE is rated 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Even more remarkable is the Aura XR's nearly identical 20 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway, in spite of its significant additional power. Credit the taller gearing of the six-speed automatic, which allows the engine to spin at a lower rpm at highway speeds.

The fully independent suspension splits the difference between ride quality and handling, both of which are quite good. While handling feels much like that of the Saab 9-3 with which it shares its architecture, the ride quality is more like that of a Toyota Camry, which is known for its smoothness. Furthermore, thanks to the use of sound-deadening materials everywhere from the firewall to the side glass and wheelwells, the interior is near-silent even at speeds over 75 mph.

The Aura's variable-ratio power steering is well weighted at highway speeds, offering plenty of road feel, while with just 2.8 turns, lock-to-lock, it's plenty helpful in low-speed parking lot maneuvers. Offsetting that, however, is a particularly wide 40.4-foot turning circle.

The Aura features four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. They felt good and worked well in normal driving.

Traction control is standard on the Aura XE, while the Aura XR is upgraded to Stabilitrack, GM's excellent electronic stability control system. Summary
The 2007 Saturn Aura is a classy, mid-size family sedan that combines front-wheel-drive dynamics with contemporary styling, a decent interior and very good fuel economy. It is safe and easy to drive. For drivers on a budget, the XE model should be enough. Buyers looking for something more refined in the driving department, as well as more interior features will prefer the XR. Either way, the Aura's attractive price and good fuel economy make it a compelling choice for buyers looking at Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Steve Siler filed this report from Santa Barbara, California.

Model as tested
Saturn Aura XR ($23,945)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Kansas City, Kansas
Destination charge
650
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
19845
Price as tested
25319
Options as tested
Enhanced Convenience Package ($425) includes a 6-way power passenger seat and power adjustable pedals,; premium floor mats ($100); XM radio ($199)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Saturn Aura XE ($20,495); XR ($24,495)
Safety equipment (standard)
frontal airbags, side-impact airbags, curtain airbags for first and second rows; traction control, ABS
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.6-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Transmissions
6-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
cloth upholstery, 8-way power adjustable driver seat, heated front seats, electronic climate control, 8-speaker sound system with in-dash 6CD/MP3, cruise control, remote engine start, power windows, power locks, tilt/telescope steering wheel, universal garage door opener, trip computer, heated exterior mirrors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, fog lamps, 18-inch wheels

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.6-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
252 @ 6400
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
20/28
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
independent, MacPherson strut with stabilizer bar
Tires
P225/50R18
Suspension, rear
independent, four-link with stabilizer bar

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
39.4/53.0/42.2
Head/hip/leg room, rear
37.4/52.2/37.6

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
15.7
Wheelbase
112.3
Length/width/height
190.0/70.3/57.6
Turning circle
40.4
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
1000
Track, front/rear
59.9/60.3
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
3647


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