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It's larger, it has more creature comfort, it's larger, it's a Saturn and it's larger. Combine European heritage with Saturn's philosophy of doing things just a little differently than parent General Motors, and you get the new Saturn L-series. Simply put, these vehicles surprised the heck out of us.
What dealers and customers alike have been telling Saturn for quite awhile is, "give us a larger vehicle." That's exactly what Saturn has done. And they've produced a vehicle that exceeds our expectations.
Along with the need for a bigger car, Saturn has needed an influx of enthusiasm for its product lineup. Loyal Saturn customers have been forced to move to another brand to fulfill their needs for greater roominess and comfort. Well, they now have what they asked for. In fact, we believe they have gotten more than they bargained for. It's a big challenge to design something to compete against the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Volkswagen Passat and other highly capable mid-size sedans. However, it appears this totally new car from Saturn is up to the task.
Though there are many platforms in the General Motors pipeline, Saturn made a conscious decision to build its new large car on the same structure used by the Opel Vectra. (Opel, a highly respected German automaker, is a GM subsidiary.) Major changes were made to the structure. This new Saturn sedan retains its German heritage, but is better suited for North American roads and the way we drive here. This platform appears to have been an excellent choice because the body structure is quite rigid.
Over this impressive structure are Saturn's trademark composite (plastic) body panels. Saturn continues to use these innovative composite panels because its customers have found that they resist rust and minor dents and dings. It also offers some important benefits during the manufacturing process. Unlike Saturn's smaller S-series of compact sedans and coupes, the L-series cars use steel for the rear fenders and trunk lid. Saturn engineers felt that a large car dictates a large cargo area and that this area must have the added rigidity facilitated by steel.
Even though this new Saturn is loosely based on the Vectra, body designers were adamant that the new car retain its ties with the Saturn family. There is no mistaking the LS with anything but a Saturn. The car's rackish front hood and fender line, tied to the steep slope of the windshield, the swooping line of the rear doors combined to the high rear deck signals your visual sensors that you indeed are gazing upon a Saturn.
Sliding behind the steering wheel reveals another reason Saturn has enjoyed such success. The interior isn't full of gaudy, non-essential doodads. It is basic and practical, yet offers a splash of elegance most Saturn owners will welcome.
Every switch, gauge and control is exactly where you would expect it to be and all controls are within easy reach. One of our pet peeves of previous Saturn vehicles was the vagueness with which the switches operated. Not so with the L-series: Every switch and knob operates smoothly.
The center pod design of the LS becomes a Saturn theme. The sound system is located above the heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls. Steering wheel spokes are set lower at each side, which allows for easy use of the correct 3 and 9 o'clock hand positions.
Driver and front passenger air bags are standard equipment; side air bags are not available. A stronger, more substantial body cage was designed with stronger B-pillars and side-impact bracing in the doors. Energy-absorbing interior door panels help reduce impact force. Building a more substantial body cage was imperative to aid in lessening the chance of crash injuries and damage.
The Saturn LS provides plenty of rear-seat legroom. And, while headroom is adequate for people who are just a shade over 6 feet tall, it would be wise to leave the Stetson at home.
As we began driving the new Saturn LS, the first thing we noticed was that the seats are roomy and comfortable. Saturn officials say they have put a great deal of effort into getting the seats just right. They wanted their new, larger car to provide big-car accommodations without a sofa-like experience. As a result, the front bucket seats are supportive without being restrictive.
With so many good platforms available through General Motors, it's interesting that Saturn chose an Opel for its basic platform. It turned out to be a wise choice because Saturn picked one of Opel's finer vehicles on which to base the mid-size Saturn. This decision has translated into an agile four-door sedan. The LS is a vehicle that is going to raise the level of what will be expected from Saturn in the future.
Saturn engineers changed what they knew they had to for the American market, but left much of the German engineering. Case in point is the suspension system. To fit into the Saturn idea of suspension compliance, the LS has a comfortable ride. Yet it isn't so compromised as to eliminate the handling capability the Germans contributed to the system.
From mountain passes to the flat never-ending desert floor of Arizona, we had the greatest environment to test the ride quality and agility of this new Saturn. Undulations just outside Phoenix tested suspension compliance, which directly affects ride quality. For miles, we drove over roller-coaster undulations that tested chassis stability as well as the stability of our stomachs. Our Saturn LS2 absorbed road vibration and provided a stable platform through this section.
Delivering 137 horsepower, the four-cylinder engine in the LS1 model seemed to provide adequate power -- 0 to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds, according to Saturn. But we felt the increased power of the V6 is strong justification to upgrade to the LS2. The increase to 182 horsepower in a 3,100-pound vehicle is quite noticeable, dropping 0-60 mph performance to a respectable 8.2 seconds. And even though there is a decrease in fuel economy (23/32 mpg vs. 20/26), it isn't a major penalty.
Saturn has made a major commitment to give the car buyer a tremendously solid automobile along with a pleasant retailer experience. The company has shown that if you treat people well, and offer them value, then they will become nearly fanatical over their vehicles. Just look at what happens at the Saturn reunions held at Spring Hill, Tennessee. This Saturn manufacturing plant becomes the Mecca of Saturn owners where they gather to exult the virtues of their favorite mode of transportation. It is, quite honestly, a bit unusual that owners can become so enamoured over their vehicles. It only proves that Saturn has done something many never believed they could: offer a decent vehicle for a decent price and continue to be a competitive force in the industry.
Saturn has proven they can do just that and do it so well people are willing to wait a long time for a new car. We are sure there are many out there who are extremely happy that the LS has arrived.
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