Byline: Russ Heaps, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Forty years ago - when Honda was primarily known as the hawker of inexpensive motor bikes - families in this country were GM or Ford or Chrysler families. More than one playground brouhaha was the result of a discussion about whether a Chevrolet Impala or a Ford Galaxie was the better car - unless your dad was a farmer or carpenter and pickup trucks weren't even on your radar - escalating into fisticuffs.
Where did that passion go?
It evaporated during the Dark Ages of American car building from the oil crisis of the mid-1970s to the latter part of the 1990s.
All that was missing from those bleak, hopeless days of the domestic manufacturers trying to find their way was someone pulling a wagon through their factory parking lots chanting, "Bring out your dead."
Consumer perception still has to catch up, but the domestic makers are back in the fight. As the progeny of a "GM family," I am particularly enthused about the new product spewing forth from the General.
Two vehicles - one redesigned and the other all-new - epitomize the reconstituted GM. The Saturn Vue and Buick Enclave crossovers are nothing short of world-class competitors. Beautifully styled, thoughtfully engineered and flawlessly executed, the Vue and Enclave will attract buyers who don't just want to buy "American," but who want to buy smart.
Benefiting from a makeover of Pygmalion proportions, the 2008 Vue bears no resemblance to the clunky-looking previous generation. Its exterior design is fresh and exceedingly stylish. The cabin has been totally reworked, with upgraded materials and drastically improved ergonomics.
Three engines and three trim levels are available. Two of the engines - the 164-horsepower 2.4-liter four and the 215-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 - are used in the base XE version depending on whether it's two- or four-wheel drive. The XR and high-performance Redline utilize a 257-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. All but the front-wheel-drive XE with its four-speed automatic transmission get a six-speed driver-shiftable automatic. Even the $21,450 XE FWD has air conditioning, power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, OnStar Safe & Sound, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player, XM satellite radio and personal music device jack.
In addition to the upgraded engine and transmission, the $24,950 XR FWD adds automatic climate control, 17-inch wheels and a power driver's seat. At the top of the Vue food chain is the $27,450 Redline. It features a lowered, stiffened sport suspension, 18-inch wheels, sportier front bucket seats and leather upholstery. All three are available with all-wheel drive.
A Vue XR FWD provided the testing ground for this evaluation. …