The recent retro exterior design trends of several manufacturers don't pertain to Saturn. It's only been around since mid 1990.
But with the 2004 Vue, its compact sports utility vehicle, stylish retro interior accouterments help uniquely position the model in the increasingly crowded SUV category.
My test drive was the 5-speed automatic AWD V6 Vue. Its straight- forward exterior and interior and top-of-the-line options and design are impressive.
But every time I drove the vehicle, I couldn't help but stare at the instrument panel. The white background is accentuated with gold- colored numbers in a retro font - like the face of a vintage wristwatch.
Likewise, the frontseat map pockets are not plastic or rubber, rather tightly woven net, another cool retro design feature.
Of course, there's a lot more important Saturn features to consider.
The 3.5-liter, 250-HP engine packs plenty of power and the vehicle's acceleration - among the quickest in the SUV market - is complemented by AWD, electronic power steering and 17-inch all- season tires that grip the road well.
Whether in tight, city traffic or on open-road freeway miles, the Vue performs well and is designed with ample leg and head room.
Several other interior features add to the Vue's strong position against competitors that include the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Mazda Tribute.
Two children's seats, for example, can remain in place while one seatback section folds flat. There aren't any ceiling-mounted grab handles to assist entry and exit, but unlike other SUVs, the step-in height is minimal.
One unusual characteristic is the placement of the power window switches on the center console. While some drivers may find the option inconvenient (if they're used to door-panel window switches), the more central location seems like a logical choice. It allows a driver to monitor windows while keeping his or her eyes on the road and hands closer to the steering wheel and shift.
Cruise control, automatic day/night rearview mirror with compass and interior/exterior temperature, front and rear 12-volt outlets a 70/30 split folding rear seat, and a spacious cargo area are among other strong features.
The test drive vehicle also included a nearly $3,000 option package: leather appointed seats, head curtain side airbags, power sunroof AM/ FM 6 CD changer with MP3 capability and XM satellite radio. It pushed the price of the Vue to more than $27,000 - near the top of the market range. But the Vue provides a fine example of getting what one pays for.
2004 Saturn Vue
Safety features - Dual stage front airbags, curtain side airbags, daytime running and fog lights, rear window windshield washer/wiper.
Fuel Mileage (estimates) - 19 mpg (city), 25 mpg (highway).
Warranty - 3 years/36,000 miles (bumper to bumper), 24-hour roadside assistance, 30-day, 1,500-mile Saturn exchange program.
Base price range - $16,775-$23,620.
James Raia is a syndicated journalist in Sacramento, California, who writes about sports, fitness, travel and lifestyle topics as well as the car review colum, The Weekly Driver.
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