The Ion, Saturn’s only car offering now that the L-Series has disappeared, receives a hefty makeover for 2005 which should help it considerably in its fight against the Japanese competition.

Depending on the model, there’s a revised front grille and fascia; machine facing for alloy wheels; a new chrome beltline moulding; new seats; a larger steering wheel; OnStar Gen 6 hardware with upgraded hands-free capability; and new exterior colours. All but the Red Line receive an acoustic engine cover, and there’s Quiet Steel multi-layered laminate in the plenum and dash to reduce noise, vibration and harshness. New hydraulic rear bushings, improved front lower control arm bushings and revised steering calibration improves ride and handling, and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) of 2004 is gone.

The Ion comes in a four-door sedan or the quad coupe, with two small, rear-hinged rear access doors. The Red Line edition is a quad coupe. While Saturn’s new Relay minivan has metal sides, the Ion continues to use the company’s famous dent-resistant “polymer panels”.

The sedan and quad coupe come with a 2.2-litre inline four-cylinder. The Red Line has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with supercharger, along with a stronger drive axle and equal-length drive shafts, high-flow exhaust, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, sport-tuned suspension, short-throw five-speed manual shifter, 17-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, rear spoiler, 10 mm lowered ride height, unique fascias and leather-trimmed Recaro front seats.

On the sedan, trim lines are Ion.1, Ion.2 and Ion.3 (who thinks these up?), while the quad coupe comes in Ion.2 and Ion.3; the Red Line is a single trim package.

The Ion.1 includes 14-inch steel wheels, floor mats, 60/40 folding rear seat, and AM/FM with four speakers.

The Ion.2 adds 15-inch steel wheels, air conditioning (on the sedan; it’s optional on the coupe), height-adjustable driver’s seat, CD player, and power locks.

The Ion.3 and the Red Line add fog lamps, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, power windows, power mirrors, keyless entry, CD/MP3 player, and automatic headlamps.

The upgrades address some of the criticisms aimed at the Ion in the past; its steering has been tightened up for improved feedback, its econo-noisy ride is considerably more civilized, and the seats are more comfortable. If you fold the seats, the quad coupe can hold an enormous amount of cargo. The Red Line is great fun to drive, although the Dodge SRT-4 offers 25 more horsepower for only $240 more.

On the down side, the coupe’s rear seat is still very tight and claustrophobic, and the centrally-mounted instrument cluster is still controversial.

The Saturn is built in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

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