The new Saturn LS sedan and LW wagon are Saturn’s first mid-sized models. Based on a German Opel platform, L-Series models offer Saturn’s ding-resistant plastic body panels and a choice of four cylinder or V6 engines. Prices range between $19,255 and $27,810.
New mid-sized Saturn priced right
Saturn retailer’s philosophy of low-key selling, no hassle/no haggle car prices, and a moneyback guarantee has attracted a lot of car buyers who normally wouldn’t be comfortable going into a new car showroom. Over the past ten years, Saturn’s have proved to be among the most reliable cars made in North America, and have achieved high owner satisfaction ratings.
However, while most other automobile brands offer a wide assortment of cars and trucks, Saturn had to make do with just three compact models: the SL sedan, SW wagon, and SC coupe. In effect, Saturn’s limited model range limited its appeal.
Now, with a little help from GM’s Opel subsidiary in Germany, Saturn has a new mid-sized sedan and wagon, the LS sedan and LW Wagon. The L-Series sedan (‘L’ stands for ‘Larger’) is about the size of a Honda Accord, and offers comparable features with its import and domestic competitors. Saturn L-Series models are priced between $19,255 and $27,810, making them at least a couple of thousand dollars cheaper than comparably-equipped import competitors.
L-Series models are the first in an expanding range of Saturn automobiles that will soon include a new sport-utility vehicle, and possibly, a small mini-van.
Saturn L-Series models are based on a German Opel platform (GM owns Opel), but have Saturn-like styling and dent-resistant polymer (plastic) body panels, just like other Saturns. L-Series models are built in Wilmington, Delaware.
L-Series sedans come in three trim levels: LS, LS1 and LS2, and wagons come in two trim levels: LW1 and LW2. Neither Honda or Toyota offer wagon versions of their Accord and Camry models, but they do offer two-door coupe versions – the L-Series doesn’t.
Saturn LS, LS1, and LW1 models have a standard 137 horsepower 2.2 litre DOHC four cylinder engine – a new engine that is exclusive to Saturn. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on LS and LS1 sedans, while a four-speed automatic transmission is standard on LW1 wagons.
Better-equipped LS2 sedans and LW2 wagons have a 182 horsepower 3.0 litre V6 engine and standard 4-speed automatic transmission. In addition, LS2 and LW2 models include standard alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, fog lights, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, woodgrain trim, and upgraded cloth seats. For the first time on a Saturn, leather upholstery is optional.
Like the smaller Saturn S-Series cars, L-Series models have a fully independent suspension, MacPherson struts in front and multi-links at the rear. Also standard are front and rear stabilizer bars and P205/65R15-inch radials.
Anti-lock brakes with electronic traction control are available as optional equipment on all LS and LW models.
The L-Series’ conservative exterior styling carries through to the interior design which is simple and straightforward. The LS offers an attractive, conventional instrument panel with large round instruments including a tachometer and a well-positioned central control panel. Like other Saturns, the LS has a horizontal fan control. All LS sedans have an oil-change status monitor that alerts the driver when it’s time for an oil change, and when equipped with traction control, a button on the dash that allows the driver to turn off the all-speed traction control system.
Like many European cars, the LS has power windows buttons in the centre console rather than on the doors, and a handbrake lever in the centre console.
The five passenger LS sedan has a well-bolstered cloth front seats, and a three-person rear bench seat. Legroom and headroom are adequate for five adult passengers.
My only complaint about the interior is the size of the interior storage compartments. The door pockets, map pocket, and centre armrest/storage bin are all rather small.
The trunk, on the other hand, is the biggest in its class: a full 495 litres (17.5 cubic ft.) In addition, the standard 60/40 split folding rear seats provide a trunk-through opening to store longer objects.
For safety, LS and LW models have standard dual front airbags, height-adjustable front head restraints, and fixed rear outboard head restraints. There are four three-point seatbelts and a centre rear lapbelt, rear seat child seat tether anchors, and rear door child locks that require a key or a screwdriver to adjust. L-Series models also offer a PASSLock anti-theft system and a valet key to restrict access to the trunk. Side airbags are not available.
The first time I pulled out of the driveway onto the street, I was impressed with how quiet and smooth the four cylinder engine was. In fact, at first I wasn’t sure if I was driving a model equipped with the 3.0 litre V6. The four cylinder engine has brisk off-the-line performance, respectable passing power, and comfortable highway performance. In fifth gear (I had the manual transmission), the 2.2 litre four cylinder engine turned over 2700 rpm at a steady 100 km/h – a comfortable and quiet engine speed.
At idle however, the engine exhibited a curious distant ‘rattling’ sound which disappeared once I put my foot on the gas.
The standard five-speed manual transmission was a trifle clunky, though acceptable for everyday driving needs. Shifting from first to second gear was stiffer than average, but perhaps that was because my brand new test car had less than 100 km on it.
I didn’t have an opportunity to test the 4-speed automatic transmission, but I know that the automatic transmission on the SL sedans is better-than-average, and I would expect Saturn to keep up the tradition.
The LS sedan’s ride was uncommonly smooth and comfortable. Combined with its quiet engine, the LS feels more like an entry-level luxury car. The LS proved stable in spirited handling thanks to its fully independent suspension, wide track, and standard 195/65R-15 inch tires. Under heavy braking, the standard front disc/rear drum setup proved sure-footed and controllable.
Outward visibility is very good, particularly to the rear side-view when changing lanes. LS sedans have an extra third rear side window which increases visibility.
When compared with its intended competitors, the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda 626, Subaru Legacy, and Nissan Altima, the LS sedan is decidedly cheaper, comparably equipped. Compared to domestic competitors, such as the Pontiac Grand Am and Oldsmobile Alero, the LS is about on par, in terms of price.
Base LS sedans, which start at $19,255, include the standard 137 horsepower 2.2 litre DOHC four cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, pollen filters, AM/FM stereo, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, intermittent wipers, power steering, tilt steering wheel, tachometer, dual side mirrors, and 195/65R-15 inch tires.
LS1 sedans, with a base price of $21,620, add the following features to the LS sedan: CD player, power windows, power door locks and remote keyless entry, height-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment, upgraded cloth seating material, cruise control, heated power mirrors, two rear cupholders, and a maintenance-free battery with run-down protection.
Top-of-the-line LS2 sedans, which start at $26,120, add the 182 horsepower 3.0 litre DOHC V6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission, rear disc brakes, 205/65R-15 inch tires and alloy wheels, front fog lights, cassette (and CD) player, premium cloth interior fabric, interior woodgrain trim, vanity mirror, front and rear carpet mats.
Saturn LW1 Wagons, priced at $24,440, have more standard equipment than their LS1 counterparts. These include a standard four-speed automatic transmission, retractable cargo cover and cargo net, coat hooks, and interior woodgrain trim.
LW2 Wagons, for $27,810, add the following to the LW1’s features: a 182 horsepower 3.0 litre DOHC V6 engine, rear disc brakes, alloy wheels, front fog lamps, larger 205/65R-15 inch tires, premium cloth upholstery, and a cassette player.