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New Car/Review


by Tom Hagin


SEE ALSO: Saturn Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 13,155
Price As Tested                                    $ 16,740
Engine Type                SOHC 8-valve 1.9 Liter I4 w/SPI*
Engine Size                                 116 cid/1901 cc
Horsepower                                   100 @ 5000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               114 @ 2400 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  102.4"/66.7"/176.9"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     2443 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  12.1 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      175/70R14
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.36


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            27/34/30         
0-60 MPH                                       12.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     18.0 seconds @ 74.5 mph
Top speed                                           110 mph
     * Sequential port-fuel injection

After eight years on the road, the Saturn line of cars isn't exactly the hot topic it once was. But it sells well, despite the saturated compact car market and the country's relatively cheap gasoline.

Saturns are, and always will be, affordable, economical and reliable transportation built and sold in America (and Canada). Recently, though, Saturn cars began appearing on the highways of Japan. The company builds two sedans (SL1, SL2), two coupes (SC1, SC2) and two wagons (SW1, SW2). This week we test the base wagon, the SW1.

OUTSIDE - The Saturn line received a facelift in 1996, which brought rounder lines, softer creases and a modern overall look. The slit-like headlamps make it easily identifiable as a Saturn product, and the sweeping rear window pillar of the wagon silhouettes the outline of the Saturn sedan. Saturn is well-known for its extensive use of plastic body panels, with fenders, doors, the rear hatch and quarter panels all being made of polymer material. The hood and roof are steel. A couple of new colors, Silver Plum and Dark Blue, are new for 1998, bringing the paint choices to seven. SW1 models use matte-black bumper covers, while SW2 models use body-colored versions. The restyle also added larger rear doors that swing open wide for easy entry, and new patterns on both the standard wheelcovers and optional alloy wheels are new this year.

INSIDE - Saturn Wagon models offer up to 58 cubic feet of cargo space with the 60/40 split rear seat folded flat. With the rear seats in place, capacity is nearly 30 cubic feet. Three across is a very tight fit in the Saturn's back seat, though three seat belts back there make it legal to haul three passengers. Front and rear headroom is ample, and there is lots of adjustment in the front seats to make almost anyone relatively comfortable. Tall drivers, however, will punish those behind with very little or no legroom. As the entry-level model, the SW1 comes with enough standard features to get by. Among those are an AM/FM stereo, full center console, rear window defroster and wiper/washer, adjustable steering column and intermittent windshield wipers.

ON THE ROAD - Base model Saturns come with a 1.9 liter single overhead cam four cylinder engine that produces 100 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. It accelerates well enough, though the engine doesn't like high RPMs. Saturn has done well to reduce some of this harshness since the original back in 1991, and has quietly improved the design each year since then. Improvements like a stiffer engine structure to reduce shaking, sequential port fuel injection for reliability and intake system recalibration have all contributed to the best base model engine yet. Fuel economy is good at 27/34 city/highway, and freeway cruising is as good as can be expected from a compact wagon. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, but ours came with a four-speed automatic with improved shift points to reduce unwanted gear "hunting." Traction control is optional.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The front and rear suspensions are independent, with MacPherson struts up front and a tri-link setup in the rear. We found its handling to be acceptable, but a larger set of grippier tires would make a big difference in the base model's cornering ability. As equipped, the tires squeal heavily and fold onto their sidewalls under duress, and the body dips and leans. Remember, however, this is not a performance car. The SW2 version handles much better. Equal-length half shafts that drive the front wheels do a commendable job of controlling torque steer, a steering phenomenon that affects most front-wheel-drive cars. The steering is a bit on the heavy side, and doesn't give much road feel. Braking is handled by front disc and rear drum brakes, with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) offered optionally.

SAFETY - Dual airbags and side-impact protection are standard; ABS is optional.

OPTIONS - ABS (with traction control): $895; Package 1 (power windows, right-side mirror and locks, keyless remote entry and security system, air conditioning and cruise control): $2,055; AM/FM cassette: $260; floor mats:$60; California emissions: $75; Destination: $440.