SEE ALSO: Saturn Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS MODEL: Saturn LS2 Sedan ENGINE: 3.0-liter V6 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 182 hp @ 5,600 rpm/190 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four speed automatic WHEELBASE: 106.5 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 190.4 x 69.0 x 56.4 in. STICKER PRICE: $21,595
Model year 2000 seems to be the year of the LS. Lincoln has introduced one, Lexus has had one, and Saturn has come out with one. To the serious observer, there's no way these cars could be mistaken for one another, but it's interesting that all chose similar nameplates.
This week's tester is the Saturn LS2. The "LS" part of the name means it's in Saturn's new family of mid-size cars, as opposed to the compact "S" series. The "S" part of the name indicates it's a sedan, although we also drove the LW, or wagon version. The "2" means it's powered by Saturn's new 3.0-liter V6 engine that develops 182 horsepower. This is a lot of power for a Saturn, of any size, and it gives the brand a new personality.
The LW we tested was an LW1, with a 2.2-liter DOHC inline four that developed 137 hp. This was a decent amount of power, and fit the Saturn well, but after driving the six in the sedan, the four in the wagon seemed underpowered. Put the emphasis on seemed, because in all cases the four did its job well.
The six-cylinder engine in the wagon is a new engine for Saturn, which had used only four-cylinder powerplants before. I liked the six. It was smooth, it was quiet, and it did what it was asked to do every time. I was surprised by the quickness of the LS2 in all situations. It had good acceleration, and if I wanted to pass someone on the highway I had enough reserve power to accomplish the task. I think some of the other drivers on the highway were also surprised by the Saturn's quickness, because I was able to sneak ahead of a few of them.
Saturn has also changed the styling on the LS2. It's a larger car than the compact Saturns of old, but the simple aerodynamic style remains. The LS2 has Saturn's signature headlamp and tail lamp designs and features daytime running lights, as do all GM cars. Most important for many owners is the retention of Saturn's traditional polymer panels on the fenders and doors to prevent dings and minor dents. There's also a wraparound rear fascia to guard against runaway shopping carts. Both the sedan and wagon have a steel front bumper insert, front and rear bumper bars and a foam energy-management system to absorb low-speed impacts.
The new Saturns are also built in a new Saturn facility in Wilmington, Delaware, where the smaller Saturns are built in Spring Hill, Tennessee.
The LS2 retains the most important feature of its smaller sibling - the solid, well-put-together feel. One feature I always liked about the smaller Saturns was the solidity. This could be felt in such relatively minor areas as the turn signal stalk, that clicked firmly into place when it was engaged. The doors sound solid when they're closed and you gain a feeling of security inside the car that you don't get in many other compact sedans.
The LS2 is also a comfortable car to drive. With cruise control switches on the steering wheel and enough power that makes using cruise control a feasible option, this is also the kind of car you can set at a speed and ride comfortably. You don't have to keep making minor steering wheel corrections to keep it on track.
The only flaw I could find in the LS2 was the excessive wind noise when the car exceeded 60 mph. It was surprising to find this in such an aerodynamic vehicle, but it was there.
An important feature of the LW1 was the addition of traction control. Even though the car has front-wheel drive and has good traction, when we drove it on a fairly long trip over some roads that had seen some snow, the traction control helped. We also found the ABS kicking in occasionally. The ABS and traction control are a $695 option in both the sedan and wagon and they're worthwhile.
I also liked the added storage capacity of the LW1. It is a wagon, after all, and that added carrying capacity behind the rear seat helps. Saturn claims 29.4 cubic feet of cargo volume with the rear seats up, 71.3 cubic feet with them down. The sedan has a 17.5 cubic foot trunk. Both are excellent numbers for a compact car.
With a new vehicle to offer consumers, Saturn dealers must be very happy. The LS sedan and LW wagon are worthy additions to the Saturn lineup and won't do anything to harm the company's reputation.