NEW YORK – Saturn Corp. pulls the curtain back on its future, unveiling three new models here designed to give the brand “America fell in love with in the ’90s” a second chance.

Shown off here on the eve of the auto show are the Aura sedan, Sky Red Line roadster and new Lambda-based Outlook cross/utility vehicle.

The vehicles also served as a backdrop to a special Times Square concert Tuesday night (April 11). Today, Saturn is slated to show off its PreVue concept on the floor of the New York International Auto Show. It hints at the next design direction for the Vue CUV.

“It’s not complicated,” says Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak in unveiling the three new production models. “America fell in love with the brand in the ’90s, but we didn’t build a portfolio of products fast enough. Now we’re on a mission.”

The Aura sedan, based on General Motors Corp.’s Epsilon platform that underpins the Chevrolet Malibu, Pontiac Grand Prix and Saab 9-3, among other models, will bow midyear as an ’07 model.

Almost spot on with the concept shown at the Detroit auto show in 2005, the Aura will be offered in two trim levels, the base XE with 3.5L V-6 mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission and the XR with a 3.6L DOHC V-6 linked with GM’s new 6-speed automatic.

The new automatic includes Driver Shift Control, which allows the driver to shift through the gears via steering wheel-mounted paddles.

The entry engine delivers 224 hp and 220 lb.-ft. (298 Nm) of torque, while the up-level V-6 pumps out 252 hp and 252 lb.-ft. (340 Nm) of torque.

Later in the ’07 model year, an Aura Green Line will be added to the lineup. It gets the same 2.4L Ecotec 4-cyl. mild-hybrid powertrain setup as the Vue Green Line.

The Aura features European styling, with much of its design aesthetic borrowed from the Epsilon-based Opel Vectra. Light-emitting-diode-lit analog gauges, two-tone interior trim and center console with dual-bin storage highlight the interior.

Head and side-impact airbags are standard, as are front seat-mounted thorax protection airbags and seatbelt pretensioners. Antilock brakes and electronic stability control also are standard.

The Outlook CUV shares its architecture with the upcoming Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia. It gets the 3.6L V-6 used in some Cadillacs and delivers 265 hp and 244 lb.-ft. (331 Nm) of torque in its base XE trim with single exhaust. In the up-level XR trim with dual exhaust, horsepower creeps up to 267 hp and torque hits 247 lb.-ft. (335 Nm).

Either way, the Outlook, available in front- or all-wheel drive, gets the new 6-speed automatic transmission.

It can be configured for either seven or eight passengers. Second-row seats include GM’s new “Smart Slide” feature as standard. Seat cushions flip up while seatbacks fold forward, compressing the space occupied by the seat and allowing easier access to the rear seats or expanded rear cargo room.

Both second- and third-row seats fold flat to accommodate cargo hauling, increasing capacity to 116.9 cu.-ft. (3.3 cu.-m).

The Outlook measures 118.9 ins. (302.1 cm) in wheelbase and 67.3 ins. (170.9 cm) in track. It boasts an independent front and rear suspension and has a full complement of airbags, including side curtain (all three rows) and side impact (front row).

Production of the Outlook will begin in the fourth quarter at GM’s new Lansing Delta Township (MI) assembly plant. The GMC Acadia will launch at the same time, with the Buick Enclave joining the mix in early 2007.

The Saturn Sky Red Line gets GM’s first direct-injection gasoline engine in North America, producing 260 hp. The Red Line model also gets dual exhausts, 18-in. polished aluminum alloy wheels and special front lower fascia. It will hit U.S. showrooms in the fall.

Lajdziak won’t predict volumes for the three models. “I’m going to take a page out of Toyota (Motor Corp.’s) book,” she says. “They never forecast volumes and so there’s never any disappointment in the sales. We’re going to sell all we can.”

In addition to the new models, Saturn expects to embark this fall on a program to revamp its more than 400 dealers in the U.S.

Saturn is hoping the new models will grow the brand, which has fallen from a peak of 286,003-unit sales in 1994 to just 213,657 last year. It currently controls just 1.2% of the light-vehicle market.

Saturn customers average 43 years of age, and the division boasts the highest percentage of women buyers (61%) of any GM brand. About 70% say they would not have bought a GM vehicle if the Saturn brand didn’t exist, executives say.

The brand has a 40% buyer retention rate, but that’s down from about 50% earlier in its history. The drop, executives say, in part results from the brand’s narrow lineup and lack of new products – a problem, they hope, that is about to be remedied.

“We’re excited,” Lajdziak says of the new-product rollout. “But we’re really the underdog here. We’re going to have to earn our way back one sale at a time.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com