Monday, June 18, 2007
Perception is reality, and reputations die hard. Often the past does predict the future but not always. On one hand, sure, you can count on a lot of overcast days in Seattle. Or the Big Dig taking longer than it should. Paris Hilton making another homemade porn? Well you can probably count on that too. But the Red Sox did shake off their curse and won the World Series recently, so it's possible, and even probably that General Motors' Saturn Division could build a fun to drive mid-sized affordable sedan from an American manufacturer and call it the Aura.
On a recent business trip to Washinton D.C., I had the choice of renting a Hyundai Sonata, or the Saturn Aura. Without hesitation, I jumped at the Aura, and spent the rest of my 3 days in disbelief that something with a Saturn badge could actually look deliver good road feel and precise handling. The six cylinder engine was smooth and torque-rich, and the steering was very volkswagen passat-like. This is a big complement in this price range where the camry's and accords of the world believe that road feel and properly weighted steering aren't an important part of the driving experience. After a lot of highway and backroad driving, and 8 hours driving time on the road each day, I had no doubt that if I was in the market for a mid-size sedean priced in the mid $20k's, the Aura would have to be on my list. The only major downfall I could think of with the car was the quality of the interior materials, which has usually been embarrassing in most GM products. That, and the orange backlighting of the controls just looked a bit staid and more at home in something from the late 80's than a car built in 2007. The layout, the ergonomics, the seat comfort, everything was pretty solid so with a few interior changes the Aura could really be an even stronger contender.
The car buffs know that the Aura wasn't engineered from scratch, but was instead is a built on the Opel Vectra / Epsilon platform from GM's German division. But guess what? That's ok! Actually it's more than ok, it's fantastic that someone, somewhere in that organization decided that it is a good short-term and even long-term strategy to bring over their European sedans, either the Opels from Germany or the Vauxhall's from the UK, or the Holden's from Australia and tweak them to American tastes and start seeing sales climb faster than ever before. Ford should do the same thing with it's European Focus, and Mondeo and get them here before the Fusions and 500s bore people to death. Anyway, it's refreshing to see GM taking on a product-driven approach to turning the company around instead of relying on rebates and rental fleet sales. The only hard part is getting people to realize that this car really is different not just for a Saturn, but is actually serious player and can go head to head with the Camrys, Accords, Altimas and Passats.
The fact that Saturn dealers are putting Accords and Camrys on their lots in a side-by-side comparison marketing campaign is a testament to how serious they are about the Aura and what a strong product offering it really is. It's time to unabashedly show people that American sedans have come a very, very long way; and that you might actually desire owning one more than the competition!