Saturn’s compact sedans, the SL, SL1 and SL2, have been given a freshened appearance for the 2000 model year, and a redesigned interior. Built in Spring Hill, Tennessee, these American compact sedans are noted for their good fuel economy, nimble handling, above-average reliability record, and ding-resistant, rust-proof polymer body panels. They range in price from $13,588 to $17,358.
Saturn’s bread-and-butter sedan gets a make-over
The story of the Saturn S-Series sedans is probably as interesting as the cars themselves. The first S-Series sedan, introduced in 1990, was GM’s answer to the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. It was a clean-sheet design produced in an all-new Saturn manufacturing plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The Spring Hill plant introduced Japanese-style quality control methods, team decision-making, and other successful Japanese production methods such as the ability of assembly-line workers to stop the assembly line at any time.
The first model imitated, and in some areas, improved upon the design of its import competitors. It offered a fuel-efficient overhead cam four cylinder engine, a fully independent suspension, nimble handling and steering, and a reasonable price. It also offered some unique features such as its dent-resistant, rust-proof polymer body panels.
Though the S-Series didn’t replace the Civic and Corolla as North America’s best-selling small car, it did provide North American buyers with a home-grown, statistically-reliable alternative in the small sedan market.
Still, it’s been no easy task for the S-Series to keep up with import competitors. While Toyota and Honda redesign their models every four years, it took six years to redesign the first Saturn (in 1996). And though the 2000 S-Series has been restyled and updated, a completely redesigned S-Series may be another couple of years away.
As before, there are three Saturn S-Series sedan models, the SL, SL1, and SL2 Touring Sedan, and one wagon model: the SW2 station wagon. The SW1 wagon was discontinued for 2000.
The restyled 2000 S-Series sedans now have a strong ‘family’ resemblance to the SC coupe and the new, mid-sized LS sedan. Like their Saturn siblings, the S-Series headlamps are larger and curvier, the front bumper is more aerodynamic, and the restyled taillights wrap around the tail. Almost all the body panels are new: fenders, bumpers, hood, doors and quarter panels – only the trunklid and roof have been carried over.
Other exterior differences include larger P185/65R-14 inch tires on base models and new wheel covers and optional alloy wheels.
While exterior changes to the 2000 Saturn SL2 are mostly cosmetic, interior design changes have improved the overall functionality of the instrument panel and seating positions.
The previous semi-circular instrument hood has been replaced by a larger one that extends towards the passenger side. The new dash features a larger instrument cluster, including a tachometer and a new oil-change monitor, all on a black background to prevent glare.
The previous model had unusual wrap-over buttons on the centre dash – these have been replaced by air vents and the new centre stack includes an AM/FM/CD player, a small open storage bin, and a heater/air conditioner below that. Like other Saturns, the SL2 has an unusual horizontal dial for fan speed, but heat and ventilation controls are the more common dial type.
The steering wheel now has a centre horn button instead of those annoying horn buttons on the spokes, and the cruise control functions have been moved to the steering wheel spokes.
As before, power window buttons and power mirror controls are on the centre console between the front seats rather than on the doors – an unusual feature in an American car. A 12 volt power point is just ahead of the transmission lever, and there are traction control and fog lamp buttons on lower left dash.
My test car had optional leather seats – the front buckets have good side bolsters for lateral support, but the seat cushion felt shallow, at least to my rear-end. The front seats have been given an additional 11 mm of seat travel to accommodate taller drivers, and a new lumbar adjustment.
A centre armrest/storage bin between the seats has a storage area for tapes and valuables, but it’s small. There are also a small glovebox, door map pockets with built-in 12 oz. can holders, and net-type storage pockets on the back of the front seats.
There are a total of six cupholders: one open cupholder just ahead of the transmission lever, another behind the transmission lever, and two pull-out cupholders at the rear of the centre console for rear passengers – plus the can holders in the doors.
Though it’s a compact sedan, the SL2 has adequate headroom and legroom for four adult passengers. The rear seat may be a bit narrow for three adult passengers.
Standard 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks provide cargo-carrying versatility and can be locked for security. The locking/unlocking feature has been moved inside the trunk to prevent thieves from accessing the trunk from the passenger compartment. Also, an optional valet key, which operates the ignition only, is now available.
The SL2’s 12.1 cubic feet trunk is roomy and easy to access because of the wide trunklid which extends down to the bumper.
