2002 Saturn VUE by Bengt Halvorson (4/22/2002)
Saturn's minor makeover of its L-Series station wagon for 2003 turns out to be more of a test of this reviewer than the other way around.
In a press release that strains to be substantive, Saturn basically admits that a little chrome here, a slight adjustment there is about all the company managed to accomplish with its mid-size family wagon for the new model year. Nevertheless, I am duly seduced. Call me a superficial cad, but Saturn's judicious application of the equivalent of a little eyeliner and blush has genuinely transformed its dumpy family car into a fetching "estate wagon" with upwardly mobile pretensions.
It seems to work at the level of the subconscious. First of all, there's the new, gleaming chrome-mesh grille surrounded by fancy Euro-style headlamps and fog lights. Like an elegant string of pearls, these additions bring a welcome touch of class to a car whose former sense of style was an homage to an anteater.
Saturn design chiefs, moreover, must have taken to heart the fairly widespread dissatisfaction with the L-Series' exaggerated "wedginess" when viewed in profile. Accordingly, springs have been adjusted to alter ride height: the car sits nine millimeters higher up front, eight millimeters lower at the rear. It's subtle, but this wagon now stands tall and self-confident, not stoop-shouldered and apologetic, as before.
Creamy leather seats and delicious cut-pile carpeting had me almost convinced that I was driving an Audi Avant instead of a Saturn LW. (Actually, because it's derived from a German Opel, the LW300's Teutonic resonances are more fact than figment.) Interior fit and finish--indeed, the entire cabin's ambiance--are the most impressive I've ever beheld in a Saturn.
As must be expected for a car whose life begins at a mere $22,575, however, there are some quirks and foibles to be borne. The logic behind the location of various switches and controls, for example, is nothing short of odd. Power window switches are in the console, the power mirror adjuster is at the base of the driver's A-pillar, and door lock/unlock toggles are more or less at shoulder height for front occupants. Eventually, I'm sure most owners will react intuitively to these placements, but it's an oddball pattern that seems needlessly counterintuitive.