Curtain-type airbags that protect the heads of front and rear occupants in side collisions are a new option for the LW, which debuted for 2000 with the companion L-Series sedan. The airbags store above the side windows and inflate along the length of the passenger compartment.
The front-drive LW is based on the European Opel Vectra but is substantially modified for the U.S. market and built at a General Motors plant in Delaware. The midsize LW and L-Series sedan are about a foot longer than the subcompact SL sedan and SW models, which were designed and produced solely under the Saturn nameplate.
Saturn, a separate company within GM whose mission is to draw buyers from import brands, will add a car-based sport utility vehicle in the 2002 model year.
The LW has dent- and rust-resistant polymer side body panels attached to a skeletonlike steel space frame, like all Saturns. Styling on the LW shows a family resemblance to the smaller Saturn SW.
The LWs overall length of 190 inches is 8 inches less than the Ford Taurus wagon and 6 inches longer than the Volkswagen Passat wagon.
The LW seats five, with two front buckets and a three-place bench that is split 60/40 and folds to expand the cargo area. Saturn lists cargo volume at 29 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 71 cubic feet with the seat folded. Opening or closing the smooth-operating liftgate is easy to do with one hand.
Air conditioning, power steering and a tilt steering wheel are standard on all models. A power drivers seat is a new option for Saturn.
Under the Hood
The LW200 called the LW1 for the 2000 model year uses a 135-horsepower 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that currently is not shared with other GM brands in the United States but will be in the future. The LW300, named LW2 last year, has a 182-hp 3.0-liter V-6 produced by GM of Europe, and versions of this engine are used in the Cadillac Catera and Saab 9-5. Both engines come only with a four-speed automatic transmission in the LW, which has a 15.7-gallon fuel tank instead of a 13.1-gallon capacity.
Antilock brakes and traction control are optional on both models.
Though the LW offers crisp handling, comfortable accommodations and decent utility at a reasonable price, it sets no new standards for wagons and lacks the image and emotional appeal of an SUV. Just being good may not be good enough in such a competitive market.
That may be bad news for Saturn, but it should be good news for consumers interested in the LW because dealers are offering low-rate financing and discounted leases.