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2007 Saturn Aura

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San Francisco: The Saturn project is 20 years old now. In the mid 1980ís, GM proudly unveiled a plan to build an economical small sedan that would rival the Japanese in quality and economy, while being designed and built right here in the good, old U.S.A. Early models lacked refinement, but sold well, and the brand took off.

Sadly, GM chose not to give Saturn much new to sell, and the models that Saturn offered grew old. Now itís time for a dramatic comeback, and the midsize Aura is the volume player, along with the sporty Sky drop top and upcoming Outlook SUV, to do the job.

The Aura is based on a show car of the same name, which originated with GMís European Opel division. The production car is extraordinarily attractive, with clean, sharply drawn proportions, glistening, oversized lights front and rear, boldly sculpted wheelwells, and a dashing slice of chrome in the grille. Compare this with the original SL, a compact with no grille at all, featuring 100 horsepower and shrunken Oldsmobile Cutlass styling, and itís a whole new world.

There is only a four-door sedan offered, no wagons, coupes, or convertibles. You can choose from two models, the XE and the upper level XR. Neither is skimpy on the standard equipment. My Berry Red XR test vehicle was stocked to the gunwales with desirable standard and optional equipment, so it demonstrated the top end of the new product.

There are no weak Auras on the road. The XE features a 3.5-liter, 224-horsepower V6 with a four-speed automatic. That sounds pretty good, but the XRís 3.6-liter V6 tops that, delivering 252 horsepower through a six-speed automatic. It wasnít too long ago that numbers like that meant sports car, but now any decent midsized sedan needs that kind of power to win buyers. Itís almost like an arms race under the hood, and drivers with even a hint of car enthusiasm have to be elated by that.

The two engines have nearly identical EPA fuel economy ratings, both score 20 in the city and the XEís 29 highway beats the XRís stronger engine by just one mpg. However, my test car, in mixed driving that favored freeway miles, came in at a disappointing 15.7 mpg over a 306-mile test week.

The Auraís interior features a clean, elegantly styled dash with attractive textures and good fit and finish. The instrument panel sports chrome and white gauge needles that span their entire range when you turn on the car. At night, the inner door handles are illuminated, a first, as far as I can remember. A couple of the plastic parts felt a little cheap, such as the door pockets and center console, but the cumulative effect of daily driving was very pleasant and satisfying.

There is loads of room in this mid-sizer for your family. The trendy high beltline makes the windows a bit slit-like, but it never felt claustrophobic in the front seats, and I heard no complaints from my lanky teenager in the second row.

The XRís six-speed automatic is GMís first application of this technology in a front-drive car. It offers TAPshift manual control, which provides paddles on each side of the steering wheel for you to use to shift up and down, without a clutch, of course. The automatic needs no help, really, but I tried the paddles a few times. If you want to drop the fuel mileage even lower, you can make the Aura rip down the road in a big hurry by holding the gears longer than the automatic will do on its own.

All Auras get the usual standards of today, such as power windows, locks and mirrors. The driverís window has power down and up, a rarity in an American car (built with pride in Kansas City, Kansas). The air conditioning, cruise control, tire pressure monitoring system, remote keyless entry, and OnStar systems come at no extra charge, too. Besides the larger engine, the XR adds in such niceties as an automatic dimming mirror, steering wheel audio controls, 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome door handles, and fog lamps.

Thereís plenty to be happy about in the safety department. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control help stop the car quickly and in a straight line. Front, side, and side curtain airbags come standard. All the usual little things are there, of course, like tether attachments for child seats and front and rear crumple zones. This is a car meant for families who arenít shopping for an SUV, so safety is a red-hot issue.

I wasnít too happy with the front passenger seatbelt, as it wouldnít hold my weekly order from my favorite Chinese restaurant. And a non-locking gas cap seems like a needless economy measure. But this car is a vast improvement over the forgettable LS model it replaces.

Prices start at $20,595 for the XE and $24,595 for the XR (not including the $650 destination charge). My test car, with leather seats, steering wheel, and shiftknob; power pedals and passenger seat; and a power sunroof, came to $26,919.

Itís not often that you get a chance to buy something completely new. This is one of those times.
 By Steve Schaefer © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Saturn Home Page

Byline: Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo ©AutoWire.Net
Column Name: This is the time to buy something completely new
Topic: The 2007 Saturn Aura
Word Count: 936
Photo Caption: The 2007 Saturn Aura
Photo Credits: Saturn Internet Media
Series #: 2006 - 64

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