By Bob McHugh
Saturn is an autonomous and relatively new division of General Motors, established in 1991. A unique small car design, a no-dicker pricing strategy and a heavy emphasis on customer service were key elements of the new Saturn business philosophy.
In Canada, Saturn’s are sold through GM’s import oriented Saturn, Saab Isuzu dealership network. A second generation of the highly successful S-series car (Saturn’s one and only platform) came out in 1996. And it came in sedan (SL), coupe (SC) and station wagon (SW) versions.
Unlike conventional unibody cars, a Saturn is built around a steel ‘space-frame’ chassis to which all the body panels and suspension components are attached. The door and fender panels are made of the dent and ding resistant plastic composite material. And Saturn also pioneered the use of advanced active safety features like anti-lock brakes and traction control in the economy class sector.
In 1996 the S-series got an all-new exterior and a revised interior. The driver and front passenger chair height was raised and traction control was made available with manual transmission versions. Additional safety enhancements included adjustable shoulder belt guides and the rear seat was modified to provide better side-impact protection.
However, critics still tended to complain about engine noise, general NVH and to a lesser degree, a lack of power. The base 4-cylinder is a highly fuel efficient SOHC 1.9-litre motor that produces 100-horsepower at 5000 rpm and fuel usage is rated at 8.8 L/100 km (32-mpg) in the city and 5.9 L/100 km (48-mpg) on the highway. A 16-valve DOHC version of this engine (in the highline versions of the S-series) produces 124 horsepower.
2000 Saturn SW2
Noise reduction tweaking included new engine and transmission mounts in 1997 and a switch was also made to a long-life engine coolant. A child safety belt comfort guide was added to rear seats in 1998. And additional NVH improvements were made to the engine in 1999, including an upgrade to roller-type cam-followers.
The base station wagon, called the SW1, was discontinued in 2000. The SW2 and the rest of the S-series got a horde of minor appearance and interior changes, as part of a mid-cycle refurbish. These also included standard 15″ wheels, new audio systems, the PASS-Lock II security system, provision for OnStar, and a new steering wheel. An optional side curtain air bag was the only addition in 2001.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the S-series an “Acceptable” overall rating, as the driver space was maintained reasonably well in its frontal offset crash test. However, too much steering column movement indicated the possibility of injury to the chest and left leg. Optional side airbags with head protection and standard daytime running lights were praised.
The small wagon-type vehicle appears to be an “in” choice with car buyers right now, but less than ten years ago it was a much harder sell. A Saturn SW1, or the highline SW2, are two of the better small used wagon choices in this era. The Saturn S-series is also very popular with the RV fraternity as it can be towed, without any speed or distance restrictions, behind a motorhome.
- 1997 – A faulty horn assembly may either become inoperable or activate without pressing the horn button. Under certain conditions, heat could build up in the horn assembly and cause an under-hood fire. Dealers will inspect and, if necessary replace the horn assembly.
- 1997 – It may be possible to remove the key from the ignition while the cylinder is in the “run” position. Dealers will re-code of the ignition cylinder, the doors and rear compartment or liftgate locks to retain a one key system.
- 1998 – The speedometer may display miles instead of kilometres. Dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the instrument cluster assembly.
- 2000 – The console armrest latch may not meet a vertical force requirement standard and could open in a crash. Dealers will replace the console armrest latch.
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.