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New Car/Review

Saturn LW300 (2002)

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 21,420
     Price As Tested                                    $ 26,090
     Engine Type              DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 184 cid/3000 cc
     Horsepower                                   182 @ 5600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               190 @ 3600 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.5"/78.8"/190.4"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3432 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  15.7 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                          P205/65R15 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                                 80 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            20/26/23
     0-60 MPH                                        8.4 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                                  17.0 @ 86.5 mph
     Top-speed                                           120 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

After nearly a decade of producing one small car in three variations, Saturn introduced a new vehicle to keep its customers from shopping elsewhere when it came time to trade up to a larger car.

The L-Series was introduced as a 2000 model and it comes as a sedan or wagon, with the choice of four-cylinder (L200 and LW200) or V6 (L300 and LW300) power. This week we test the LW300 wagon.

OUTSIDE - The L-series look is understated, simple and relatively plain, although that descriptive term that can be used for many vehicles in its class. Industry experts say that snappy styling isn't an overwhelming issue with buyers shopping the mid-sized vehicle category. So instead of bold styling statements, Saturn is most interested in making sure its customers are well taken care of with stellar service and sales experiences. Like its smaller siblings, the S-series cars, the L-series uses Saturn's unique composite plastic body panels draped over a unit body skeleton Saturn calls a modified space frame. The low rear sill and swing-up rear door make loading cargo easy, and with up to 71 cubic feet of space to work with, two trips to the hardware store may be unnecessary. Fifteen-inch alloy wheels and performance-oriented tires are standard, while 16-inch chrome-clad wheels and larger tires are optionally new for 2002.

INSIDE - The interior of the L-series starts with the large, firmly padded front bucket seats, which are height-adjustable on the driver's side and offer good support. The two-tone dashboard is made of quality soft-touch material, while the fit and finish is above par. Controls and instruments are within easy reach and simple to view, although the steering wheel obscures the ignition switch somewhat. The center stack of controls, which contains the audio and climate controls, is also clean and uncluttered and offers large buttons and rotary knobs for intuitive operation. Rear seating is more than ample for two and relatively roomy for three. Rear legroom could be better, but head and shoulder room is excellent. The rear cargo area gives lots of space, while the 60/40 split rear seat is very easy to fold down for extra cargo room. There is a well beneath the floor that holds a full-sized spare tire, a plus at tire rotation time.

ON THE ROAD - L-series buyers have the choice of either V6 or four-cylinder power. The aluminum 2.2-liter four, all-new when it was introduced in 2000, uses a long-stroke design, dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder to produce 137 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. Improvements to this engine include coil-on-plug ignition for efficiency and twin balance shafts for smoothness. But it is overshadowed by the smooth and powerful V6, a 3.0-liter unit that produces 182 horses and 184-lb-ft of torque. Its unique 54-degree cylinder bank design allows more practical underhood packaging than the usual 60 or 90-degree layout, and is shared by other global GM vehicles. The Saturn V6 gives a wide torque band, so passing is never a problem, and since it's mated to GM's super-smooth four-speed automatic transmission, downshifts are decisive and crisp.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The L-Series rides on a unit body platform, and with its fully independent suspension, it can provide driving fun on twisting, two-lane roads. Its stiff chassis and body skeleton displays very little twist and bend, and the ride feels firm, without being jarring. The MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspensions swallow bumps and potholes while remaining secure and well-balanced. Its power rack-and-pinion steering system is weighted well, and delivers precise and controlled road feel under most conditions. Traction control is standard, while the four-wheel disc brakes with a standard anti-lock system (ABS) provide positive, fade-free stopping power.

SAFETY - Traction control, ABS, dual dashboard and head curtain airbags, daytime running headlamps and side-impact door beams are standard. New for 2002 is the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system for securing child seats.

OPTIONS - Leather seating, $1295; power driver's seat, $325.