2000 Saturn LS2
2000 Saturn LS2. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase

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Saturn L-Series, 2000-2005

For almost the first full decade of its existence, Saturn offered just three models – a compact sedan, station wagon and coupe, all based on one common platform. These cars, known as the SL, SW and SC, made quite a splash when they were launched by General Motors in 1991, and were intended to siphon sales away from small imports built by the likes of Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan and Volkswagen.

It was obvious, though, that in order to become seriously competitive, Saturn would need to offer more than just one line of cars. With that in mind, Saturn expanded its product lineup in 2000 with the midsize L-Series, available in sedan or station wagon format. Base versions (LS, LS1 and LW1) were powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine making 137 horsepower, while the uplevel LS2 and LW2 models got a 3.0-litre V6 that made 182 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission could be had in four-cylinder sedans, but V6 sedans and all station wagon models got a four-speed automatic.

2003 Saturn L-Series
2003 Saturn L-Series. Click image to enlarge

In 2000, fuel consumption was rated 10.8/6.5 L/100 km (city/highway) for four-cylinder, manual transmission cars, and 10.5/7.2 L/100 km with the automatic. V6 models were rated 11.8/8.2 L/100 km. By 2003, those figures had improved to 10.1/6.9 and 10.0/6.7 L/100 km for manual and automatic four-cylinder models, respectively, while the six-cylinder model was rated at 11.6/7.7 L/100 km; the six-cylinder’s numbers would hold there through 2005.

The L-Series, which was loosely based on the European-market Opel Vectra (and, by association, the Saab 9-5), received few mechanical updates during its production run, but 2003 models were facelifted inside and out. Prior to that, in 2002, the lineup was renamed: sedans became L100, L200 or L300, and wagons were called LW200 and LW300. In 2004, all versions were called the L300, and after 2005, the L-Series was no more, as GM began preparing for the then all-new Aura sedan that would replace the L-Series.

Uneven tire wear is a common issue with the L-Series. Saturn developed a “shim” kit for the suspension, the idea being that the weird tire wear was caused by a suspension that was difficult to do alignments on; the shim kit was designed to help. Read this thread at SaturnFans.com for more information.

2003 Saturn L-Series
2003 Saturn L-Series
2003 Saturn L-Series. Click image to enlarge

The suspension struts (the combined spring/shock absorber assembly used in many modern cars) tend to need replacing more frequently than is normal for most cars.

Consumer Reports notes minor transmission issues; this could be related to the torque converter’s (the automatic transmission component that replaces the clutch in a manual) lockup function, and is more of an electronics programming problem than a serious mechanical issue.

Consumer Reports notes cooling system issues in V6-powered cars. One possible reason is the fan control module, which controls the radiator fans in these cars. If this module goes wonky, which is known to happen, according to these threads at SaturnFans.com, the fans will run at full speed and stay on even after the car is turned off.

It’s common for the climate control fan to quit, either because of a bad control switch on the dash, a bad ground connection to the fan motor itself or a blown resistor at the motor.

On the whole, Consumer Reports isn’t kind to the L-series, but notes that V6 models are more trouble-prone than four-cylinder cars. Generally-speaking, 2002-and-newer models appear to be the most dependable, and basic is better, as the extras (power options, automatic climate controls, for example) in higher-trim models tend to be troublesome.

2003 Saturn L-Series
2003 Saturn L-Series. Click image to enlarge

On the safety front, the L-Series scored generally well in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, earning four and five stars, respectively, for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts, and three and five stars for front and rear seat occupant protection in side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the big Saturn an “acceptable” rating in its frontal offset crash test, but scored a “poor” rating in that organization’s side impact tests, despite the test cars’ side airbags, which were optional in Canadian cars starting in 2001. By 2002, they were standard equipment.

L-Series used values range from $3,200 for a 2000 base LS sedan, to $8,875 for a 2004 top-end wagon model (the 2005 model, only offered as a sedan in a single trim, is worth $7,675). A 2003 LW200 wagon is worth $6,425.

