If you got the dough, BMW is the way to go.
But if you’re wiling to sacrifice style, Saturn can save you a bundle
There is only room for one original. BMW builds high-end touring machines engineered to be among the best in the world. They are like a Rolex, and Beemers cost a mint.
As in fashion, there are also convincing knockoffs that offer an incredible style and substance for their price. Kind of like Timex. If the BMW X5 4.4i is the gold standard, then the Saturn VUE Red Line must be the clone an exceptional clone at half the price.
2006 BMW X5 4.4i
BMWs are called “ultimate driving machines” for good reasons. These super-cruisers ravage highways and pamper owners with interiors that rival a private jet.
A recent drive in the BMW X5 was an ultimate experience. Powered by a 315-horsepower V8 engine, the X5 gripped the road with all-wheel-drive. No matter how hard I stepped on the accelerator, there was always plenty of power left. But it drinks premium fuel at an astonishing rate 16-22 miles per gallon.
Heavy steering and an athletic suspension system are reassuring as the big SUV glides over almost anything with only a hushed rumble from the tires. And the Electronic Stability Control keeps the X5 going as straight as a rail.
The massive doors feel like they were designed to protect against nuclear missiles. In case of an accident, passengers should feel pretty safe: The X5 is equipped with dual front, side and side curtain airbags. BMW leather, which covers power seats, the steering wheel, doors and the shift knob, smells like a sugarcoated Gucci loafer. You’ll have a tough time finding any interior plastic.
For the best balance between off- and on-road capability, the X5′s suspension can be electronically adjusted from “extra-high” to clear obstacles or “high-speed low” to improve aerodynamics and handling on the highway.
But the ultimate driving machine comes with an ultimate price: at least $53,600. Of course, that comes with four years/50,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance.
2006 Saturn VUE Red Line
If you can’t afford an X5, don’t be envious. There’s a convincing alternative: the Saturn VUE Red Line.
Fine, you’ll have to settle for only one suspension setting. And forget about the big V8 engine. And the leather isn’t as fine. However, you will get an stylish ride that drives well and pampers passengers with a detailed interior. And you’ll save a bundle.
The sport version of Saturn’s popular crossover wagon, the VUE Red Line has a menacing air intake, body-color bumpers and door handles, a chrome exhaust tip and 18-inch alloy wheels. Saturn ditched the luggage rails, but the dent-resistant plastic body panels remain.
The inside has black leather and suede seats, a CD audio system with XM Satellite Radio and ambient floor lighting (you can choose between yellow or blue light). There’s also a glass sunroof and lots of storage cubbies.
The VUE Red Line sports it up with chrome-ringed gauges, chrome accented pedals, the Corvette’s three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel and brushed chrome accents around the center controls.
Rear seats fold down for cargo space that can easily hold a mountain bike.
The VUE runs fast because of a 3.5-litre 250-horsepower Honda V6 engine (no bad thing). Whether racing a pesky sport coupe or roaming the fast lane, the VUE puts it down. Fuel economy ratings of 20/28-MPG city/highway are excellent for an SUV especially one that performs as well as the VUE Red Line.
To make the VUE Red Line more of a performer than base models, engineers lowered its suspension, gave it larger wheels, firmed up the steering, and tightened its suspension. The result is a small crossover wagon that is a lot of fun to drive while looking stylish.
With an as-tested price of $25,480, the Saturn VUE Red Line is an incredible bargain. You may not get free scheduled maintenance, but Saturn’s service department and the prices rank pretty high. And there’s nothing wrong with driving a Timex.
Who: Cordey Lash
Occupation: Account manager for GLBT Strategic Partnerships for Wyndham Worldwide National Sales.
Current car: 2006 Mercedes Benz C230 Sport, alabaster.
Purchased at: Park Place Mercedes Benz, mid-cities location
How much did you settle on? No money down. And my monthly payments are within pennies of my 2002 Lincoln LS V8, which I bought with an employee discount.
Insurance agent: Peter Fisher Allstate Insurance.
Monthly insurance rate? $148.24
Why this car? Buying a car is Dallas is about style and convenience. But every car eventually needs maintenance. So I shopped at dealerships that are convenient to my home in Oak Lawn. Based on service, I had three great dealerships to choose from: John Eagle, Park Place and Sewell. Although John Eagle spoiled me over the past three years, Park Place showed me a service perspective that I would have never dreamed of.
Car nicknames: Halle after the Academy Award-winning actress. But a good friend of mine named my new ride “BeBi,” which is short for Benz Bitch.
My car’s personality: Practical, fun and quick. But always stylish especially with her radiating three-pronged Mercedes “star.”
Previous vehicles: 2002 Lincoln LS V8, 1998 Toyota Corolla S, 1995 Honda Civic Coupe EX, 1991 Honda Civic Si and a 1985 Honda Accord LX.
Least favorite car: My boring-as-all-get-out 1998 Toyota Corolla.
Worst flat-tire: I’ve had only one, and it happened while I was at home. Allstate Motor Club came to the rescue.
Worst Dallas intersection: Either Lemmon Avenue at Inwood Road or Lemmon at Oaklawn Avenue during rush hour.
Best road-trip: Every road trip I’ve made to Austin has been a blast. I call the trips my “Autobahn experiences.”
Worst auto trip: To Houston in my Honda Civic Coupe with my “What’s Love Got To Do With It” soundtrack. The trip was a sheer delight, until coming through Ennis and really “feeling” the song “Proud Mary.” I got pulled over by one of the Bush cops you know, the ones who jump out of bushes!
Ever been taken for a ride by an auto mechanic? Nope. I’m from a family of auto enthusiasts and mechanics. So I’m pretty savvy in those situations.
Sexiest car on the road: Aston Martin DB9. The car is custom made for the owner. It’s brilliance on wheels.
Best car memory: The day I bought my Lincoln LS VS and graduated into “luxury car” ownership.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 10, 2006.