1991 Saturn SC

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$1,750

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Expert Reviews

By 

Orlando Sentinel

Is the all-American Saturn SC sports coupe better than anything from Japan?

No.

But it is just as good as many of the best imported, lower-priced Japanese sports coupes.

In fact, if you were blindfolded and placed in the foreign competition and then in the Saturn, you probably would have a hard time telling the difference.

The switches and controls have the same quality feel.

The steering and handling are as tight and responsive in the Saturn as they are in the imports.

The seats are as firm and comfortable.

The shifter and clutch are as smooth and easy to use.

Somepeople say that Saturn missed a golden opportunity by not making the Saturn lineup better than the competition, but consider this: American manufacturers never have produced a small car that could equal the best from Japan. Now, one has.

With Saturn in its first year on the market, General Motors has shown it can build a world-class small car. As other cars have done, the Saturn will evolve

and be improved each year. Plenty of developments are in the pipeline. Though the Saturn coupe may be not be the best in its class, it is a terrific little car that is worthy of serious consideration if you have about $15,000 to spend and are in the market for a 2 + 2 sports coupe.

ENGINE, TRANSMISSION

The test car came equipped with Saturn's DOHC, 123-horsepower, 16-valve fuel-injected, aluminum engine. It has a distinct personality - you either like it or dislike it immediately. The engine growls, rather than purrs.

It seems engineers these days are divided between two modes of thought when it comes to deciding how much engine noise to leave in a car. Some prefer sewing machinelike smoothness; others believe it is proper to give the car a sporty-sounding engine.

There's no doubt about it, the Saturn's engine is plenty vocal. But the car is a sports coupe, not a family sedan and the engine noise meshes nicely with the car's character. When you reach cruising speed the 1.9-liter engine quiets down.

Power is consistent all the way up to the engine's redline at 6,500 rpm. On one trip I ran the Saturn hard, winding it up at every opportunity for better than two hours. The car can take a pretty good pounding. It ran smoothly and never missed a beat in more than 500 miles of combined city/highway driving.

Blistering 93-degree heat didn't bother the car, nor did repeated stopping and restarting. The car always ran the same.

The test car featured Saturn's five-speed manual transmission. The hydraulically operated clutch was smooth and easy to operate. The shifter moved easily within the quadrant.

Fuel mileage was a respectable 30 miles per gallon in city/highway driving with the air conditioner on. The Saturn SC is EPA rated at 24 mpg city; 34 highway. An enthusiast magazine recorded a 0 to 60 mph time of 8.6 seconds.

STEERING, HANDLING, BRAKING

Saturn engineers did their b est work with the SC's suspension, steering and brakes. It's effortless fun squirting through traffic in the SC.

The computer-controlled, power-assisted rack and pinion steering is tight, has a solid feel, provides excellent feedback and allows a sharp turning radius. You never have to worry about the car getting loose in high-speed maneuvers.

The test car came equipped with the optional ($895) anti-lock brake system, something of a rarity on a small, entry-level sports coupe. The four-wheel power disc brakes are nicely matched to the car's weight, and the braking is powerful and progressive.

When engaged, the ABS system is a bit noisy, but it works well. I tested it numerous times on wet pavement and on dirt roads.

There is no trace of torque steer.

FIT, FINISH, CONTROLS

Careful attention to the way the car is built has been the single most important factor guiding decision-making at Saturn.

Some dealerships were forced to open without c rs because Saturn officials would not sacrifice quality and allow the production line to speed up. There was not one flaw in the test car.

There were no rattles. Everything fit tightly, was assembled properly and worked well.

There were some early complaints about wind noise. Those have been rectified. The test car, in fifth gear at highway speeds, was quiet.

The seats were firm, comfortable and supportive and the materials were first-rate. Front seats have an adjustment for height as well as a lumbar adjustment for the driver.

Rear passengers are going to find the seats a little small and leg room on the tight side but not quite as cramped as other small cars. The rear seats split and fold down, allowing ample room for groceries and packages.

The full complement of analog gauges was well laid out and easy to read. The standard adjustable steering column added a nice touch.

Competition in the entry-level sports coupe segment of the market is blazing these days. There have been new entries from Toyota, Mazda, Isuzu, and Nissan.

The Saturn SC proves that an American manufacturer can run with the best.

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