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Review: 2002 Saturn LW300 Wagon

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SEE ALSO: Saturn Buyer's Guide

By Carey Russ

    The ``different kind of car company'' has quietly been expanding 
its lineup in the past couple of years. After almost a decade of 
exclusively selling small sedans, wagons, and coupes, Saturn added 
the mid-sized L-Series sedans and wagons in the 2000 model year. 
And it now has its very own, and very Saturn, SUV, the VUE. This 
is good - it keeps existing Saturn owners as customers when they 
need something larger, and new vehicles can attract totally new 
potential customers, who never would have considered a small car, 
as well.

    I first met the L-Series when it was introduced to the press 
almost three years ago. At that time, I was pleasantly surprised to 
find cars that were a step up from the existing small Saturn not only 
in size, but in comfort and refinement, too. And this is not to cast 
disparagement on the small Saturns, as they have benefited from 
continuous development, making them very competitive in their 
class. With its lineup of four-cylinder and V6 sedans and wagons, 
the Saturn L-Series fits well into the mid-sized class. Continuous 
improvements have been made to the L-Series since its 
introduction, and 2002 sees standard head curtain air bags, antilock 
brakes, traction control, and automatic headlights, with upgraded 
options including a six-disc in-dash CD changer, automatic climate 
control, the ``OnStar'' telematics system, and even a limited-edition 
top-of-the-line LW300 model with almost all options as standard 
equipment and a DVD rear-seat entertainment system. 

    One of the special edition LW300s has been my transportation 
for the past week. I was initially a little skeptical,

after all ``luxury,'' ``power,'' and ``Saturn''

are not often used in the same sentence. But in this case, believe it.

In most parameters, it compares well to more expensive cars with more expensive brand names,

and even more favorably to entries in the middle-class midsize market segment. The regular V6-powered LW300 should be functionally identical, and can be outfitted to a similar level. Since not everyone who wants something roomier than a sedan wants a minivan or SUV, wagons are beginning to make a comeback. The Saturn LW should help both the wagon cause and Saturn's. APPEARANCE: Although the large Saturns share no body panels with their smaller relatives, they are unmistakably Saturns. The rounded front with prominent low, wide, pointed headlights and a small, simple grille gives a definite Saturn face, with curved front marker lights reinforcing the look. Sedans and wagons share all bodywork from the windshield forward, and have doors, front fenders, and bumper caps made of dent and ding-resistant plastic. The LW wagon has a simple, rounded two-box shape and a very European monochrome finish with a chrome accent strip below the side windows. The LW300 special edition comes only in black with chromed alloy wheels. COMFORT: The Saturn L-Series has a contemporary, cosmopolitan interior design that is very different from that of the S-Series, and helps make the car look more expensive than it actually is. With its leather seats, heated in front, the well-equipped special edition LW300 borders on luxury. The two-tone interior color scheme, flowingly-sculpted instrument panel, and switchgear out of the Opel catalog with window lifts in the central console gives it a European ambiance. The front bucket seats provide good comfort and support, while the rear bench is contoured for real human bodies and wide enough to fit three people reasonably, or two with very good space. The rear seat folds 60/40 for those times when the regular cargo area isn't enough. Otherwise, a cargo shade hides things in the cargo area from inquisitive eyes. The DVD entertainment system is similar to those used in minivans and SUVs, and includes headphones for rear passengers so they can listen to something other than the front-seat program, or watch a movie. The DVD unit is placed on the console, with access from the front, and includes RCA jacks allowing attachment of a camcorder or video game console. The LCD screen folds from the ceiling behind the front seats. SAFETY: All Saturn L-Series models have chassis construction with a strong central safety cage designed to protect occupants, and front and rear crush zones. Head curtain air bags, antilock brakes, and traction control are standard on all models. ROADABILITY: A large part of the Saturn LW300's European feeling can be traced to its chassis setup. The rigid Saturn space frame provides a solid anchorage for its fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension. Compliant, well- matched spring and shock rates give it a not-too-soft, not-too-firm ride that offers very good comfort, much better handling than expected from a wagon, and quick recovery from road irregularities. Because of this, the LW300 feels like a contemporary European wagon, not a traditional American model. PERFORMANCE: If its suspension has a European accent, the LW300's modern overhead cam 3.0-liter V6 is tuned for good old all-American low-end torque, all the better to deal with everyday driving. Its torque peaks with 190 lb-ft at a convenient 3600 rpm, with plenty below that. 182 horsepower is developed at 5600 rpm There is no shortage of power for acceleration, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes ensure quick stops.. The four-speed automatic transmission has well-chosen ratios and shifts with almost imperceptible smoothness, adding to the LW300's near-luxury feel with no real detriment to fuel economy. I saw almost 24 mpg in mixed city, highway, and secondary-road driving. CONCLUSIONS: Luxury and power in a Saturn? Absolutely, especially if the Saturn in question is the LW300. SPECIFICATIONS 2002 Saturn LW300 Wagon Base Price $ 22,350 Price As Tested $ 26,200 Engine Type dual overhead cam 24-valve V6 Engine Size 3.0 liters / 183 cu. in. Horsepower 182 @ 5600 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 190 @ 3600 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 106.5 in. / 190.4 in. Curb Weight 3272 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 18.0 Fuel Capacity 15.7 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular Tires P215/55 HR16 Firestone Firehawk GTA Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 29 / 24 0 to 60 mph est. 8.7 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES DVD Entertainment package - includes: power driver's seat, leather appointments, 16-inch chromed wheels, fog lamps, AM/FM/6-disc CD/cassette, DVD system, advanced audio system, 50-state low emissions, black exterior with grey leather $ 3,350 Delivery charge $500