[url]http://www.washingtontimes.com/autoweekend/20070523-114946-6720r.htm[/url]\n\nSaturn Aura is loaded with amazing content\nBy Frank Aukofer\nSPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES\nPublished May 25, 2007\n\nWhen General Motors started Saturn in 1990, it was touted as "a new\nkind of company, a new kind of car."\nIt was, too.\nThe Tennessee-built small cars came with plastic body panels to\nward off dings. They were designed to compete with the imports,\nespecially those from Japan. Saturn dealers were trained to treat\ncustomers with respect, and there was no dickering or confusion\nbecause the cars were sold at the sticker price.\nThe cars, for the most part, were unexceptional. But they were\nhighly recommended for people who sought decent transportation, didn't\nknow much about cars and wanted to avoid a demeaning experience at a\nhigh-pressure dealership.\nUnfortunately, it wasn't enough. GM shortchanged Saturn on new\nproducts, and sales slipped badly. In 2002, dealers sold 204,771 new\nSaturn cars. That dropped to 105,927 in 2005. The hard times spread to\nother General Motors divisions as well, and the company sent the\nvenerable Oldsmobile brand to the graveyard.\nBut Saturn started a comeback in 2006 with the classy Sky sports\ncar, the Outlook crossover utility vehicle and the 2007 Aura midsize\nsedan.\nWith these vehicles, Saturn has undergone a transformation to a\nmore traditional car company, although the dedication to customer\ncomfort remains. But as anyone in the vehicle business can testify,\nthere's no substitute for interesting and exciting products.\nThe Aura certainly qualifies. Without question, it is the best car\never to bear the Saturn name and is a credible competitor for the\nmidsize sedan leaders: the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, as well as\nothers like the Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Pontiac\nG6, Kia Optima, Mercury Milan, Chrysler Sebring, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda\n6, Mitsubishi Galant and Volkswagen Passat.\nAn independent panel of automotive journalists voted the Aura "car\nof the year" at the 2007 North American International Automobile Show\nin Detroit.\nWhere most of the Aura's competitors have four-cylinder engines in\ntheir base models, the Aura XE comes standard with a V-6. It is an\nolder pushrod design that delivers 224 horsepower, which is more than\nwhat the competition offers. The XE has a base price of ,995.\nThe test car, however, was the Aura XR, which has a modern 3.6-\nliter engine with twin overhead camshafts and a horsepower rating of\n252. Its base price is ,595, which includes side air bags, side-\ncurtain air bags, antilock brakes, stability control, tire-pressure\nmonitoring, remote locking, remote starting, automatic climate\ncontrol, an audio system with six-disc CD changer, MP3 capability and\nan audio jack for IPods and other players, heated outside mirrors, fog\nlights and alloy wheels.\nOptions on the test car included leather upholstery, power-\nadjustable pedals, XM satellite radio, power passenger seat and a\nmotorized sunroof, which brought the suggested sticker price up to\n,919. At that, it is fully competitive with anything comparable in\nthe class.\nUnexpectedly, the Aura XR comes across more as a sports sedan than\na family car. It is stiffly sprung, with a feel akin to that of the\nmore expensive Nissan Maxima or Acura TL. The result is a harsher ride\nthan some customers might find comfortable.\nBut for anyone who enjoys precise handling, the Aura delivers\ntactile and pleasurable feedback. It turns in sharply and follows a\nline through corners with little fuss or body lean. In straight-line\ndriving, the steering has a centered feel with little tendency to\nwander.\nTo enhance the sporting orientation, the XR's six-speed automatic\ntransmission features a manual-shift mode, controlled by race-car-\ninspired paddles on the steering wheel. Using the paddles, the driver\ncan snap off rapid shifts under hard acceleration, boosting the Aura\nto 60 miles an hour in less than seven seconds.\nUnfortunately, there is no manual control at the shift lever, so\nyou're stuck with the paddles. In full automatic mode, shifts\nsometimes are abrupt.\nInside, the thick front seats are contoured for comfort as well as\nlateral support for spirited driving. Out back, there is generous head\nand knee room for two passengers, enhanced by concave depressions in\nthe front seat backs.\nHowever, the rear passenger seated in the center gets no headrest\nand is forced to sit on a perch straddling a big hump in the floor.\nAccess to the rear seat was difficult for some people because they\nwere forced to step over a high sill. The Aura also lacked inside grab\nhandles over the doors.\nThe trunk had a generous, well-finished 16 cubic feet of space as\nwell as rear seat backs that fold down for carrying long items.\nHowever, the seat backs could only be released from inside and the\ntrunk, which when unlocked with the remote control popped up only\nslightly. There's no handle on the trunk lid, so you are forced to\nstick your fingers into a sometimes grimy slot to pull it up, and you\nhave to place your hand somewhere on the trunk lid to close it.\nAn unusual and nifty feature on the test car consisted of wireless\nheadsets that allowed rear passengers to listen to a different audio\nprogram than those up front.