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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
Capable handling from the XR
All models are decent but involve some trade-offs
Car and Driver
the Aura's European handling is capable and confident
midsize sedan shines for its sporty road manners
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.”
The 2008 Saturn Aura provides a smooth and quiet ride, but the best powertrain comes at a high price premium.