2008 Saturn Aura Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 24, 2008

The 2008 Saturn Aura is the kind of car people learned to look to the import brands for, and now you can get it from General Motors through Saturn.

The sedan experts at TheCarConnection.com researched the latest reviews on the new 2008 Saturn Aura to compile this comprehensive review. Experts from TheCarConnection.com also drove several different 2008 Aura models, including the Hybrid and high-powered XR, to add more insight to this review and to help you decide which reviews to trust when others have conflicting opinions.

GM's Saturn brand is on a roll, and the 2008 Saturn Aura is a good example of why the brand is light-years different from what it was and what it sold just three years ago.

There's a sculptured character to the 2008 Saturn Aura sedan (launched in 2007), and it looks as good, if not better, than most any other mainline sedan out there. A broad-shouldered crease runs from headlights to jewel-like taillights, giving the car a sense of muscularity and movement.

Inside, the cloth interior is well executed, as are the leather inserts offered on the up-level Saturn Aura XR. Seating is comfortable, yet supportive. There's plenty of room in the rear, the spaciousness enhanced by extra knee room carved into the front seatbacks. Some testers feel the rear-seat cushion is too low, while others gripe about the panel that covers the back of the front seats; its quality isn't up to the rest of the interior. Also, the "wood" on the dashboard and doors is not quite good enough.

Review continues below

Driving dynamics are influenced by Saturn's familial connection with its German cousin, Opel. In case you didn't know, Opel (General Motors' German entity) contributed heavily to the all-new 2008 Saturn Vue and Astra as well as the Aura. Regarding the Aura's on-road performance, Opel influences the Saturn for the better. Even on tight, fast turns, the Aura delivers very little body roll. At 80 mph, the Aura's cabin remains surprisingly quiet.

Saturn delivers a reasonably equipped package, even with the base model, including safety features such as anti-lock braking and traction control. StabiliTrak, GM's stability control, is standard on the XE and XR, but is not available on the base Aura. Also on the safety front, the Aura gets dual front airbags, along with standard side and head curtain airbags. OnStar is another standard feature, with a year's free subscription.

For the Aura, 2008 is the year of the expanding engine lineup. Now, in addition to the 2008 Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid and the two V-6-powered trim levels (the XE and XR), Saturn adds a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine for those buyers looking for EPA figures around 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway. This base Aura has a reasonable 169 horsepower. By comparison, the Aura Green Line Hybrid is rated at nearly the same power (164) but delivers 24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway.

Very different V-6 engines power the up-level 2008 Saturn Aura models, the XE and the XR. The XE gets a 3.5-liter V-6, an older design that generates a healthy 219 horsepower and 219 pound-feet of torque, and can launch from 0-60 in a more-than-acceptable 8.1 seconds. Mileage comes in at 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. When pushed, this engine gets a bit noisy and rough. The combination would be better were GM to get away from the aging four-speed automatic this engine is paired with. It's not a bad transmission, just not what you'd call state of the art.

To get the automaker's latest engine and transmission technology, pick the XR's smooth-revving 3.6-liter V-6 that is matched to a six-speed automatic. The aluminum-alloy engine makes 252 hp and 251 pound-feet, and gets 0-60 times down to under 7.0 seconds and delivers EPA estimates of 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway.

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2008 Saturn Aura

Styling

The 2008 Saturn Aura impresses reviewers inside and out with a modern take on the family four-door.

The 2008 Saturn Aura is a mid-size sedan that offers both style and grace when on the road, according to TheCarConnection.com's experts, so even the hard to seduce may find themselves loving it.

The 2008 Saturn Aura is a “fine-looking mid-size family sedan,” Car and Driver says, while Edmunds calls it "sharper" and "more contemporary" than Saturn’s past efforts. Kelley Blue Book echoes this sentiment, noting this Aura 2008's "sleek profile with sharply-defined fender flares," while Automedia attests, “This car wears about as fresh and handsome a suit of clothes as a four-door sedan can…The roofline is a single sweeping curve from front pillar to rear,” and the chrome band across the grille is “repeated in back” with a broad chrome band along the trunk lid. MyRide.com also points out the “chrome grille bar with the red Saturn logo embedded front and center, distinctive upswept headlights, and LED taillights with silver trim."

