New Car Review:2003 Saturn L300 Sedan - The BIG One




SEE ALSO: Saturn Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

    It was only three years ago that Saturn's L-Series was 
introduced, but continuous improvement is a driving force at 
Saturn. According to Saturn, there have been over 380 upgrades, 
refinements, and new features added to the L-Series since its debut 
in 2000. And so, the L-Series has been considerably reworked for 
2003, with new exterior and interior styling adding character and 
revised engineering adding refinement. Two grades of the 2003 
Saturn L-Series are offered, the 200, powered by a 2.2-liter four-
cylinder engine, and the 300, with a 3.0-liter V6. If it's an L, it's a 
sedan; LW means wagon. 

    Like the original small Saturn, the L-Series was designed to be a 
car for import-oriented customers, and people who otherwise never 
would have thought of a General Motors vehicle. While it is built in 
Wilmington, Delaware, there is more than a little import in L-Series 
ancestry. It is based on a platform used by Opel, GM's German 
division. Few parts directly interchange - when the L-Series was 
introduced to the press, we were shown all that did, which fit into a 
box the size of a milk crate - but an intangible feeling remains. 

    I've been driving a top-of-the-line L300 sedan for the past week, 
equipped with the ``everything included'' DVD Entertainment 
Package. Even with that, it is priced at about the average level for a 
new car today. But it is definitely not average, being closer in 
specification and feeling to a near-luxury car. It's refined and 
comfortable, with good power from its 3.0-liter V6 engine. Power 
and luxury from Saturn? Believe it.

APPEARANCE: The L-Series has received a dramatic restyling for 
2003. Gone is the conservatively-rounded nose, replaced by a 
longer, chiseled front fascia with a chromed honeycomb grille and 
slanting, wraparound headlights that give the a determined look. 
The hood line is higher, which, with the new nose, helps give the 
car the long-nose, short-deck proportions usually associated with 
rear-wheel drive cars. The rear panel has also been restyled, with 
European-looking triangular taillights replacing the previous full-
width applique. 

COMFORT: Although it is not too large outside, there is much 
more room than one may expect inside of a Saturn L-Series sedan. 
The interior, too, has been restyled, but less dramatically than the 
exterior. It still has the same basic upscale cosmopolitan two-tone 
design, but some details have changed. Satin nickel-look finish 
replaces woodgrain on the center stack and shifter trim, and the 
main instruments now have dark lettering on a silvery background. 
The standard upholstery has also been changed. The front seats 
would be at home in a car costing considerably more than the L-
Series sedan's very reasonable base price, and the rear contoured 
bench has generous head and leg room. My premium-equipped 
example had leather upholstery as part of the ``DVD Entertainment 
Package'', which also includes upgraded audio and climate control 
systems, the OnStar telematics system, a power-adjustable driver's 
seat, and more interior and exterior extras as well as the rear-seat 
DVD system, which is centered around a  seven-inch fold-down 
LCD screen in the ceiling behind the front seats. A remote 
controller and wireless headphones are included for use by rear 
passengers while those in front can listen to a different program on 
radio, tape, or CD. 

SAFETY: All Saturn L-Series models have chassis construction 
with a strong central safety cage designed to protect occupants, and 
front and rear crush zones. Head curtain air bags are standard on all 
models.

ROADABILITY: European heritage wasn't explicitly in the box of 
parts that were inherited from Opel. But it made it into the L-Series 
anyway, especially in the ride quality. Although the fully-
independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension of 
the 2003 L-Series is unchanged in basic design, it has been refined. 
Reversing the popular wedge look, spring heights of the 2003 L-
Series cars have been raised 9mm in front, and lowered 8mm in the 
rear. That, plus new sixteen-inch wheels and tires and revised shock 
damping and power steering valving give the L300 a very 
comfortable ride and good steering and cornering response. 

PERFORMANCE: If you equate ``Saturn'' with ``slow'', try an 
L300. With 182 horsepower and 190 lb-ft of torque from its 3.0-
liter V6, and a reasonably light 3200-lb curb weight, it has plenty of 
energy. Acceleration, particularly for passing at highway speeds, is 
good, and is aided by a smooth, quick four-speed automatic 
transmission. Although the 24-valve twincam V6, also used by 
some of GM's European brands including Saab, Opel, and 
Vauxhall, has an unusual 54-degree vee angle instead of the 
common (and balanced) 60 degrees, a balance shaft and other 
engineering tricks make it quiet and refined. 

CONCLUSIONS: The Saturn L300 combines comfort, power, and 
value.

SPECIFICATIONS
2003 Saturn L300 Sedan

Base Price			$ 20,645
Price As Tested		        $ 25,715
Engine Type			24-valve dual overhead cam V6
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 183 cu. in.
Horsepower			182 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			190 @ 3600 rpm
Transmission			4-speed electronically-controlled 
                                 automatic
Wheelbase / Length		106.5 in. / 190.4 in.
Curb Weight			3197 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        17.6
Fuel Capacity			15.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/55 R16 Firestone Firehawk GTA
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
                                 antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut / 
                                 independent multilink
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 29 / 24
0 to 60 mph				est. 8.6 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
DVD Entertainment Package - includes: CD-compatible
 DVD entertainment system with 7-inch fold-down screen,
 wireless headphones, remote control; leather appointments;
 OnStar communications system with 1-year safe&sound plan;
16-inch chromed alloy wheels; foglamps; AM/FM/cassette/CD
changer audio system; power driver's seat; automatic climate 
control; heated outside mirrors;
extra interior appointments				$ 4,060
Anti-lock brakes					$   400
Destination charge					$   610
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