Saturn unveiled its successor to the compact S-Series at the New York International Auto Show in 2002. Named the Ion, these new models sought to revitalize the Saturn division of General Motors.
The Ion sedan and Quad Coupe are new from the ground up. They were built on a new Delta global small-car platform. Innovations include rear access doors on both sides of the Quad Coupe, as well as an available VTi continuously variable transmission (CVT) that is similar to the one installed in the Saturn Vue sport utility vehicle. Ion sedans went on sale late in 2002, and the Quad Coupe followed in April 2003.
Saturn has joined the hot compact arena for 2004 with a new Red Line series of performance-tuned vehicles, including a modified Quad Coupe. Rather than the usual 140-horsepower engine, the Ion Red Line Quad Coupe is equipped with a supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that develops 205 hp. Production began in April 2004. In addition to special styling cues, these potent Ions feature a performance-tuned suspension.
Regular Ions get interior enhancements for 2004, and new radios with MP3 and XM Satellite Radio capabilities are available. A special-edition sedan features black paint and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Like the former S-Series, the Ion uses space-frame construction and wears polymer bodyside panels for dent and rust resistance. Styling touches include an integral, upswept “swoosh” panel. Ions are longer than the S-Series and ride on a 103.2-inch wheelbase with greater track width (the distance between the wheels). The Ion sedan is 57.4 inches high, and the Quad Coupe stands 56 inches tall. Tires come in 14- , 15- and 16-inch sizes.
The Ion sedan holds five people, while the coupe seats four and has flat-folding front and rear seats. The sedan’s trunk holds 14.5 cubic feet of cargo, which is slightly more than the coupe’s capacity.
The center instrument panel, which includes the speedometer, tilts slightly to the left and is supposed to let the driver’s eyes remain closer to the horizon. Few vehicles, including the Toyota Echo, have this design. An anti-theft engine immobilizer is standard. An in-dash six-CD changer, remote keyless entry, XM Satellite Radio and GM’s OnStar communication system are optional.
Under the Hood
Fitted with dual balance shafts that are intended to yield quieter operation, the Ecotec 2.2-liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine generates 140 hp. Base and midlevel Ions can have either a five-speed-manual gearbox or a VTi continuously variable transmission (CVT). Top-level models may be equipped with a manual shift or a five-speed step-gear automatic transmission that functions with closer steps between gear ratios when needed to produce the strongest acceleration. A 205-hp, supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powers the new Red Line Quad Coupes.
Front seat belt pretensioners and LATCH child-safety seat anchors are standard. Side curtain-type airbags, traction control and antilock brakes are optional.
Even though the Ion is an improvement over the S-Series, the differences aren’t dramatic. The Ion is quieter than its predecessor, and it has a very light feel. The ride is smooth and absorbent, but handling is only so-so. On-center steering is uncertain, with vague play in the middle. Acceleration is modest, and the manual gearshift is rubbery but easy to use.