For my money, driving a Saturn-made automobile too often has been like going to a fine restaurant with no wine list. The service might be great and the product oh-so-pleasing, but something was lacking.
Usually, what I found lacking in Saturn passenger cars was power.
Most agree that buying a car at a customer-is-king Saturn dealership is pure joy, and I’m certain that many a motorist has driven away with a thoroughly enjoyable, nicely appointed motor vehicle.
What troubled me though was the type of situation where you had to turn onto a busy street and hustle to get into the flow of traffic. Too many times in a Saturn, I would find myself trying to press the accelerator through the floor and holding my breath as I watched a fast-approaching vehicle in my rearview mirror. Occasionally, I could read the lips of drivers who had to hammer the brakes to avoid hitting my Saturn in the rear.
“Have a nice day,” was not the verbal message.
The 2003 Saturn L300 sedan renders such unpleasantness moot. The 3-liter, 24-valve V-6 engine in the L300 I tested not only propelled the midsize sedan to run-with-the-pack speed in quick order but also showed the kind of aggressiveness it takes to run with the hotshots.
An L300 weighs in at less than 3,200 pounds so delivering the advertised 190 foot-pounds of torque at a relatively modest 3,600 revolutions per minute made the tested model downright sporty suspension provided nimble handling, making the L300 more than a mere growler.
With the luxury of not having to worry about power, I was free to enjoy the L300’s standard amenities, which were plentiful for a car with a base price of $20,645.
Seating front and back was comfortable, and in the case of the back, surprisingly roomy. Interior noise consistently remained at serene levels. The AM/FM radio-compact disc player delivered quality sound and had understandable controls that did not require an engineering degree.
The standard power package included door locks, windows and exterior mirrors. The standard safety lineup had dual front air bags, head-curtain side air bags, side-impact door beams and pads, an engine immobilizer antitheft system, four-way adjustable head restraints and latches for three child seats. Dent-resistant doors/fenders and 5 mph-rated bumpers also were part of the standard deal.
The tested Saturn was dressed up in near-outrageous fashion $4,060 worth of add-ons that included a DVD entertainment system (with 7-inch flip-down roof screen and wireless headphones), leather appointments, an OnStar communications system, a power driver’s seat and heated outside mirrors.
The L300’s exterior lines go beyond the vanilla style of the usual midsize sedan. The car has sporty angles and edges that dovetail nicely with the muscle put down by the 3-liter power plant. Fit and finish were top-notch.
The $25,715 bottom line on the tested model needs to be taken with a grain of salt, giv en the extensive list of options.
Rest assured that an L300 with robust performance can be had for around $20,500. Opt for the less-powerful L200 sedan – with a 2.2-liter in-line-4 engine rated at 135 horsepower – and the starting price drops to a positively alluring $17,620.
Both sedan models carry a three-year/36,000-mile limited warranty that includes 24-hour roadside assistance. The only drawback for regular Saturn buyers might be the sport-tuned suspension in the L300. It’s stiffer than the usual Saturn stock; the price of better handling will be feeling some of those highway imperfections in the seat of your pants.
Saturn’s L300 faces stiff competition from the hot-selling Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, but the L300 with the V-6 stacks up as a formidable alternative. That and the pleasant buying atmosphere in a Saturn dealership – where no-haggle pricing is touted – might be enough to lure some buyers away from the imports and behind the wheel of an L300. Whatever the final choice, midsize-sedan shoppers should include the L300 on their test-drive list.
Saturn L300 at a glance
Make/model: 2003 Saturn L300.
Vehicle type: Five-seat, front-drive, four-door sedan.
Base price: $20,645 (as tested, $25,715).
Engine: 3-liter V-6 with 182 horsepower at 5,600 revolutions per minute and 190 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm.
EPA fuel economy: 21 miles per gallon city; 29 mpg highway.
Transmission: Electronic four-speed automatic with overdrive.
Steering: Power rack and pinion with speed-sensing and stability features.
Brakes: Four-wheel discs with anti-lock.
Suspension type: Four-wheel independent with MacPherson strut on front; multi-link on rear (stabilizer bars front and rear).
Interior volume: 96.9 cubic feet.
Trunk volume: 17.5 cubic feet.
Fuel tank: 15.7 gallons.
Curb weight: 3,197 pounds.
Front track: 59.8 inches.
Rear track: 59.4 inches.
Height: 56.4 inches.
Length: 190.4 inches.
Wheelbase: 106.5 inches.
Width: 68.5 inches.
Tires: Firestone P215/55R16.
Final assembly point: Wilmington, Del.