Built on a Delta global small-car platform, the Ion sedan and Quad Coupe were introduced for 2003 with innovations including rear-access half-doors on both sides of the Quad Coupe.
For 2007, the Ion's Ecotec 2.2-liter four-cylinder generates 145 horsepower and 150 pounds-feet of torque. An optional 2.4-liter engine with variable valve timing makes 175 hp and 164 pounds-feet of torque, and a Deep Blue exterior color replaces Laser Blue.
Saturn joined the hot compact arena in 2004 with a new Red Line edition of the Ion Quad Coupe. Rather than the usual 145-hp four-cylinder, the Ion Red Line Quad Coupe is equipped with a supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that develops 205 hp; it drives a five-speed manual transmission. In addition to other styling cues, these potent Ions feature a performance-tuned suspension.
The Ion is available in both Ion 2 and Ion 3 sedans and Quad Coupes, as well as the Red Line. The Ion 1 sedan was discontinued in 2006.
Ions use a steel space-frame construction and wear polymer bodyside panels for dent and rust resistance. Ions ride on a 103.2-inch wheelbase; sedans are 57.4 inches high, while the Quad Coupe stands 56 inches tall. Tires come in 15- and 16-inch sizes, and the Red Line rolls on 17-inchers. Projector-beam fog lamps are standard on all 2007 Ion Red Line models.
Each Ion sedan can hold up to five people; the coupe can seat up to four. Both body styles have flat-folding rear seats. The coupe also features a flat-folding passenger seat. The sedan's trunk holds 14.7 cubic feet of cargo, which is slightly more than the coupe's capacity of 14.2 cubic feet. Red Line models have standard leather seats.
The center console was redesigned for 2006, allowing more inboard knee and leg clearance and additional storage above the radio. The center instrument panel, which includes the speedometer, is angled slightly to the left and is designed to let the driver's eyes remain closer to the horizon. Only a few vehicles have this layout. An anti-theft engine immobilizer and General Motors' OnStar communication system are standard. An in-dash six-CD changer, remote keyless entry and XM Satellite Radio are optional. All sound systems include an input jack to accommodate portable audio players, and an MP3 player is standard on Red Line models and optional on other models.
Under the Hood
Fitted with dual balance shafts that are intended to yield quieter operation, the 2.2-liter four-cylinder generates 145 hp. Ions can have either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission. An optional larger Ecotec engine displaces 2.4 liters and features variable valve timing, higher-pressure fuel injectors and a higher compression ratio to make 175 hp, but Saturn recommends that it use premium fuel instead of the base engine's regular gasoline. It's offered in a package that includes a sport-tuned suspension, traction control and an antilock braking system. A 205-hp, supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder powers the Red Line Quad Coupe, which only comes with a five-speed manual.
Dual-stage front airbags, front seat belt pretensioners and LATCH child-safety seat anchors are standard. Side curtain airbags, traction control and antilock brakes are optional, but ABS is standard on the Red Line model.
Even though the Ion is an improvement over Saturn's previous S-Series, the differences aren't dramatic. The Ion is quieter than its predecessor and has a very light feel. The base engine can still get raucous, though, and acceleration is modest. The ride is smooth, but handling is only so-so with the regular suspension. On-center steering feel is uncertain, with vague play in the wheel. The manual gearshift is rubbery but easy to use.
Saturn's Red Line coupe is energetic from a standstill but less so for passing. The exhaust has a snarl-like sound. All told, it feels like an econocar masquerading as a performance model.