New Car/Review

Saturn

Saturn LS1 Sedan (2000)

SEE ALSO: Saturn Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 17,610
     Price As Tested                                    $ 18,220
     Engine Type              DOHC 16-valve 2.2 Liter I4 w/SPFI*
     Engine Size                                 134 cid/2198 cc
     Horsepower                                   137 @ 5800 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               147 @ 4400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.5"/69.0"/190.4"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3021 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  13.1 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                          P195/65R15 all season
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 85 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.31

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            23/32/27          
     0-60 MPH                                       10.5 seconds
     Top speed                                           110 mph

     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

For a decade, Saturn sedans, wagons and coupes have been common sights on our roads. But if a Saturn owner wanted to move up to a larger vehicle, he or she had no choice but to shop a competitor because compact cars were all that Saturn built.

But now the company finally has a midsize vehicle, the L-Series, to compete in that large segment of the U.S. market. And just as the first Saturns were no-nonsense in their approach to new vehicle marketing, the newest L-Series is sold and serviced the same way.

OUTSIDE - Although its roots are in Germany, the new car is not just an Americanized clone of the Opel. It's over a foot longer and rides on two inches more wheelbase than GM's European sedan. Closer in size to its import-badged, U.S.-built competitors, it is quite a bit bigger than the original Saturn. Overall, the look is more of a wedge shape, with a sloping character line running from the leading edge of the hood to the tail lights. It has a pointed nose with slim headlights, a relatively flat roof and a sharply dropping tail end. It uses Saturn's familiar dent-resistant polymer door and fender panels and is virtually free of chrome strips and badging, while all but the base model get a pair of body-color outside mirrors. Only the LS2 and LW2 models have alloy wheels as standard equipment, but our test LS1 wore them as an option.

INSIDE - The L-Series is roomy inside, which is what buyers in this category typically want. With an EPA interior volume of 96.9 cubic feet, there is room enough in the back seat for two full-sized adults; three for shorter trips. There will be more familiar pieces inside, where several of the gauges and switches were borrowed from the smaller Saturn models. Large gauges are well-placed and very easy to see, while the radio and climate controls are housed within the center of the instrument panel. Its front bucket seats are comfortable, supportive and adjustable for most drivers, but legroom in back could be better. Its sizable 17 cubic feet of trunk space can be expanded by folding down the rear seat, which can then be locked for added security. Standard features of our test LS1 include a tilt steering wheel, a padded center console, fold-down rear armrest, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors (also heated), and cruise control.

ON THE ROAD - The standard engine for the entry-level rung of the L-Series is an all-new 2.2 liter dual overhead cam four cylinder engine. It uses four valves per cylinder and sequential port fuel injection to produce 137 horsepower and 147 pound-feet of torque. This engine is reported to be exclusive to Saturn for one year, then made available to other GM-owned marques beyond 2001. A five-speed manual transmission is the standard gearbox, while an electronic four-speed automatic is optional. Power from the 2.2 is adequate - maybe even downright sprightly when mated to the five-speed. Uplevel L-Series models get a 182-horse, 3.0 liter V6 that is found under the hoods of several GM vehicles. This is the engine of choice, although Saturn's broad spectrum of price ranges means it could be beyond the budget of some buyers.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Saturn has long touted its construction techniques that feature polymer body panels hung on a unique space frame. The L-Series uses an updated evolution of that technique, with some added stiffness for a stouter feel on the road. The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear layout, while coil springs, tube shocks and n anti-roll bars reside front and rear. The front suspension is mounted to a stiff, hydroformed steel subframe, which provides a very solid attachment for the suspension and steering components. It rides smoothly, yet taut, and is surprisingly agile on backcountry roads. Quick-ratio rack-and-pinion steering is nicely weighted, with good on-center feel and excellent road feedback. Braking duties on entry-level L-Series models is handled by a front disc/rear drum setup, while an anti-lock braking system is optional.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, daytime running headlamps and side-impact door beams are standard. ABS is optional.

OPTIONS - Uplevel stereo: $100; floor mats: $70; destination: $440.

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