SEE ALSO: Saturn Buyer's Guide
Coupes run from serious (and usually seriously expensive) performance machinery to economical vehicles with more flair than the average sedan. Coupes are cars for people who don't usually need to haul other people and lots of equipment around, and so hold the driver and one to three other passengers. Expensive, fast sports coupes rarely are used for such mundane tasks as commuting and shopping. Inexpensive, economical coupes are, however, very well-suited for such real-world tasks.
Saturn's SC coupe is more "sporty" than "sports," especially when equipped with an automatic transmission. But it has its own distinctive style, revised this year, and offers more practicality than any other coupe thanks to its standard third door.
The Saturn coupe's third door is a wonderful idea. Much like the rear doors now available on many extended-cab pickups, it is a rear-hinged panel that can only be used if the front door is open. It's on the driver's side of the car, an illogical spot for passenger access, but perfect for loading the small to medium items like coats or briefcases that often are tossed over or crunched behind the front seat of a coupe. And it works well for passengers, too, especially when the car is parked in a driveway.
Saturn has done a good job of refining its small sedans, wagons, and coupes over the years. The SC coupes have been restyled for the 2001 model year. More importantly, the interior design is also much improved. The 2001 Saturn SC2 is a stylish and vehicle with more comfort and practicality than is expected from a small coupe.
APPEARANCE: "Saturn swoosh" is the official description of the coupe's shape. Thanks to the Saturn space-frame structure, a major chassis redesign is not necessary when changing body panels. This is good, because nearly all of the 2001 Saturn coupe's body panels except for the passenger cabin and roof have been restyled. It's a Saturn, so all of the vertical panels are still dent, ding, and corrosion-resistant polymer, for peace of mind in parking lots. The result is a futuristic shape, but discernibly a Saturn. A bold character line running on each side from the air intake to the top of the tail emphasizes the coupe's wedge-shaped profile. The headlights and unadorned intake give character to the front. Their styling is completely new, and more rounded than before, but still very reminiscent of the front styling of the first Saturn sedan. The coupe could be described, by other car companies, as more aggressive-looking, but "aggressive" and "Saturn" together? No chance, it's too friendly.
COMFORT: The major Saturn improvements over the years have been to the interior. This makes sense, considering that most people spend more time driving their cars than looking at them. The SC has reasonable interior space for a coupe of its size, and the third door helps make it very useful. It helps passenger access, and is great for tossing packages, jackets, or whatever in the rear seat. It makes that much easier and safer than throwing possibly breakable things over the seatback. The front passenger seat is spring-loaded, and so slides forward easily for off-side passenger access. The coupe's interior was redesigned last year, and has a more mainstream, integrated design than was found in previous Saturns. The separate central pod holding the climate control and audio systems is gone, replaced by controls incorporated into the central part of a one-piece molding. The Saturn coupe's seats are well-designed and comfortable, and may be had with leather upholstery. Small touches including automatically-dimming "theater" interior lighting and a standard CD player add an upscale feeling to the SC2.
SAFETY: The 2001 Saturn SC2 has a sturdy steel spaceframe chassis with front and rear crush zones, dual reduced-force airbags, an engine- immobilizing antitheft system, and available head curtain side air bags.
ROADABILITY: The SC2 is more "sporty" than "sports," but is nimble and entertaining to drive. It's also small enough to fit easily into tight parking spaces. The "swoosh" styling benefits more than the looks, as the good aerodynamic shape has low levels of wind noise and good stability in strong winds. Improvements to soundproofing over the years have made Saturns much quieter.
PERFORMANCE: The SC2 uses the dual-overhead cam version of Saturn's 1.9-liter inline four-cylinder engine. Its 124 horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque are an improvement over the SC1 single overhead cam engine's 100 hp and 114 lb-ft. My test car had the four-speed automatic transmission, the logical choice for a sporty-but-practical urban runabout and commute vehicle. The automatic does absorb some power compared to the five-speed manual gearbox, but makes traffic less unbearable. Acceleration is quick enough so merging and passing are not problems.
CONCLUSIONS: Continuous refinement has kept the Saturn SC2 coupe contemporary.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 Saturn SC 2 Three-Door Coupe Base Price $ 16,505 Price As Tested $ 19,485 Engine Type dual overhead cam inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 1.9 liters / 116 cu. in. Horsepower 124 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 122 @ 4800 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 102.4 in. / 180.5 in. Curb Weight 2,463 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 19.9 Fuel Capacity 12.1 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular gasoline, 87 octane Tires P195/60 HR15 Firestone Firehawk GTA Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock optional Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent tri-link Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 25 / 35 / 28 0 to 60 mph 9.6 sec (mfg) Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.310 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Floor Mats $ 70 Power Sunroof $ 725 ABS with traction control $ 695 15-inch alloy wheels $ 350 Leather upholstery $ 700 Destination charge $ 440