Most auto reviews start with how good a car looks, but in the case of the Saturn Aura, let's start inside because it's quite striking. In fact, it may be the most impressive interior I've seen in years. Instead of the standard monochromatic carpet, seats, and paneling, the Aura uses several warm colors that highlight each other and look great. The seats, for example, are two-tone reddish brown, a combination Saturn calls Moroccan leather, and the black dashboard has a wood stripe across it. This good-looking combination worked for me.
Other notable interior options include adjustable and heated front seats along with adjustable pedals. Heated seats are a welcome option, especially last week, which saw high temperatures in the single digits. Adjustable foot pedals and steering wheel allow for the perfect driving position.
Saturn engineers say the car has laminated-steel sound insulation in the dash. This three-layer construction, two sheets of metal sandwiching a thin polymer layer, reduces engine and road noise in the cabin. I concur. Even at highway speeds, the Aura rides quietly. Audio controls on the steering wheel are an excellent idea. It's a safer way to keep your eyes on the road while playing with the radio, especially in an unfamiliar car.
The handsome and functional interior more than compliments an exterior which easily rivals the Accord and improves on the Camry, which isn't difficult. A few notable exterior features include stainless-steel exhaust, halogen headlamps, fog lights, and LEDs as brake lights. These last items should last the life of the car.
The engine, a 24-valve, 3.6-liter V6 with variable-valve timing, pumps out 252 hp. And thanks to a six-speed transmission, the car delivers some knock-your-hat-off acceleration. Passing was a snap. Step on the gas, the transmission quickly downshifts, and — Bam! You're gone. The EPA says to expect 20 mpg city, 28 highway. The onboard computer rated my mostly city driving at 22 mpg.
Neck-snapping acceleration is certainly exciting but I'd gladly trade some of it for more miles per gallon. The standard engine, a 3.5-liter V6 generates 232 hp and delivers an estimated 20/30 mpg. Even that will spin the tires on dry pavement.
Our Aura also has StabiliTrak. It monitors several conditions such as the car's steering angle, individual wheel speed, and yaw rate, and makes corrections without the driver even knowing. Despite the snowy streets and driving antics of others, I never lost control of the car, so I can't say how well StabiliTrak works. Or can I?
The base Aura carries a list price of $23,945 and comes with a goodly amount of standard equipment. Our XR sedan has another $2,424 worth of options (power sunroof: $800, leather: $100, and a convenience package: $425) bringing the total to $27,019. But for my money, the only option you'll really need are those wonderful heated seats.