New Car/Review

1998 SATURN SC2

by Matt/Bob Hagin

saturn

SEE ALSO: Saturn Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 13,895
Price As Tested                                    $ 18,405
Engine Type              DOHC 16-valve 1.9 Liter I4 w/SPFI*
Engine Size                                 116 cid/1901 cc
Horsepower                                   124 @ 5600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               122 @ 4800 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                    102.4"/67.3"/180"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     2409 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  12.1 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P195/60R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.31

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            26/36/32
0-60 MPH                                         10 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       17.5 seconds @ 83 mph
Top speed                                           120 mph
     * Sequential port fuel injection

(Matt Hagin says that Saturn sales and service are strong selling points for the company and its practical buyers. His father Bob comments that its "practical" new SC2 coupe is a pretty quick sportster, too.)

BOB - General Motors has started two brand names in the past decade Matt, Geo and Saturn. The Geos were rebadged Japanese cars aimed at giving Chevrolet dealers small imports to market, but now they carry the Chevy Bow Tie logo - at least for this year. On the other hand, Saturn started from scratch as an import fighter with is own corporate structure, factory and dealer network. After eight years, it's stronger than ever and still enjoys a sales and service reputation that other brands can't match. The Saturn mystique lives on.

MATT - In the bare-knuckles marketing world of small cars, Dad, all the charm and chutzpah in the world won't sell cars for very long unless there's a pretty good product to go along with them. Fortunately for General Motors, the hype that goes with Saturn products is pretty accurate and the little 2300-pound SC2 coupe that we're testing this week is a good example. Its engine is a fairly sophisticated all- aluminum four-banger with twin overhead cams that puts out 124 horses and runs it through a five-speed transmission.

BOB - The engineers at Saturn were pretty savvy when they designed the drive train on the SC2, Matt. The final drive ratio is a low 4.03 and the spread between the first four gears is very close. This provides really quick acceleration off the line and when at the end of an 8.9-second quarter-mile acceleration test, it's just ready to be put into the overdrive fifth gear. Fifth is pretty tall so the driver gets the best of both worlds - good acceleration up to 60 MPH, plus a possible 36 miles per gallon while cruising on the highway in top gear.

MATT - The SC2 is good in the handling department, too. The front suspension is conventional MacPherson struts and the back is controlled by a pair of parallel arms with a transverse rod to control sway. The Saturn SC1 economy coupe has an identical chassis but the SC2 is fitted with a slightly heavier sway bar up front plus an additional but smaller bar in the rear. It rolls on performance-slanted 195/60R15 tires that are "H" rated, but I think that the 130 MPH speedometer is optimistic. In addition, our SC2 had anti-skid brakes which adds disc brakes in the rear instead of drums, as well as a traction-control system for wet weather safety. All things considered, Saturn buyers get a lot of "sport" in the SC2, as well as hassle-free buying and good dealer service. I also find it interesting that Saturn gives a thirty day or 1500 mile no-questions-asked return policy. You don't like the car, you bring it back.

BOB - There are considerable creature-comforts in our SC2, Matt. But like all compact coupes, the room in back is cramped and the head room up front is a bit tight for tree-toppers like your brother Brendan. Power-operated door locks, windows and a power right-side mirror are combined with air conditioning, cruise control and extra-fancy alloy wheels in a $2300 extra-cost package. But I'd trade off the fancy $700 leather upholstery for another full-sized tire and wheel that could be used in a five-way tire rotation. I never could abide by those skinny little "emergency" spares.

MATT - But you can't argue with the construction of the exterior, Dad. The superstructure, top, hood and trunk lid are steel but the body panels and doors are semi-flexible plastic that can be easily unbolted for replacement if they get banged up. This must have an effect on insurance rates on Saturns, since the whole line is built that way. Saturn seems to try to cover all the bases by even putting an explanatory note in the press kit that says children under the age of 13 should sit in the back seat and be strapped in with the two three-way belts back there.

BOB - That shows how times have changed, Matt. I was only a year older than that when I first got my driver's license.

MATT - True, but back then there were more horses than cars, Dad.

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