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New Car/Review

1997 Saturn SC1 Coupe

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Saturn Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:            1.9-liter inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 100 hp @5000 rpm/114 lb-ft @2400 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Five-speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:      27 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, mpg test
WHEELBASE:         102.4 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    180.0 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    52.2 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     67.3 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       2309 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     12.2 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  11.4 cu. ft.
TIRES:             P175/70R14
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level,
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, cruise control, 
                   air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio
                   with cassette, anti-lock braking 
                   and traction control,
                   dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $15,450

I have complained about Saturns a lot in the past. While they appear to be very well built and a good bargain for the money, I have always felt the engines were too noisy. Now comes the 1997 models and at last there have been some changes.

First, the engine. The 1.9-liter four cylinder is still slightly buzzy, but it's a great deal quieter than the four cylinder engines of the past. With 100 horsepower to offer, it's still not one of the most powerful engines in its class, but it can get the Saturn out of its own way quickly and it offers very good fuel economy. Saturn gets a B+ for its engine work.

Now, the styling. I have always liked Saturn styling, and a coupe usually has better lines than a sedan or wagon. In this case, there's no change for 1997. The entry-level SC1 coupe we tested was aerodynamic and slick.

Saturn claims that every exterior panel, and all glass and light assemblies have been changed. It's obvious. There's still a confusing look to the front end where the hood appears to be slightly open, but it's just a unique styling feature that you learnt o live with after a while. The new aerodynamic shape reduces wind noise considerably, and with the quieter engine, high-speed traveling is less of a strain than it once was.

As with all Saturns, a space frame design is used that allows the use of rust-proof, dent and ding resistant recyclable polymer panels for doors, fenders, quarter panels and fascias, which are the areas of the vehicle most prone to low-speed impacts and corrosion. Just look at your own car and count the parking lot dings in the doors and you'll appreciate the use of polymer material. The hood, roof and upper portion of the deck lid are steel.

Inside, front and rear headroom have been increased by about an inch and it's noticeable. I like to wear an "Indiana Jones" style hat most of the time, and in may cars I drive hatless. This isn't important because the car is warm and I don't need a hat, but it's a pain to keep removing it. I didn't have this problem in the Saturn.

With a longer, 102.4-inch wheelbase--3.2 inches longer than the `96--there are several benefits. One, of course, is more interior room, and the Saturn Coupe doesn't feel like a coupe when you're driving in it. Some coupes we've driven lately give you claustrophobia; the Saturn doesn't.

The added inches also result in a smoother ride. Combined with the MacPherson strut front suspension and the tri-link rear suspension the Saturn also has good handling on winding roads. If you can, though, get the upscale SC2 with the 15-inch tires.

While I have been critical of Saturns in the past, I have learned to like them finally. Part of the charm in Saturn, of course, is the buying experience. Saturn has trained its dealer personnel well, from the sales to the service staff, so that buying one isn't a hassle. I don't get that experience with the test cars, so I tend to be more jaded when I drive them. But now Saturn has come out with a vehicle that deserves its owners' loyalty.