Other than the above criticisms, the Aura is a solid sedan comparable to the Buick Lucerne. The handling has a heavy feel, akin to a muscle car. The cabin electronics are GM-standard, with an unspectacular but workable, MP3-friendly, in-dash six-disc changer and a convenient auxiliary input jack. Niceties such as phone connectivity and navigation are left to OnStar.
Questionable interior design
The Aura's cabin is roomy, as befits Saturn's largest sedan. In an attempt to look luxurious, surfaces are covered with glossy plastic intended to look like wood, which is passable, and the aforementioned molded plastic panels in the door, which attempt to match the seats with a stitched leather look. The result doesn't fool anyone, and we don't know why Saturn would even try. The panels also felt a little loose in our review car, which doesn't bode well for long-term durability. The rubberized material over the dashboard is nice, though.
The major tech element in the cabin is the stereo. Its monochrome amber, dot-matrix display isn't very modern, but its six-disc in-dash changer is. The CD changer handles MP3 discs and does a good job of showing ID3 tag information, letting you choose to view the song title, the artist, the album, or the folder name. XM satellite radio is optional with this stereo. One particularly nice feature of this stereo is that it can hold up to six pages with six presets on each. The stereo also has an auxiliary input jack in its face, a convenient feature for hooking up an MP3 player or an iPod.
The system uses eight speakers, with two tweeter/woofer combos mounted on the rear deck, a woofer in each front door, and tweeters mounted in the A pillars on either side of the windshield. The sound quality is above average, a little muddy in the midrange but no distortion at higher volume. A subwoofer would have added some oomph to the sound.
No Bluetooth cell-phone integration or onboard navigation is offered, but the Aura comes with OnStar. Buyers get one complimentary year of OnStar's Safe & Sound plan. We've taken OnStar navigation for a test drive, and although it works reasonably well, you have to pay $26.90 a month for the Directions & Connections plan. OnStar also offers a phone service, but you pay per-minute charges, and the car gets assigned its own phone number.
As part of the Enhanced Convenience Package in our review car, a six-way power-adjustable passenger seat and power-adjustable pedals were included, the latter not something we see too often in a sedan. An auto-dimming mirror came standard along with separate audio controls for the rear seat, complete with wireless headphones. This last was a particularly odd feature to have standard, although nice when the kids want to tune out in back while the grown-ups talk in front.
Impressive engine tech
The Aura comes in two trim levels, the XE and the XR. The XE comes with a 3.5-liter V-6, and the XR with a 3.6-liter V-6. These engines don't sound that different until you look at the detail--the XR's engine is much more advanced than the XE's. The 3.6-liter V-6, which we had in our XR review car, uses double overhead cams moving four variably timed valves for each cylinder. It also has an aluminum block whereas the 3.5-liter uses cast iron. The smaller engine only gets two valves per cylinder, moved by a single overhead cam.