Leave it to Saturn Corp to rewrite history. From the early days of the automobile industry, the coupe has been a two-door motor car with either just a front seat or a smaller second one in the rear.Now that design is changing.Saturn is introducing the industry's first three-door coupe, a model that will distinguish itself even more from its sibling, the four-door sedan. It is something that should have been done a longtime ago.While the he 1999 Saturn three-door coupe is a first, the idea isn't. The three-door concept really is borrowed from three-doorpickup trucks already on the market, but Saturn can rightfully claim getting there before anybody else as far as automobiles are concerned.The third door eliminates the annoying inconveniences of loading people and packages into the back seat of a coupe.The only potentially minor inconvenience is that, for passengers, the third door is on the driver's side. Saturn chose this location as a convenience for the driver to load parcels, a baby's seat or what have you without having to tilt the front seat forward.If a person wants to get in the back seat, designers figured that it's no big deal just to walk around the car.The really slick part of the three-door design is that the coupe doesn't look all that much different than the standard two-door.Other than the door seam in the left side quarter panel, exterior appearance changes from earlier '99 coupes are virtually non-existent.The window glass in the new door is fixed permanently in place, and the glass panel in the C-pillar receives a black-out treatment. With production getting under way this month, the third door will be a standard feature on all '99 Saturn SC1 and SC2 coupe models.The rear access third door is hinged at its back and swings outward away from the body. In earlier days, this used to be the way front doors opened because it provided easier access to the seats.Known as "suicide doors," there was a safety factor involved. If the driver or passenger accidentally opened the door while the vehicle was moving, the wind caught the door and pulled it open. You get the idea of what would happen if you didn't have the foresight to let go of the door handle. Hello, highway. That can't happen with the Saturn. You have to open the front door first, then open the rear access door.The single handle for the rear door is located flush in the door jamb, and has to be activated to release upper and lower space frame mounted latches.When opened, the door can swing out to nearly a 90-degree angle. With the front door opening in a conventional manner, there is no center B-pillar obstruction. Access to the interior is wide open. The concept required some moderate interior design modifications. There are new interior trim panels, revised side rear seat cushion contours, and a new driver's seat-mounted safety belt guide.For the traditionalists, you still can climb into the back seat from the right side.An interesting facet about this convenience feature lies in the manufacturer's suggested retail price. Despite adding the third door, the price on the SC1 when equipped with a five-speed manual transmission is down a bit, $150 when compared to a similarly equipped 1998 two-door coupe. On the SC2, it's up a minimal $150.The SC1 three-door's manufacturer's suggested retail price is$12,445. For the SC2, it is $15,005.The additional door doesn't take anything away from the Saturn coupe's clean, contemporary exterior appearance, nor are there any wheelbase or overall length changes from the initial '99 two-dooroffering.The three-door stands on a wheelbase of 102.4 inches and carries an overall length of 180 inches. Surprisingly, this length is a touch more than 3 inches longer than the sedan model.Power modules consist of variants of a l.9-liter(116-cubic-inch) four-cylinder engine in single overhead cam and double overhead cam form. The dual cam is up 24-horsepower over the si ngle stick, 124 h orses vs. 100.The power train in the three-door coupe also offers an optional four-speed automatic in addition to the standard manual gearbox. With the 1999 three-door coupe being represented locally by Lockhart Automotive Group, I'm speculating that Saturn will not have a permanent lock on the three-door concept.It's an idea whose time has come, and competing manufacturers are going to jump in.
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