After nine years of selling exclusively subcompact cars, Saturn moves up to the midsize ranks for 2000 with the LS sedan. The front-wheel-drive LS (and companion LW station wagon) are based on the German Opel Vectra, one of General Motors' European models, though Saturn's versions are larger and share few parts with the Euro versions. Saturn's new midsize cars are built at GM's Wilmington, Del., plant.
Saturn is a separate company within GM whose mission is to attract buyers who otherwise would buy import-brand cars.
Despite its European origins, the LS has dent- and rust-resistant polymer side-body panels attached to a skeleton-like steel frame, just like all Saturns. Styling on the new sedans show a strong family resemblance to the smaller Saturn S-Series sedan, including a prominent crease that runs the length of the body side.
The L-Series' 106-inch wheelbase and 190-inch overall length are close to the dimensions of the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the two best-selling midsize cars. By comparison, the S-Series sedan has a 102-inch wheelbase and is 178 inches long.
The dashboard looks like it was lifted from a Toyota or Honda, with round analog gauges, column stalks for lights and wipers, and audio and climate controls stacked in the center. Air conditioning, power steering and a tilt steering wheel are standard on all models.
Saturn says the interior volume on the LS is 97 cubic feet, versus 91 on the S-Series, plus 17.5 cubic feet of trunk space. The front buckets have ample space for passengers who are 6-feet tall, and while tall people can't stretch out in the back seat, there is more than enough room for two. The rear seatback is split and folds for more cargo room.
A new feature for Saturn is a power driver's seat, optional on models except the base.
Under the Hood
The LS and LS1 models use a new, 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine with 137 horsepower that Saturn developed and is not shared with other GM brands (though it may be in the future). The LS2 has a 182-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 produced by GM of Europe, versions of which are used in the Cadillac Catera and Saab 9-5. The four-cylinder comes with manual or automatic transmissions and the V-6 only with a four-speed automatic.
Anti-lock brakes and traction control are optional on all models.
The LS is a logical and overdue addition to the Saturn line. There was no place for its owners to go for a larger car except to other brands. The LS is not only larger and roomier but smoother and quieter than the S-Series. The four-cylinder is no slouch, but the V-6 is potent and refined.