Saturn still doesn't get it. Or so Paul believes. Mr. Know-It-All says that no matter how often this General Motors Corp. subsidiary restyles its sporty SC series, the plastic-bodied two-door coupes will never be fully competitive with the latest Japanese and American hardware until Saturn totally revamps the engine and chassis, and creates a more modern cabin. Apparently, that's not going to happen for at least a few more years. Anita points out that Saturn has crafted a lovely new skin for the 2001 coupes, to go along with their designed interior that was introduced for model year 2000. All in all, she doesn't think the SC is half as bad as Paul. We tested a well-equipped and alarmingly expensive ($19,415) SC2, with its unique third door providing easier access to the rear seats. He: Can Saturn do anything right these days on the product side? The mid-range L series they brought out last year rides on a much better chassis and is powered by a more modern four-cylinder engine than the aging S-series compacts. But the design of the L series is just plain boring in a sea of pretty stylish sedans and wagons. So I was excited to hear that the compact SC coupes were getting restyled for 2001, and I actually think the new exterior body panels are quite attractive, even eye-catching. That's an achievement, considering the competition includes such edgy designs as the Toyota Celica, the Mitsubishi Eclipse and the Mercury Cougar. What a shame, then, that Saturn has seen fit to spend all that money on the outside, while neglecting to overhaul the mechanical pieces underneath that skin. Those basic underpinnings haven't changed significantly since they were first designed and engineered in the mid-1980s. She: Your tone of voice hasn't changed much since the mid-1980s either. What a complainer! He: Look, all I'm saying is that it only takes a brief ride in, say, a Ford Focus ZX3 to ram my point home. The base Focus is superior to the SC2 in virtually every respect - and sells for $7,000 less. She: I think you're being a little unfair. You're deliberately overlooking some of the good points of the SC2, which is the higher trim series with a base price of $16,500 for the automatic. It comes with lots of standard equipment - a CD player, air conditioning, power windows and locks, and a remote keyless entry. Our test car also had a few options, including the ABS/traction control bundle for $695. He: Did you mention that Saturn still isn't offering side air bags for the 2001 model year? She: Did you mention that cute little third door on the driver's side? The door to let yourself out. But the third door is a great idea in a coupe, which tends to be more of an impulse buy than other cars. He: I think the third door would have made more sense on the passenger side, especially for parents trying to put kids and baby seats in the back. I'd rather do that on the curb side, not the traffic side. She: I also think you're making too big a deal out of the mechanical stuff. I read the list of features on the SC2, and I see things like a double-overhead-cam engine, four-wheel independent suspension and variable-assist steering. Aren't those all features that you gearheads love to see on your hot rods? He: Looks good on paper, doesn't it? It's true that Saturn has tweaked the suspension, the engine and the transmission more than once over the years. But I can't believe how ancient those components still feel at the millennium. Any recent Japanese design has far superior chassis dynamics, and most have livelier engines and crisper gear boxes to boot. I would also argue that, within the GM family, compacts like the Oldsmobile Alero and the Pontiac Grand Prix in the same price segment have a far more pleasing passenger environment. She: I think my personal favorite in this class is the Mercury Cougar, which still looks fresh and exciting, and rides and handles utifully. Like the SC2, it starts at around $16,500. And you can also order it with an optional V-6 engine, which Saturn doesn't offer on the SC. 2001 Saturn SC2 Anita's rating: Above average Paul's rating: Acceptable Likes: Terrific new styling for 2001. Third door provides easier rear-seat access. Reasonably good fuel economy. Dislikes: Handsome exterior design belies a bland cockpit and hopelessly outdated chassis. Third door would be more useful on passenger side (Paul). Twin-cam engine feels and sounds ancient, is not particularly powerful. Still, no side air bags. Not competitive in price, equipment or quality with the latest Japanese coupes. Better values in entry-level coupes from other GM sister divisions. Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, four-passenger coupe Price: Base, $16,505; as tested, $19,415 (inc. $440 destination charge) Engine: 1.9-liter I-4; 124-hp; 122 lb.-ft. torque EPA fuel economy: 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway 12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,058 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.) Built: Spring Hill, Tenn.
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