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By Jim Mateja
May 23, 1994
A sedan with a backpack. That's what Saturn calls its SW1 and SW2 station-wagon companions to its SLsedans and SC coupes. It's a clever comparison, because if you look at the Saturn wagon from the front, you simply see what appears to be an
SL sedan. It's not until you take a few steps back that the "backpack" appears. So the Saturn station wagons are like sedans in camouflage. That's a nice touch for those who normally consider a station wagon a sedan with an apartment in back.
Station wagons aren't for everyone. Many wagon owners have graduated into mini-vans or sport-utility vehicles. Some desired the greater room of a van, some switched for the style of a sport-utility and others opted for either in order to get
four-wheel-drive insurance for the Snow Belt. It's logical, therefore, that the 1994 Saturn SW2 we tested is a vehicle with limited appeal. This hauler, after all, is a compact built on a 102.4-inch wheelbase, and it is 176.3 inches long overall. It
holds only four adults and a couple of kids tossed into the cargo hold-or two adults, two kidsand a dog in the bleachers in back. A Jeep Grand Cherokee in terms of style or performance Saturn isn't, but the SW2 serves a useful purpose. It gets the
small family where they need to go in relative comfort, with minimal outlay for fuel. The SW2, with its 1.9-liter, 124-horsepower, 16-valve, dual-overhead-cam, four-cylinder engine (the SW1 offers the 1.9 in single-overhead-cam, 85-horsepower mode)
is rated at 23 m.p.g. city/32 highway with four-speed automatic transmission, which was in the test car, and 25/34 with the five-speed manual. With the automatic, the engine has a tendency to groan when you kick the pedal hard in moving away from
the line. You can muffle the sound by pushing the transmission selector button into the "performance" mode rather than the "regular" mode, for different shift points. But it's a four-cylinder teamed with automatic, and you can't expect it to purr
like a V-8. This is a wagon that delivers top mileage while delivering you and the family and your groceries or luggage home. The cloth-covered seats are wide and comfortable for long-distance trips, and the rear seat-backs fold down flat for
increased stowage capability or to allow the little ones to lie down and try to sleep. If you ski, fold down the seats and slip in the skis. The rear hatch-lid opens wide, and there's a low lift-over height for easy unloading of packages. One
drawback with a compact wagon is that the wheel-well housings protrude into your cargo area. The SW2 is no exception. Our test car came with the standard driver-side air bag. A passenger-side bag would be welcome, especially in a vehicle that often
will find mom or dad hauling a kid in the front passenger's seat to school, soccer or wherever it is that little ones need to be hauled to. A passenger's bag will be added in the 1995 model year, an
d we suspect some folks will wait for that added protection. An SW2 with automatic transmission and anti-lock brakes (anti-lock brakes are a $725 option; that needs to come down to $300 to $500, so consumers won'tthink Saturn is a tad greedy) comes
with traction control as well. The combination of air bag, anti-lock brakes and traction control is hard to beat. A passenger-side bag would complete the package. With anti-lock brakes you brake to a sure, true stop regardless of road surface or
condition.With traction control, which adds a few sensors to the anti-lock-brake software, you avoid wheel spin when starting from the intersection, regardlessof the weather or pavement surface. Look closely and you'll find that not all small cars have a
similar safety package. Ride and handling are respectable, and the suspension won't jar your bones on uneven pavement, but the power steering is a shade on the stiff side. You won't maneuver into that tight parking space
sing only one finger on the wheel. In the sedan series the SL2 justifies its higher cost compared with the SL1by offering such things as the peppier engine, body-colored bumpers (they're black on the SL1) and concealed headlights. The SW2 differs
from the SW1 in terms of engines and body-colored bumpers, too, but it doesn't offer the concealed lights, which are a nice styling touch and one that would add flavorto the car. The Saturn SW2 is for a couple with one or two children at the age
when theparents are obligated to carry their daily essentials most anywhere they go-a highchair and sometimes a low chair, the kind with a hole in the bottom for deposit only. It's a vehicle for those who need to haul people and their things at
lower cost and at higher mileage than a mini-van offers. The SW2 starts at $13,395 with automatic. Add $725 to get anti-lock brakes and traction control and $1,765 for such luxuries as power locks and windows, air conditioning, power right-side mirror and
cruise control. Standard features include 24-hour roadside assistance, so you can call to get help if you run out of gas or one of the tykes locks the key in the car; plastic body panels that deflect most parking-lot dents and dings and won't rust;
stainless-steel exhaust; body-side moldings; adjustable steering column;intermittent wipers; AM/FM stereo; digital quartz clock; tinted glass; passenger-side vanity mirror; rear-window wiper, washer and defroster; remote fuel-filler door/hatchback
release; 15-inch radial tires; four-wheel independent suspension; power brakes; side-door guard beams; and rear-seat child-security locks.