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Exclusive: Vue 2 Mode Hybrid Test
Step on the gas of the Saturn 2 Mode Hybrid and be prepared for an exhilarating ride. With the added kick from electric assist, Saturn's new advanced hybrid really scoots thanks to 262 horsepower and 250 lbs-ft of torque. Improved acceleration is important, but for many the added fuel economy provided by electric drive at both low and high speed will likely be the primary appeal.
Green Car recently had the opportunity to drive an early production Vue 2 Mode Hybrid on public roads around GM's Milford, Michigan proving grounds. This example was one of the first off the assembly line and GM engineers were busy conducting shakedown evaluations. Though an early unit, our test Vue was representative of how the full production version will drive.
The 2009 breaks new ground as the first application of two mode hybrid technology on a front-wheel-drive platform. The two mode system, developed by General Motors in a joint venture with BMW and the former DaimlerChrysler, utilizes two electric drive motors. Unlike conventional full hybrids that employ electric drive primarily at lower speeds, the two mode system also provides electric motor assist at freeway speeds.
That high-speed assist is evident in the Vue 2 Mode's fuel economy figures. Most hybrids yield higher fuel economy at slower speeds than on the highway because that's where the electric motor comes into play. On the 2 Mode system, the highway mileage is actually higher like non-hybrid vehicles because of the electric assist at speed.
Official EPA mileage estimates aren't available yet, but GM's internal testing places fuel economy at 28 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Judging from the instant and average readouts on our test car's onboard computer, those numbers may be conservative. We evaluated acceleration from a stop and passing maneuvers on the freeway, with our average slightly over 30 mpg. Driving for maximum efficiency, we saw 33.4 mpg at a steady 65 mph cruise on the highway. The Vue has a generous 18.5 gallon gas tank so you can stretch highway fuel range well beyond 500 miles.
If you like spirited driving, you'll find the Vue 2 Mode Hybrid to be a lot more fun than most hybrids. Saturn lists its 0-60 mph time at an impressive 7.5 seconds. While that's pretty solid acceleration from a stop, its more functional attribute is much more confident merging and passing. As an SUV, the Vue 2 Mode Hybrid is a good workhorse and offers a gross tow weight rating of 3,500 pounds, enough for a recreational ski boat or good size utility trailer.
Shoehorning the two mode's twin 55-kW electric motors in with the 3.6 liter V-6 and 2MT70 automatic transmission makes for a very full engine bay. The V-6 is a direct injection design with variable valve timing that's modified to run as a partial Atkinson cycle engine for improved fuel economy. This is a very smooth powertrain package. Unlike four-cylinder hybrid systems, it's never rough or sounds busy. Transitions between electric drive, gas only, and blended modes are almost undetectable. That's not to say that the driving experience is numb. To the contrary, the Vue 2 Mode is sporty with a bit of a healthy rasp in the V-6's exhaust note under full throttle.
Packaging is very similar to the Vue XR trim level although the roof rack was deleted for better aerodynamics. The Vue 2 Mode rides on low-rolling resistance Goodyear P225/60R17 Integrity radials with special five-spoke alloy wheels, a combination that's more aerodynamic than the Vue's standard wheel and tire package. The low-rolling resistance tires did seem a bit harsh, but overall chassis dynamics and balanced weight distribution make the vehicle fun to hustle along a challenging stretch of road.
We were also impressed with the fully blended electro-hydraulic brake system that enables regenerative braking, traditional four wheel disc friction braking, or a combination of the two. Brake pedal feel is quite normal with great stopping power. The Vue 2 Mode's 1.8 kWh 300V battery pack has 22 nickel-metal-hydride modules and is mounted below the rear cargo floor. The battery is liquid cooled, allowing GM to be a little more aggressive with battery operation. The battery eliminates the space for a spare tire, but a tire inflator is standard and if that doesn't work there is always On-Star.
Saturn will continue to offer the four-cylinder Vue Hybrid - a mild hybrid - as a low-cost alternative alongside the new 2009 Vue 2 Mode Hybrid. This makes Saturn the first manufacturer to offer two distinct hybrid systems in the same model. The four-cylinder Vue Hybrid has an MSRP of $28,265 with EPA fuel economy estimates of 25 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. Final pricing for the more advanced 2 Mode Vue Hybrid hasn't been set, but GM is on record that it will be under $33,000.
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