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Friday, December 2, 2022
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Junkyard Gem: 2004 Saturn Vue with manual transmission

GM’s Saturn Division has been gone since the final 2010 Auras, Outlooks, Skies, and Vues slunk apologetically out of the showrooms, and I’m doing my best to document the more interesting models from The General’s once-revolutionary brand. Some of the later Saturns began life as Opel designs, but the Vue actually was the first vehicle to go on the all-new GM Theta platform; the Opel Antara was thus a Saturn copy, a fact that Saturn fans no doubt trot out when they get shamed by Opel zealots over the Astra. Today’s Junkyard Gem is a most unusual Vue, in the sense that its original purchaser was fine with both the base manual transmission and the leather-upholstery upgrade.

Sure, the cheapest way to buy a new Vue— which was sold here for the 2002-2007 model years— was to get it with the base transmission: a five-speed manual. You can still buy a new car with a five-on-the-floor manual right now, but only in a handful of cheapmobiles; by the middle 2000s, a tiny-and-ever-shrinking subset of American car shoppers would even consider a three-pedal commuter vehicle.

Really, there were only two reasons an American new-car buyer would have considered a non-enthusiast vehicle with a manual transmission in 2004: either an eccentric preference for the good ol’ stickshift or just plain penny-pinching.

The cheapest possible ’04 Vue was the version with four-cylinder 2.2-liter engine, front-wheel-drive, and five-speed manual transmission, and it started at $17,025 (about $26,080 in 2022 dollars). That’s what we’re looking at here. The optional CVT automatic transmission cost an additional $2,095 ($3,210 today), so it made sense to get the manual if you wanted to save serious money on your Vue.

However, this car is loaded to the gunwales with nice equipment upgrades, to the tune of at least the Leather Appointments Package ($755) and the Sports Plus II Package ($1,300) and probably a lot more. 

So, a buyer who didn’t care about power (so no V6 engine), didn’t want all-wheel-drive, liked driving a manual transmission … but insisted on power everything and a full-zoot comfy leather interior … in a cheap small SUV sold by a fast-fading brand. The conversations with the Saturn salesmen about this thing must have been interesting.

Built in Tennessee, sold new in Denver, will be crushed near Pikes Peak.

Saturn’s big appeal, back in the era of the S-Series, was always the no-hassle/no-haggle buying process, despite the belief among some GM suits that the plastic body panels were the biggest selling point.

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