"Saturn is keeping up with the Joneses," says Cars.com "with two-tone interiors and improved materials quality." The Aura 2008's five-seat cabin features front buckets and a rear bench that can be finished in cloth or leather upholstery. The design is attractive, and Edmunds says that a "pleasing mix of simulated wood and metallic accents" gives the cabin "an upscale ambiance"--although they also say that the "fake stitching," "rough plastic," and "rubbery vinyl trim" is a little too excessive "for a car in this price range." However, opting for the "Moroccan leather" can help "camouflage these missteps." ConsumerGuide appreciates the large gauges in the Saturn Aura and the "mostly handy and intuitive" controls. However, the steering-wheel controls may be "a bit small for easy use."

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2008 Saturn Aura

Performance

The 2008 Saturn Aura provides a smooth and quiet ride, but the best powertrain comes at a high price premium.

The 2008 Saturn Aura is a very capable vehicle with good handling and road manners, according to reviews from across the Web.

Four powertrains are offered on the Saturn Aura. The base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 160 horsepower. A hybrid version, the Aura Green Line, uses the four-cylinder and electric power to deliver nearly the same power (164 hp). They’re rated at 22/30 mpg and 24/36 mpg, respectively. Car and Driver notes, “The hybrid Aura gets better gas mileage but isn’t as refined as the Toyota Camry hybrid.” The four-cylinder Aura, they add, “is less expensive but isn’t quite as sweet as the best Japanese powerplants.”

The 2008 Saturn Aura XE gets a 3.5-liter V-6, an older design that generates a healthy 219 horsepower and 219 pound-feet of torque, and can launch from 0-60 in a more-than-acceptable 8.1 seconds. Mileage comes in at 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. When pushed, this engine gets a bit noisy and rough: “The 3.5-liter in the XE isn't as refined as we'd like, but it provides capable response in traffic and above-average fuel economy,” Edmunds reports. The combination would be better were GM to get away from the aging four-speed automatic this engine is paired with. It's not a bad transmission, just not what you'd call state of the art. Edmunds points out that a "four-speed automatic transmission is standard" on the Aura XE, and MyRide.com notes that "in a world where five- and six-speed slushboxes are becoming the norm," this is an antiquated feature. Automedia calls it an “adequate but undistinguished pairing.”

To get the automaker's latest engine and transmission technology, pick the XR's smooth-revving 3.6-liter V-6 that is matched to a six-speed automatic. The aluminum-alloy engine makes 252 hp and 251 pound-feet, gets 0-60 times down to under 7.0 seconds, and delivers EPA estimates of 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway. Edmunds likes this combination the best: “Performance is much smoother and swifter with the 3.6-liter, and for consumers who aren't counting every mpg, it's the more satisfying choice.” ConsumerGuide reports its test Aura XR hit "60 mph from a stop in an impressive 6.5 seconds." They also praise the vehicle's automatic transmission, noting it is "commendably smooth and responsive." The XR transmission also has a "clutchless-manual mode and steering-wheel-mounted shift levers," says Cars.com. This combination is “superior,” Automedia remarks, and “highly recommended for Eurocar enthusiasts and those not on a tight budget.”

Edmunds attests that the Saturn Aura is very capable, with minimum body roll. MyRide.com agrees, pointing out the "four-link independent rear suspension with large stabilizer bars front and rear to control body roll." Car and Driver reports that it “handles nicely.” However, reviewers at ConsumerGuide notice "some jiggle and body drumming on rippled surfaces." Additionally, Edmunds notes steering is rather "devoid of feel" on the Saturn Aura, which hurts the car in the area of its sporting credentials. There is also no assist at low speeds, which can make parking rather intensive. Automedia, however, feels that in XR versions, “the tightly-tuned suspension and steering boost the Aura's satisfaction level right up there among the market's best front-drivers.”

"A four-wheel-disc braking system with ABS and dynamic rear proportioning" comes standard, says MyRide.com, but the "strong and stable braking is marred by oddly dull and heavy pedal action," warns ConsumerGuide.

Car and Driver comes up with a surprising but accurate summary of the Aura’s performance: “In truth, the Chevy Malibu is a more fully realized version of these underpinnings.”

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2008 Saturn Aura

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Saturn Aura has the room of a family-sedan champ, but some interior trim lacks the finer touch of imports.

There may be a few rough edges in the 2008 Saturn Aura, but TheCarConnection.com finds most reviewers are comfortable in this car--at least in the front seats.

When it comes to the 2008 Saturn Aura, passengers in the back are simply not going to be as happy as those in the front, says MyRide.com. The "multi-adjustable front seats" are "comfortable during a lengthy drive," they add, noting the driver can also find an optimal position with the telescopic steering wheel and power-adjustable pedals. The upper portion of the driver's door panel is also padded for comfortable elbow resting. Cars.com notes, “The optional leather front seats are firm but comfortable, though very tall drivers might wish for more rearward seat travel.” Edmunds adds the Aura "offers all the room, comfort and performance of other General Motors family sedans, but does it with more panache." However, backseat occupants will find that the seats are "lacking in thigh support" and that legroom is not as spacious as "the Pontiac G6," reports MyRide.com.

