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2009 Saturn Aura ReviewThe Good
Saturn emphasizes the Aura sedan's fuel efficiency for 2009, and for the first time offers its upscale Aura XR trim with an economical four-cylinder engine, giving drivers who prefer a more luxurious yet efficient car another option.The Bad
Some knock the '09 Saturn Aura's fit and finish, especially in the interior, while others note that the more fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine can at times struggle to briskly move the heavy Aura.
The CarGurus View
For drivers seeking a competitive, fuel-efficient, and reasonably priced American-made midsize sedan, the Aura offers a worthy option, even though Saturn borrowed many of its components from the European-made Opel Vectra. Still, with its flashy exterior styling, roomy interior, well-equipped cabin, and wide range of safety features, including standard StabiliTrak, the Aura has a lot to offer drivers on a budget.
At a Glance
Saturn made a number of minor upgrades to its popular Aura sedan for 2009. Joining a recent trend among automakers to design better-equipped fuel-efficient vehicles, Saturn now offers its upper-end Aura XR trim with a four-cylinder engine. The new trim, called the XR-4, joins the previously available entry-level XE trim and the top-of-the-line (and newly renamed) XR-V6 trim. In addition, Saturn tweaked the Aura's Ecotec four-cylinder gas engine, which powers both the XE and XR-4 trims, so it now squeezes out 33 mpg on the highway, up from 30 mpg the previous year. As a result, the '09 Aura four-cylinder trims now deliver the best fuel economy in their class, beating out both the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord, according to the automaker.
Saturn also offers the Aura with a hybrid engine, available on a very limited basis. It achieves an estimated 34 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in the city. For 2009, Saturn upgrades the Hybrid trim minimally, adding 17-inch wheels, up from 16-inch wheels for the previous year.
Notable upgrades for 2009 include the addition of the StabiliTrak stability control system as a standard feature on all Aura trims. In addition, the XE and XR-4 trims receive a six-speed automatic transmission with TAPshift, which enables drivers to change gears manually using paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.
Introduced in 2007, the five-passenger, front-wheel-drive Aura was named North American Car of the Year upon its introduction, and initially received a five-star crash safety rating for front and side impacts from the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While the Aura continues to come well-equipped with safety features, Saturn and GM spotlight the sedan's fuel efficiency and economy for 2009.
When it comes to the Aura's powerplants, fuel efficiency takes center stage for 2009. A 169-hp, 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing powers both the XE and XR-4 trims and achieves up to 33 mpg on the highway. The XR-6 retains its 252-hp, 3.6-liter, double-overhead-cam V6, which manages 17/26 mpg. The engines in all three trims link to a six-speed automatic transmission with TAPshift.
The Aura Hybrid's 2.4-liter, four-cylinder hybrid propulsion engine produces 164 hp and achieves up to 34 mpg on the highway. The Aura Hybrid's electric motor starts automatically and accelerates when the driver eases off the brake, and the gas engine kicks in as needed when the driver steps on the accelerator. The gas engine automatically shuts off when the Aura Hybrid decelerates or comes to a stop.
The Aura's engines achieve their fuel efficiency thanks in part to variable valve timing, which automatically alters intake and exhaust valve motion to maximize fuel efficiency while ensuring top performance, according to Saturn. In addition, the engines' lightweight aluminum construction reduces weight and helps improve performance. All engines run on regular gasoline.
Ride & Handling
The Aura borrows its platform from the German-made Opel Vectra, which has been around for some time in Europe, so GM had a chance to perfect it before utilizing it for American drivers. An independent McPherson strut front suspension and four-link independent rear suspension form the foundation of all Aura trims. Most reviewers and drivers agree that all this technology results in a balanced ride and above-average handling for a car in this segment. In addition, the Aura maintains good stability when cornering, thanks to stabilizer bars in the front and rear.
Despite electric power steering with variable assist, the steering can feel unresponsive at times, according to reviewers. Some also note that the steering wheel itself feels too large, which detracts some from the Aura's overall sporty nature.
A center dual-bin console, which has a sliding armrest, provides room for a cell phone and offers two cupholders, as well as a 12-volt power outlet. The Aura also provides two cupholders for rear-seat passengers. Other than than, storage options are adequate but not expansive.
Road noise can be pronounced, according to some reviewers and drivers. In addition, some note that, due to the car's weight, the Aura can seem underpowered at times, especially the four-cylinder trims.
Cabin & Comfort
The Aura's interior trim quality suffers a bit when compared to competitive cars from Toyota and Honda, according to reviewers, but overall the Aura gets good marks for its roomy interior. Rear-seat passengers will enjoy plenty of legroom and elbow room, and even taller drivers will find the front seats comfortable and accommodating. However, some reviewers would like to see a bit more lumbar support from the front seats. Most like the fabric seating, though many reviewers recommend the high-quality optional Morocco brown leather seats. The Aura's instrumentation in particular receives high marks. On the downside, some note difficulty entering and exiting the cockpit, and a number of drivers find fault with blind spots out the rear of the vehicle.
For 2009, Saturn adds Bluetooth wireless phone technology for both XR trims and the Hybrid. Drivers can add Bluetooth as an option on the XE trim. Throughout the line, standard features include XM satellite radio (free for 90 days), remote keyless entry, power programmable door locks, air-conditioning, and a Driver Information Center. The XR trims add leather seats, heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. A six-speaker AM/FM audio system with a CD player and MP3 connectivity comes standard on all trims.
The Aura offers nearly 15 cubic feet of cargo space (just over 13 cubic feet for the Hybrid), which drivers can expand by lowering the 60/40 split rear seat backs.
The Aura comes equipped with a wide range of safety features, including automatic halogen headlights, daytime running lights, dual-stage front and passenger airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and head curtain side airbags. In addition, traction control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes come standard throughout the line.
Saturn also includes a complete range of OnStar features as standard equipment on all Aura trims, including OnStar automatic crash response, emergency services, roadside assistance, remote door unlock, and vehicle diagnostics.
What Owners Think
Drivers find a lot to like about the Aura, including its fuel economy, handling, smooth ride, and safety features. In addition, drivers like the Aura's exterior styling and roomy interior. Despite the fact that some reviewers cite the Aura for its road noise, many drivers find the Aura to be relatively quiet on the road, perhaps due to its insulated glass. Those who opted for the XE and four-cylinder XR appreciate the fuel mileage those trims offer, while drivers who chose the XR-V6 like the acceleration provided by its six-cylinder engine. Drivers also like the Aura's value, especially when compared to the pricing of some midsize import sedans.
Some drivers, including CarGurus drivers, find fault with blind spots out the rear. CarGurus drivers also recommend the V6, as opposed to the four-cylinder, for those who favor responsive acceleration. But CarGurus drivers also like the Aura's value, braking, handling, and appearance, both inside and out.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.
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