New Car/Review

Saturn

1999 SATURN SL2 SEDAN

By Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 31,700
Price As Tested                                    $ 32,775
Engine Type          Turbo DOHC 16-valve 2.0 Liter I4 w/ST*
Engine Size                                 121 cid/1985 cc
Horsepower                                   200 @ 5500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               209 @ 4600 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  102.6"/67.4"/182.2"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     3137 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  16.9 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     205/50ZR16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
Domestic Content                                Two percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.33

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
city/highway/average                            19/27/23          
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 mile (E.T.)                     16.5 Seconds @ 91.0 mph
Top-speed                                           140 mph

* Sequential port fuel injection  

Saturn's "new" products aren't so new anymore. The company began selling vehicles in 1990, successfully wooing import customers with savvy marketing campaigns, no-haggle pricing and retail servicing rivaled only by luxury car dealers.

Saturn's lineup of SC coupes and SL sedans and wagons all have features designated by numbers. The SL, SL1 and SC1 are the entry-level versions. The SC2 and SL2 have more power and more upscale standard features. This week we test an SL2.

OUTSIDE -Saturn redesigned its line in 1996, giving them a rounded, more contemporary shape. The cars still use dent-resistant plastic body panels hung from a steel skeleton, but its current overall shape doesn't have the original model's squat angularity, sharp corners and creases. That new look also brought better aerodynamic efficiency, from 0.34 down to a 0.32 drag coefficient, which reduced wind noise. The company retained the slit-like headlamps of the original Saturn, but new front and rear fascias and bumpers look much more modern. Saturns have a long wheelbase and short overhangs. SL2 models have unique Multi-fin alloy wheels as optional equipment.

INSIDE - The redesign brought with it a higher roof line, which allowed engineers to raise the seat height for more universal appeal. There creates plenty of room inside for all but the largest of passengers. Most will find the soft, overstuffed seat padding quite comfortable. The instrument panel uses an interesting "pod" of controls, center-set just ahead of the shifter. It looks like a separate unit and is made of a different color material from the rest of the dash. In it are the climate and audio controls, which are simple to see and use but would benefit from larger radio buttons. The gauges are also no-nonsense and highly legible, while the deep-dish steering wheel is comfortable to grasp and use. Climbing into the back seat is easy for two, but a third passenger will be cramped. This can be expected, however, as this vehicle is considered a compact by the EPA.

ON THE ROAD - Under the hood is some new technology. There are two engines available, both 1.9 liter four cylinder units and both have been upgraded for 1999. SL, SL1 and SC1 models use a single overhead cam unit while SC2 and SL2 models have a twin-cam version of the same engine. The twin-cam produces 124 horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque. Power hasn't been an issue with Saturn owners, but the noisy engine was bothersome. Improvements have been made to lessen noise, vibration and harshness. Among those are a new composite camshaft cover, extra crankshaft counter weights, light-weight pistons with new connecting rods and a new timing chain. A new timing chain cover also helps reduce noise. And while a five-speed manual transmission is available, our test car came with a four-speed automatic. Traction control is optional.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Its steel spaceframe provides more than just framework for the car's body panels: it's the backbone of the entire vehicle. To this is mounted a four-wheel independent suspension that uses MacPherson struts up front and a tri-link design in back. Relatively thick anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear on SL2 models, while large P185/65R15 T-rated touring radials are both "grippy" and quiet. SL2 models also benefit from power rack-and-pinion steering with a variable assist feature. This makes the steering easier while the car is stopped or rolling slowly, gradually increasing resistance as speed increases. Braking is handled by a front disc/rear drum setup, with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) offered optionally. Unfortunately, Saturn has decided to eliminate the rear disc brakes on SL2 models equipped with ABS in favor of rear drum brakes for 1999.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags and side-impact beams are standard, ABS and traction control are optional.

OPTIONS - SL2 package 2 (power windows, door locks and one outside mirror, cruise control and alloy wheels):$1,445; rear spoiler: $205; ABS: $695; uplevel CD stereo system: $510; floor mats: $60; leather seating: $700; Destination: $440.

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