For a company named after a planet, Saturn specializes in down-to-earth virtues, such as simplicity, economy, comfort and, yes, performance. Even Saturn's innovations are earth-bound practical: dent-resistant composite-plastic side panels, for example.
Add its focus on customer relations, and Saturn has drawn a very loyal band of followers to its compact S-Series cars. The L-Series, launched in 2000, gives those loyal owners a mid-size alternative at trade-in time. In keeping with the Saturn tradition, both sedan and wagon styles are offered.
For 2002, the L-Series packs even more value than before. Head-curtain airbags, automatic headlamps and ABS with traction control are now standard on all models, and all but the base-level L100 have four-wheel-disc brakes. New options include OnStar and a DVD entertainment center of the kind found previously only in minivans and SUVs. Other options have been grouped in new Value Packages for convenience and savings.
The Saturn L300 sedan delivers excellent acceleration. Ours was able to blast out of South Florida's toll gates and rocket ahead of the cars of more leisurely drivers.
The power advantage of the V6 over the four-cylinder engine in this 3,100-pound car is quite noticeable, dropping 0-60 mph performance to a respectable 8.2 seconds. On the downside, fuel economy also drops from an EPA-estimated 24/33 mpg city/highway with the four-cylinder engine to 21/29 mpg for the V6.
As installed in the entry-level L100 and L200, the four-cylinder engine produces 135 horsepower, propelling those models from 0 to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds with an automatic transmission. That's not particularly quick. The automatic transmission is balky, slow to downshift and, in general, not responsive. The standard manual gearbox is a better match for the four-cylinder engine.
Much of the German engineering from Opel remains in the Saturn's suspension, and that's a good thing. Saturn increased Opel's suspension compliance for a softer, more comfortable ride. Yet it isn't so compromised that it eliminates the handling capability that the Germans designed in. The L-Series is agile for a four-door sedan. It's stable in high-speed turns. On Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys, our L-Series did a good job of resisting 25-knot crosswinds. It absorbed road vibrations and provided a stable platform over roller-coaster roads outside of Phoenix.
Saturn believes in treating its customers well, and offering them value. The L-Series cars bring these benefits to the mid-size level.