Tricked-out small cars and trucks are all the rage with young buyers. So to try and grab a slice of that market, always unconventional Saturn has tuned-up its youngest offerings to produce the Red Line series. So let’s put the VUE Red Line and this Ion Red Line to the test, and see if high performance with high style are enough to drive Saturn sales to the red line.
Given the success of the standard-issue Saturns in attracting new converts to General Motors, the beefed-up 2004 Saturn VUE Red Line and ION Red Line Quad Coupe look like real opportunities for this brand to stretch its sales over the top.
Introduced in 2002, the VUE has already proved to be an impressive offering in the small sport-ute class, selling nearly 180,000 units to a wide range of demographics. However, with the new Red Line version, Saturn hopes to reach further into space to target the youth-galaxy. And what better way than with sharp-edged style and velocity?
The Red Line Package is available on front and all-wheel drive VUE V6’s. It starts with a sleek and aggressive body kit. The lowered front fascia wears a customized grill and brake cooling slots. The sides add new rockers, while at the rear a deep skirt, chrome exhaust tip, and Red Line badging make for an unmistakably sporty distinction. Lower the suspension an inch, and then throw on 245/50 series touring tires on 6-spoke 18-inch wheels, and finally splash on one of its standard monochromatic paint selections of Onyx Black, Silver Nickel or Electric Lime, and you’re ready to party.
To bulk up on power, Saturn turned to Honda to supply the VUE’s new V-6 engine. It’s the Pilot and Odyssey’s single-cam 3.5-liter V6, uprated to 250 horsepower and 242 pound feet of torque. That’s a jump of nearly 70 horses over last year’s GM 3.0-liter engine. With it and the required 5-speed automatic transmission, our all-wheel drive Red Line hit 60 in 7.8 seconds, with the quarter mile ending in 16.2 seconds at 87 miles-per-hour. Not bad. Power is strong right off the line. And though it does tend to fade at higher rpms, we found it very responsive for a sport-utility.
The Red Line’s lowered and stiffened suspension, with performance struts and springs, is a definite improvement over the standard VUE. The Red Line’s electric steering with sport calibration is heavy and tends to fight back. There is plenty of body roll, too, but it’s balanced by the larger tire foot print, and the whole affair is very stable. And ride is still quite comfortable regardless of the surface.
Inside, the Red Line has the same upgrades as all V-6 VUES. A quieter interior, leather-wrapped three spoke wheel and shifter, back-lit instrument panel with white gauge faces and chrome rings, and two new CD radios with MP3 playback of course.
And the Red Line package is a bargain. Only $1,995 more than a run-of-the-mill Saturn VUE V-6. That’s $24,975 for the front drive VUE Red Line, and $26,625 with all-wheel drive. All in all the 2004 VUE Red Line is slick, head-turning and a definite standout from other compact-utes.
Also running rings around Saturn is their new Ion Red Line, a real factory contender for the subcompact tuner craze. It starts with a supercharged version of GM’s 2.0 liter Ecotec 4-cylinder engine. It pumps put 205 horsepower and 200 pound feet of torque. That’s good for a snarling 0 to 60 time of 6.3 seconds and a quarter mile run of 15 seconds at 96 miles per hour.
Power jumps to the ground through a serious Getrag 5-speed gearbox, shared with both Saab and Opel. And though our drivers felt gear ratios could be closer spaced, it delivered some of the most precise shifts ever from GM.
The Ion Red Line also dons a lowered, stiffer track-tuned suspension featuring new springs, shocks, bushings and stabilizer bars. And, with its 5-spoke 17-inch forged alloy wheels with meatier 45 series performance tires, this little coupe is track ready. With 20% faster steering, runs through our slalom proved impressive. Pushed hard this coupe performs like a star athlete. A slight, consistent level of understeer makes for a balanced, capable and fun ride.
But another big part of this Ion’s kick and glam are the Red Line’s slammed sporty looks. An aggressive front fascia gives way to new rocker panels that sweep up the rear to a huge wing.
Inside, the standard Ion’s center-mounted instrument pod is complemented by Red Line perks. It’s a sportier cockpit with black interior accents, new steering wheel and bolstered Recaro sport seats to name just a few. Also, don’t forget the Ion Coupe’s rear seat access doors that make this a true double-dater.
What more could you ask for out of this cal-custom Saturn? How about a decent asking price of $20,950. With a lot more show and go than other Ions, that’s a fair deal for this planet-teer. In truth, Red Line is a trek we never expected Saturn to take, but we’re glad they did. Both the VUE Red Line and Ion Red Line are immensely affordable examples of in-house tuning done right, and it should make Saturn dealers a destination for a whole new world of buyers.
Engine: 3.5-Liter Single-cam V6
Torque: 242 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.8 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.2 Seconds @ 87 MPH