by Carey Russ
It's no secret that the Saturn faithful have been hoping for something new for quite some time. Saturn owners that have, for various reasons, outgrown the compact sedans and coupes the company has been selling since its inception have wanted something larger. And dealers have wanted something to sell them.
Now they have it, and the midsized sedan and wagon market is in for a big surprise.
The new Saturns, the LS (Large Sedan), and LW (Large Wagon), are on their way. They have a definite resemblance to their smaller siblings, and share many of the good features of those cars, but are completely new under their dent and ding-resistant thermoplastic skin. They are based loosely on an Opel platform, but have the normal (for Saturn, at least) space frame superstructure. The roof and rear quarter panels are steel; other panels are the usual (for Saturn) parking- lot-friendly plastic. The styling is very definitely Saturn, but with a bit more of a European touch.
There are two engine choices. A 2.2-liter, 137-horsepower twin cam four-cylinder that is a close cousin to the 1.9-liter Twin Cam engine in the S-Saturns is standard power in lower trim-level LS, LS1, and LW1 models. The LS2 and LW2 get a 3.0-liter dual overhead cam V6 with 182 hp. The four can be had with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission; the V6 is automatic only. Like the smaller Saturns, the L-Series cars are front-wheel drive. Suspension is fully independent, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link setup in the rear.
I had the opportunity to drive the newest Saturns recently when they were introduced to the press in Phoenix, Arizona. I was prepared to be unimpressed -- how exciting can a Saturn be, after all? Um...my mistake. Although the cars were preproduction and pilot models, and so not completely up to final specs, they were very impressive. Very. Roomy, quiet, refined Saturns? Believe it. I was able to sample a V6 wagon, 4-cylinder sedan with 5-speed, and V6 sedan. The 4-cylinder was most like its smaller siblings, and the automatic should work at least as well with that engine. Both V6 models were far beyond anything previously expected from Saturn. They weren't fancy (being practical, frugal Saturns at heart) but were comfortable, quiet, and very European in feeling and suspension calibration. The wagon was particularly good, feeling much like some considerable more expensive European models. These cars will give current Saturn owners something to move up to, and should bring new recruits into the Saturn fold. I'll have a full report as soon as possible.