The first in a series of classic but still relevant Mags reviews.
Insert Darth Vader music here.
I copped a ride in Toronto today. Black on black with silver accents instead of the grotesque wood, AT6 and the 3.6.
Styling is subjective. This I know. But much like anyone with half a brain can see that N'Sync was a derivative version of the Backstreet Boys, who were a derivative version of NKOTB, the Aura is a derivative of, well, everything. The ass looks like the G6, the tail lights look like the Fusion, the front looks like a mashup of the Accord and Malibu, and the side profile looks like a Sebring. All in all, it's not ugly per se, but it's definitely not pretty. More like generically fulfilling. You won't notice it, and you won't notice that you didn't notice it. It's like the Phillip Seymour Hoffman of midsize front wheel drive sedans. It's a shame really, because the concept was just a touch sharper enough that it stood out with its more distinct creasing and wheel arches. Add in generic wheels as well, and you've got something along the lines of the Lucerne rather than something that will stir your soul.
I'll be upfront about it. The Aura has a great QUALITY interior. Soft touch materials, smooth operations, generally hefty feel to things. Dig deeper however, and a slew of parts bin atrocities and simply weird design decisions come to the forefront. The metallic trim version is definitely the one to go for if you've got any taste at all (read, aversion to swaths of fake wood). My issues dealt mainly with the center stack, which looks as though 3 different people designed it, who were all overseen by the unseen hand of a beancounter. The top portion is reminiscent of the Malibu, the middle portion with it's plug and play corporate radio is all Impala, and the bottom portion is truly the only modern part. Combined together they seem mismatched and haphazard, with the top portion angling out, the middle in, and the bottom neutral. It lends a surreal melted effect, and is simply out of place in a vehicle costing nearly 37k. On the plus side, the electro gauges are a nice upscale touch, and as I said earlier, the ergonomics are spot on... it's just that the overall execution is lacking.
Spacewise, the Aura is a tad bigger inside than the G6, with a touch more shoulder/thigh room, and a backseat that features more legroom than headroom, although with the fastback roofline of the G6 eliminated, the Aura is a tad friendlier in that respect. The trunk is vintage G6- all length, no girth, and a high liftover and small opening that makes it useless for much more than grocery bags filled with spongecake.
Ah, the drive. Two things of note- the Aura is splendidly smooth and it's splendidly powerful. The 3.6 V6 is a willing performer up to the redline, and has more than enough oomph to scoot with the best that the competition has to offer. Matched with a smooth 6 speed auto, I felt as though I was not driving a GM vehicle. This is a good thing. People muttering about how all GM needs is a pushrod engine just simply have no idea. I'll give credit where it's due- the Aura has a powertrain combo that is finally competitive. Handling however, which is hydraulic rather than the shitforsaken electric found in G6 GTs is ponderous, with slow reactions from the suspension to sharp inputs, and a generally 'cushy' ride that can't keep up with the engine promises. It's not Buick bad mind you, but it's a step below. One can hope that the Redline version fixes this. I also noticed that the tires were quick to let their voices be heard under duress- also not indicative of a true sports sedan- there was resolute understeer at speed in corners, and with the fairly soft suspension, it would feel as though you were going to plow straight ahead if you weren't paying attention. Play with the Aura as though it's a boulevardier, and you'll be happy... but isn't this supposed to be a European import competitor?
Much like a lot of what the General offers nowadays, the Aura tries to be too many things to too many people. Plus it suffers from personality disorder. Is it a sports sedan because of the great powertrain? Is it a cruiser because of the suspension and steering? Is it a family hauler? Is it an entry level executive vehicle? It seems to take a little of every segment, without being a master of any. The powertrain, while great, is not 'better' than the ones offered by Honda/Nissan/Toyota, heck, even the G6 has the 3.6 option this year. The Camry has excelled at being a Japanese Buick for the last 15 years, and has the track record for quality. The Impala is a much better choice as a larger car if you want a sedan that has space. And finally, aspirations for being a competitor to VW and Audi are all fine and good, but sit in EITHER of those makes, and you'll scoff at the idea that this particular Saturn has a chance to gain entry into that market.
Simply put, the Aura is a half baked exercise that needed another 6 months to be fully formed. Seems to be a recurrent theme for GM. It IS the best of the Epsilon offerings, but that sadly is not enough.