The L-Series’ European roots make it a compelling car at first glance. Consumer Reports suggests this car is one to avoid, but most of the problems are limited to the V6 engine. Shop carefully for a four-cylinder model and you’ll very likely end up with a comfortable, basic family car for a great price.


Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) October 2009:

Price today
Price new
L300 sedan
L-Series “midlevel” sedan
L300 sedan
L300 sedan
L300 sedan
LS2 sedan

Online resources
  • SaturnFans.com is the busiest Saturn forum on the web, and the L-Series section is a good one that includes a technical discussion forum. SaturnSpot.com‘s weakness is its dedication to Saturn’s newest models; there’s no mention of the now-defunct L-Series in the forums, so you’re limited to whatever topics can be found in the general discussion section. SaturnForum.com is a small site that doesn’t offer as much information as the others listed here, but there is a dedicated discussion section for the L-Series.

  • Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003161; Units affected: 14,184

    2000-2003: On certain vehicles, a failure of the ignition control module may cause deterioration in idle quality, reduction in overall engine power and the vehicle may be hard to start. Continued operation of the vehicle after such an ignition module failure will result in the “Service Engine Soon” light flashing, and may lead to secondary failures of the catalytic converter, oxygen sensor, and exhaust resonator. Failure of the resonator will cause increased exhaust noise and prolonged operation of the vehicle following a resonator failure may lead to an undercar fire. Correction: Dealers will (1) replace the ignition control module, or (2) replace the ignition control module and spark plugs, or (3) replace the ignition control module and spark plugs and update the powertrain control module calibration.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000195; Units affected: 888

    2000: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of C.M.V.S.S. 209 – Seat Belt Assemblies. Vehicles may have been produced with rear seat belt buckle assemblies that will not withstand the force requirements of the standard. In a crash, if the belt buckle fails, there is an increased risk of injury to a rear seat occupant. Correction: Rear seat belt buckle assemblies will be inspected and replaced if necessary.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999236; Units affected: 2,514

    2000: On certain vehicles, the fuel tank assembly has an Over Pressure Relief (OPR) valve that may become stuck open in a frontal collision. If the vehicle rolls over, fuel spillage could occur. If an ignition source is present, a fire could occur. Correction: Dealers will permanently seal the outlet port of the OPR valve.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000263; Units affected: 78

    2001: On certain vehicles, the transaxle shift cable retainer clip may be missing or improperly seated. Without the retainer clip, the cable can slip out of its bracket and the transaxle lever may not move along with the shift lever. The driver may put the shift lever in Park, but the transaxle may be in Reverse or Neutral. Unexpected movement of the vehicle could cause a crash without prior warning. Correction: Dealers will inspect the shift cable retainer clip to verify proper installation, and, if necessary, replace the cable.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002196; Units affected: 24

    2003: On certain vehicles, the windshield wiper motor may fail during use because of improper manufacture. If this were to occur in severe weather, driver visibility could be reduced, which could result in a vehicle crash without prior warning. Correction: Dealer will inspect and, if necessary, replace the wiper motor assembly.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005112; Units affected: 1,411

    2002-2004: Certain vehicles were built with a centre and passenger side rear seat belt anchor that fails to conform to CMVSS 210. The seat belt anchor may separate from the floor of the vehicle before holding the required test load for the required time. If a separation occurred in a crash, the right and center rear seat occupants may not be properly restrained, increasing the risk of personal injury. Correction: Dealers will install a rear seat center belt anchor reinforcement plate to the floor pan of the vehicle.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007362; Units affected: 841

    2001: On certain vehicles equipped with a 2.2L engine, the timing chain may fail. If a timing chain link separates while the engine is running, the engine will stall and not restart. Engine stalling would result in lost propulsion which, in conjunction with traffic and road conditions, and the driver’s reactions, could increase the risk of a crash. Correction: Dealers will replace the timing chain.

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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