2009 Saturn Aura XR

4-cyl engine, V6 trim

2009 Saturn Aura XR

FAST FACTS

1. While the four-cylinder powerplant was previously only available in the entry-level XE., it can now be combined with the top line XR trim in the XR4 model.

2.Aside from the Hybrid model, the Aura comes with a six-speed automatic transmission which assists in fuel mileage and power delivery.

3. Upgrading to the XR6 trim level brings a 24-valve, DOHC 3.6-liter V6 that boasts 252hp and 251 ft-lbs of torque letting it hit 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds.

Overcoming a negative public perception can be an incredibly difficult task for an auto manufacturer. It took years for Hyundai to live down the Pony stigma and Pontiac brass are still taking heat over the Aztek. General Motors has consistently been building excellent vehicles for the last few years, but that hasn’t managed to increase showroom traffic much. Saturn has taken advantage of this in recent marketing campaigns where unsuspecting visitors are shocked that the cars they are drooling over are, in actual fact, Saturns.

I was guilty of this myself as the last Saturn I was familiar with on a personal level was over 10 years ago. While my friend Tracy’s first generation SL had modern ‘neato’ features at the time (like sliding automatic shoulder belts and dent-resistant panels), we were convinced that the entire car, including the engine, was constructed from plastic, since it was perpetually falling apart at the seams. But those were the less-than-glorious days at GM, immortalized by cassette-munching Delco stereos and faulty power windows. My first reaction upon entering the new Saturn Aura XR4 was not unlike that of the actors starring in the commercial I witnessed, although admittedly more colorful. “Holy S***, this is a Saturn?”

MORE THAN JUST A REBADGED MALIBU

The Aura is a sibling of the redesigned Chevrolet Malibu, a car which has garnering widespread acclaim from those who know a thing or two about. GM got itself into trouble during the last couple decades trying to pass one car off as four by simply swapping badges, grills and hood ornaments to delegate it as an Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Buick or Pontiac. While the Aura does share the Epsilon chassis platform and some common parts from the GM parts bin, it is distinctively Saturn in its character, approach to style and driving behavior.

XR4: TOP-LINE TRIM WITH ECOTEC FOUR-CYLINDER

The volatile price of fuel has made some buyers re-think their lifestyle and financial priorities and Saturn has reacted to those needs. While the four-cylinder powerplant was previously only available in the entry-level XE., the XR4 is a newly introduced trim line for 2009 that boasts four-cylinder fuel economy with upgraded options like 17-inch alloy wheels, heated power seats, Bluetooth capabilities, a remote starter, auto-dimming rearview mirror, XM satellite radio, and a leather-wrapped wheel. If the goal here is to reduce fuel consumption without sacrificing comfort and convenience, then it has worked. The four-cylinder XE and XR4 Aura’s fuel economy is now rated among the leaders in the midsize sedan segment. Car manufacturers are finally starting to understand that fuel efficiency and build quality don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Aside from the Hybrid model, the Aura comes with a six-speed automatic transmission which assists in fuel mileage and power delivery. My tester was equipped with a manual shift mode that even had steering wheel mounted paddle shifters for swapping gears. Admittedly this setup was abysmal at best, as operation was anti-intuitive and transmission reaction time was slow. With some refinement however, it could be a sporty feature to get a little more fun out of the four-cylinder mill. The 16-valve 2.4-liter Ecotec engine found in the XE and XR4 models makes 169 horsepower and 160 ft-lbs of torque, which is neither anemic, nor thrilling but simply adequate. The Hybrid model utilizes the same inline four-cylinder that is good for 164 hp and 159 ft-lbs of torque. Upgrading to the XR6 trim level brings a 24-valve, DOHC 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing that boasts 252hp and 251 ft-lbs of torque letting it hit 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds. That being said, even in XR6 trim, referring to the Aura as a “Sport Sedan” as Saturn consistently does in its press material, is a bit of a stretch. The XE and XR4 do however command a competitive sticker price, which works in their favor.

MORE TO LOVE: FROM HANDLING TO THE INTERIOR

Handling is as sporty and precise as you would expect in a modern mid-size, front-wheel-drive domestic family sedan, which matches the performance and braking capabilities of the Aura. There are really no surprises from the driver’s seat since inputs consistently bring an intended, predictable outcome. Ride quality is comfortable but not billowy, while the cabin is quiet and spacious, making the Aura an ideal transporter for trips short or long. Inside, the Aura is also well laid out and much more attractive than one would expect from a car at this price. The target of much criticism in the past, GM has made a conscious effort to improve its interiors in regards to panel gaps and material quality – both of which are demonstrated on the upgraded Aura with the exception of a couple small glitches. Trunk space is ample, but the opening is not, meaning things like hockey bags or strollers will take some serious finagling to get inside.

THE VERDICT

The mid-size sedan market, while admittedly not terribly exciting, is perhaps the most competitive automotive marketplace in North America, with manufacturers from around the globe trying to snag a piece of the pie. If Saturn continues to offer vehicles like the Aura, they will surely be a force to be reckoned with in this arena. By offering such models as the Outlook, Sky, Astra and Aura, Saturn is building up a solid, well-rounded roster of real contenders. Whether the car buying public is willing to take another chance on them yet, is another story altogether.

POSITVE

Impressive road manners
Exterior styling
Interior design and quality

NEGATIVE

Manual shift mode
Undersized trunk opening
Some interior materials not up to par

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