Edmunds counters, “the Aura treats rear passengers to a lavish amount of space -- but they must go without a center armrest.” Elsewhere in the cabin of the Aura, there’s a lack of “small-item storage," though trunk space is "class-average," says Consumer Guide. Even so, the trunk is "usefully shaped" and clocks in at "just under 15 cubic feet," according to Edmunds.

"The interior quality" of the Saturn Aura is "worlds better than its predecessors," vouches Car and Driver, "but it still doesn't quite match the best of the Japanese rivals." ConsumerGuide adds that the cabin of the Saturn Aura contains quality materials and a lot of soft touches. However, the test cars suffer some gaps in the panels and seams that are not friendly to the eyes. And while "chrome is sprinkled throughout for added flair," notes MyRide.com, the Saturn Aura overlooks several comforts and finishing touches such as "a rear seat center armrest" and "a close assist handle for the inside of the trunk lid." Particularly remarkable is a “morocco brown” interior leather package that reviewers adored, but as Cars.com observes, “There are rough plastic edges on the glove box, front door pockets and a dash storage cubby, as well as questionable faux stitching accents on the door armrests.”

When it comes to noise, ConsumerGuide comments, "Aura's main demerit here is marked coarse-surface tire thrum. Also, moderate wind rush at highway speeds. V6 engines sound pleasant enough, though neither is as smooth as the class leaders."

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2008 Saturn Aura

Safety

The 2008 Saturn Aura is packed with safety features and scores very well in crash tests.

The 2008 Saturn Aura is one of the safest vehicles in its class, with great crash-test scores.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2008 Saturn Aura earns five out of five stars in passenger, driver, side impact front, and side impact rear tests, and four out of five stars in rollover protection. The Saturn Aura has not been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

"The Aura doesn't skimp on safety provisions," Cars.com says. And it's true. According to Edmunds, the Saturn Aura has "antilock disc brakes, traction control and the OnStar emergency communications system," along with "Front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags." But other, more comfort-oriented features bulk up the Aura’s safety record, adds Cars.com. With the "steering wheel telescoping adjustment," you can find the appropriate distance from the airbag--a major safety concern. You can add "power-adjustable pedals" as well, reports ConsumerGuide.

When it comes to visibility, the Saturn Aura is "just OK," remarks ConsumerGuide, when looking "dead astern and to the right-rear," though there is "no problem otherwise."

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2008 Saturn Aura

Features

The 2008 Saturn Aura comes with a lot of standard features but doesn’t offer navigation or advanced entertainment systems.

The 2008 Saturn Aura comes in well-equipped base form and in lavishly outfitted XR trim, but the price range between the two can be large, depending on powertrains and options fitted.

The 2008 Saturn Aura is available in two trim options: the XE and the XR. The XE has a lot of standard features all on its own, including "17-inch wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a trip computer and a CD stereo with satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack," according to Edmunds. The Saturn Aura XR includes luxurious add-ons such as "18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, a power driver seat, heated front seats, remote vehicle start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an upgraded stereo with an in-dash CD changer, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and rear-seat audio controls."

There are a number of packages that can be added onto the two trim levels of this Aura 2008, says Car and Driver. For instance, there is the "Advance Audio Package," which "features eight speakers, a six-disc in-dash changer, and rear-seat audio controls." There's also the "Preferred package, which adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and an eight-way power driver's seat," and the "Convenience package, which includes remote start and heated front seats and outside mirrors." And then you have the premium package for the Aura 2008, which is "essentially leather upholstery and heated front seats." Lastly, the "Enhanced Convenience package…adds a six-way power passenger's seat and power adjustable pedals but is again only available with the Preferred package."

On a less enthusiastic note, ConsumerGuide makes special mention of the optional sunroof for the Saturn Aura, which "cuts into headroom a bit."

A navigation system is not offered on the Saturn Aura, but a three-month subscription to XM Satellite Radio is standard.

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2008 Saturn Aura 4-Door Sedan XE

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I love my Saturn Aura. Was looking for a 4 door sedan with a V6, and found that it compared with the Ford Taurus for about $8k less money. Love the heated seats in cloth. Didn't want leather with my dog's... + More »
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8.2
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Styling 8.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 9.0
Features 8.0
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