- Clean styling
- Handsome interior
- V-6 power (two levels)
- Minor interior quality quibbles
- Rear-seat bottom cushion
- Four-speed automatic
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.
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.
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.