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Saturn SW2 (2001)

SEE ALSO: Saturn Buyer's Guide

by Brendan Hagin and Mikele Schappell-Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 15,150
     Price As Tested                                    $ 17,170
     Engine Type              DOHC 16-valve 1.9 Liter L4 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 116 cid/1901 cc
     Horsepower                                   124 @ 5600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               122 @ 4800 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  102.4"/66.4"/178.1"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     2627 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  12.1 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                           185/65R15 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                         Disc (ABS) /drum (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.36


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            25/36/30
     0-60 MPH                                        9.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                                  17.0 @ 91.5 mph
     Top-speed                                           115 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

BRENDAN - Lots has been written about Saturn during its 10 years of existence, and the company is currently in a state of change. It's more in the General Motors family now than it used to be and less a perky I'll-do-it-my-way maverick. It's tenets have changed, but its main product is still a line of small compact vehicles to fill that niche for GM. Although Saturn has also entered the mid-sized field, its S-Series is still the mainstay of the line. Our test car was Saturn's SW2 wagon. It's powered by a spritely little 1.9-liter, 4-cylinder engine that's up-to-date and modern with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and 124 horsepower. That could be considered low compared to some of its competition but it's adequate. And while it's not a sparkling high- performance sedan, and wasn;t meant to be, it will stretch a gallon of fuel as far as 30 miles during highway driving.

MIKELE - The SW2 has two transmissions: a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. Ours had the automatic, but I'd have enjoyed the stick-shift as long as I didn't have to do much driving on crowded city streets. I liked the way the SW2 handled, and from reviewing the Saturn spec sheet, I've come to the conclusion that its four-wheel independent suspension is pretty typical of small, relatively inexpensive econoboxes. They all have MacPherson struts up front and some kind independent system in back. Our little Saturn wagon uses a pretty simple three-link arrangement back there, with the shock absorbers in one unit with the springs. The press kit says it's "sport-tuned," but I'm not sure how that makes it different from its other wagon, the SW1. Our tester also had traction control, which would make driving under adverse weather conditions less frightening, but it's something we can't really test without getting into some kind of trouble.

BRENDAN - And I know that's something you like to avoid, Mikele. I tried the brakes out with some panic stops in the parking lot of the supermarket but to tell the truth, I've never come across bad brakes on any of the cars we've been given. Some are just better than others. The brakes on our tester were power-assisted, of course, with ventilated discs in the front and drums in the rear. There are a few things about the SW2 that I wouldn't have expected from an entry-level wagon. One was the adjustable lumbar support on the driver's seat, an item that made driving any distance lots more comfortable than in my bare-bones mini-truck, and the other was the amount of headroom in the front. It was close for your father and I and the leg room is a bit cramped for guys our size.

MIKELE - I think you guys are getting spoiled. The SW2 is OK for us "normal-sized" people. It's interior is built for convenience and the folding rear seatbacks give it almost pickup-like cargo room. The air conditioning system is standard, and all the instrument gauges are easy to read. The simple version of the SW2 has an AM/FM radio, but a CD/cassette combination can be had as an option for about $540. Of course since our tester came as a press fleet vehicle, it had this system and it makes sense for these Saturns to all be equipped this way.

BRENDAN - You're a music fan for sure. The unit in our Saturn wasn't up to the standards of the super audio systems that we found in the numerous testers we've had lately but to my critical ear, it was good enough. The rear hatch door opened easily and a rear window washer and intermittent wiper system is standard on the wagon. This is becoming another must-have item on today's market, especially on a station wagons that get a lot of dirt and debris thrown up on the back window in bad weather. Daytime running lights are standard and seem to be much brighter than the ones on other cars that have this feature. The exterior uses dent and corrosion-resistant polymer panels that keep the body free from rust and dents, a plus when an owner plans to keep a car for a long time.

MIKELE - It also has reduced-force front air bags, and side-curtain air bags are available as an option. I like a safe car and this Saturn seems to have been designed with safety in mind.

BRENDAN - I like a safe car too, Mikele, but let's not take testing these cars too literally.