Standard interior safety features include four outboard three-point seatbelts, a centre rear lapbelt, rear tether anchors for child seats, and front and rear head restraints.
SL2 models have a more powerful engine than SL and SL1 models even though the SL2’s engine has the same displacement. Its 1.9 litre four cylinder engine has dual overhead camshafts instead of a single overhead camshaft, and develops 124 horsepower instead of 100 horsepower. However, it develops the same amount of torque (114 ft.-lb. at 2800 rpm), so it doesn’t feel significantly more responsive at city speeds particularly as it weighs about 30 kg (70 lb.) more than the SL1.
The SL2’s engine is basically the same engine that Saturn introduced in 1990, but Saturn has reduced the noise and vibrations that used to accompany this drivetrain. The engine lets out a buzzy drone when accelerating, but at cruising speeds, it’s very quiet in part because of a low engine speed of 2500 rpm at 100 km/h. There’s not much wind noise either, so the passenger cabin is reasonably quiet for this class of car.
My car had the optional 4-speed automatic transmission, and like previous Saturn transmissions, it slides smoothly from gear to gear with no jerkiness or hesitation. It’s interesting to note that SL2’s with the automatic transmission have more engine torque at lower engine revolutions than models with the standard five-speed manual transmission. The former develops 114 ft. lb. @ 2800 rpm while the latter offers 122 ft. lb. @ 4800 rpm. This means more responsiveness at lower speeds, particularly around town where you need it.
I didn’t drive an S-Series with a manual transmission, but Saturn says this year’s model has reduced clutch effort over previous models.
All S-Series cars have a fully independent suspension (front MacPherson strut/rear tri-link/strut/spring combination) which provides both a comfortable ride and competent handling. I’ve had the opportunity to compare previous Saturn’s on a slalom course with it competitors, and it always comes out near the top in terms of handling – SL2’s in particular, with their larger 15 inch tires and extra stabilizer bar, provide really grippy handling.
One complaint: the SL2’s turning circle (11.3 m/37.1 ft.) is large for a small car. This can turn a quick U-turn into a stop-back-up-and-try-again experience.
The SL2 sedan offers good outward visibility from the driver’s seat, even to the rear where there is a decklid spoiler.
Front disc/rear drum brakes are standard on all models, and anti-lock brakes are optional. This year, the ABS system was redesigned to reduce the chattering noise when it activates, and to provide foot pedal feedback during operation.
Prices and features
Base Saturn SL sedans start at $13,588. Standard features include a 100 horsepower 1.9 litre SOHC four cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, manual steering, new P185/65R-14 inch tires, black bumpers, AM/FM radio with two speakers, combination cloth and vinyl seats, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, tachometer, manually-adjustable driver’s side mirror, and PassLock anti-theft system. An automatic transmission is not available on the base SL model.
The Saturn SL1, which starts at $14,523 adds the following features to the SL’s standard equipment: power steering, CD player with 4 speakers, upgraded cloth seats, passenger side mirror, grab handles, upgraded wheel covers, and body-coloured bumpers.
SL2 models, priced at $17,358 include a 124 horsepower twin cam 1.9 litre four cylinder engine, and add such features as 15 inch tires and wheels, adjustable head restraints, front seat lumbar support, and variable-effort power steering.
All models are available with optional anti-lock brakes and air conditioning, but only SL1 and SL2 models are available with an optional 4-speed automatic transmission, AM/FM/cassette stereo, power door locks and mirrors, and power sunroof.
Some options are available only on the SL2, including a premium stereo with auto-reverse cassette and CD, leather seats, fog lights, and 15 inch alloy wheels.
2000 Saturn station wagons are now available only in the uplevel SW2 trim level, and they start at $18,783.
|Base price||(SL) $13,588|
|Price as tested||(SL2) $17,358|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||1.9 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves|
|Horsepower||124 @ 5600 rpm|
|Torque||122 ft.-lb. @ 4800 rpm (w/manual trans.)|
|114 ft.-lb. @ 2800 rpm (w/auto trans.)|
|Transmission||4-speed automatic (std. 5-speed manual)|
|Curb weight||1125 kg (2480 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2601 mm (102.4 in.)|
|Length||4524 mm (178.2 in.)|
|Width||1686 mm (66.4 in.)|
|Height||1397 mm (55.0 in.)|
|Trunk space||343 litres (12.1 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 9.3 l/100 km (30 mpg)|
|Hwy: 5.9 l/100 km (48 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|