By Bob McHugh
A wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors, the Saturn Car Company operates independently of its parent company – and it is different. A no-dicker pricing strategy and a no-nonsense low-key marketing approach with an emphasis on service and customer satisfaction, highlight the refreshing Saturn way of selling and owning a car.
The first Saturn was built as a 1991 model year car and sold only in the USA, delaying entry into the Canadian market until the following year. The cars are sold through GM’s import oriented Saturn, Saab and Isuzu dealership network, as Saturn chose not to be aligned with any of the established GM auto divisions, such as Chevrolet, Buick etc.
A Saturn car is also constructed differently. A steel chassis known as a ‘space-frame’ is at the core of every Saturn and all the body panels and the running gear are attached to it. The side panels, doors and fenders, are all made of dent and ding resistant plastic composite material and the rest are made of steel.
The 1992 Saturn Coupe came with 1.9 litre 16-valve DOHC 124-hp engine. This is a high-output version of the (85-hp) 4-cylinder engine used in the base Saturn sedan. Although a little noisy when cold it’s an impressive performer otherwise. With the five-speed manual transmission the fuel rating is 8.6 L/100km (33 mpg) in the city and 5.7 L/100km (50 mpg) on the highway. The coupe is also a little sportier in the handling department (compared to the sedan) due to some steering and suspension tweaks.
The 4-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission has power and economy settings and also uses a ‘fuzzy logic’ algorithm to find the appropriate gear. This smart tranny will even downshift automatically, to slow the vehicle down, when the vehicle is descending a hill.
Saturn was the first car maker to offer anti-lock (ABS) brakes and traction control on a vehicle in the economy car price bracket. The Saturn traction control system slows the car by retarding engine spark timing, toggling fuel injectors and up-shifting the transmission, until it senses traction returning at the road wheels.
A lower priced SC1 version of the coupe was introduced in ’93, with the SOHC 85 hp engine used in the base sedan. The SC2 is comparable in terms of equipment to the ’92 Coupe. A new safety addition for the 1993 model year was a driver’s side air bag and the front seats were also lowered 17 mm to allow additional headroom.
Changes in ’94 included improvements to the engine to make it quieter, a larger starter motor and a redesigned anti-lock braking system. Conventional 3-point belts and a passenger side air bag also replaced the passive-use design motor-driven seat belts in ’95. The interior was redesigned in ’96, the engine got a more fuel efficient type “sequential” fuel injection and the front seat height was raised.
Dealers will install a fuse in the generator wiring harness of the ’92 and 93 Coupe to protect the wiring harness in case of a short-circuit. And a short circuit is a possibility in the ’93 SC2. Some may have a faulty battery positive cable terminal that can contact the starter solenoid housing. If this occurs, an under-hood fire could result, even without the engine running.
If the driver or front passenger safety belt on the ’97 is pulled out much faster than normal a number of times, the retractor’s lock-up feature may not work properly. Dealers will replace any faulty seat belt retractors with this problem. The speedometer in some ’98 Coupes may display miles instead of kilometres.
A sports-minded accountant’s dream car, the Saturn SC2 is inexpensive to purchase, economical to run and although it’s a depreciating asset it has a high resale value. The good-looking Saturn SC2 is arguably the best small car ever produced by General Motors in North America.
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.