Versus the competiton:
When General Motors executives hit their knees at night to ask the Lord’s blessing, they shouldn’t forget to whisper the name of Roger B. Smith.
Of course, trying to picture a GM executive hitting his knees at night is about as far-fetched as any of them using Roger Smith’s name other than in vain. But it’s the thought that counts.
Smith, in case you’ve forgotten, is the former GM chairman blamed by his successors for every problem the automaker suffered, not only during his reign but in every year since his retirement in July 1990. Yet it was Smith who had the bright idea to form Saturn division, which still may not be making money after five years but has to be considered one of GM’s major successes in bringing people into the fold who would have opted for a rival Big Three showroom, or even worse, an import.
Saturn, while not the best car in the world, is the best-run operation at GM. Courtesy and care for consumers. How many automakers call you up, tell you your car has been recalled and, when you arrive for the repair, have the dealer give you a new car (as Saturn did with its recall of the first 1,800 cars made), or have a party awaiting you in the showroom with hot dogs and pizza and pop-and end up selling new cars to those who brought old ones in for work? Or how many dealerships give you a flower when you leave the service bay instead of the bum’s rush?
Saturn charges full sticker, but everyone pays full sticker and so there’s no fear of going to work on Monday and having some clown say he paid $1,000 less for the same car. Peace of mind.
How many makes have used-car guarantees that give you three days to bring the used car back for a full refund or 30 days or 1,500 miles to bring it back in exhange for another one-a program sure to increase the value of used Saturns, making them more valuable at trade-in time.
In answer to those who think that theonly things Saturn needs now are bigger cars and a convertible, information leaked by members of the United Auto Workers union indicates that Saturn is going to get bigger cars and even a V-6 engine. The new cars reportedly will be developed with GM’s Opel subsidiary in Germany, based on the next-generation Opel Vectra and Astra.
Saturn’s plan calls for it to add a midsize sedan with its first V-6 engine in the 1999 model year and a smaller version of its SL sedans in 2004. The midsize Saturn would be based on the 1996 model Vectra, the smaller SL on the 1998 model Astra.
Plans also call for other GM divisions to share Vectra and Astra platforms after the turn of the century: the Vectra for the Pontiac Grand Am, Oldsmobile Achieva and Chevrolet Malibu, and the Astra for the Chevy Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire.
The new Saturn models would be built at GM’s Wilmington, Del., assembly plant, a major cost savings over expanding the Saturn plant in Sprin g Hill, Tenn.
But before that, Saturn sedans get restyled for the 1996 model year this fall and the coupe gets redone in the 1997 model year, at which time it’s supposed to get a more powerful engine and perhaps, at last, a convertible. Word is the wagons will be dropped.
We test drove the 1995 Saturn SC2 coupe, the engine/styling upgrade from the SC1. It features a peppier 124-horsepower version of the 1.9-liter, 4-cylinder engine (100-h.p. version in the SC1). A V-6 would give Saturn more oomph and be far more quiet than the 4. Just be patient a few more years, which will give you the time to prepare for the sacrifice to mileage that a V-6 will mean.
Despite some minor front- and rear-end cosmetic changes, the 1995 SC2 looks much as it always has, which means very stylish, though somewhat more conservative than the Chevy Camaro from its sister GM division.
The Saturn coupe is one of those good looks/great mileage vehicles that looks porty and allows some aggressive driving while delivering high mileage-in the case of our test car, 24 miles per gallon city/34 m.p.g. highway with four-speed automatic. Not the same performance as a Camaro Z28, but also lacking the Z28’s thirst for fuel or sky-high insurance premiums.
The 1.9-liter is sufficiently peppy, though you’ll want to press the “performance” button in the center console for livelier and quieter acceleration than you’ll get by leaving the transmission shift point settings in the “normal” mode. In normal, the car becomes a conservative coupe with considerably less aggressive performance and noisier acceleration.
Whether the setting is performance or normal, keep in mind Saturn’s objective is to get as many miles as possible between fill-ups.
Our test car offered 4-speed automatic transmission, which allows you to add anti-lock brakes plus traction control to help you move from the light when the roads are covered with snow or water. Saturn is one of the few economy cars on the market offering traction control, but the ABS/traction control package will set you back $780.
Ride and handling are good, with 15-inch tires helping the SC2 in corners and turns. The SC2 had good control of horizontal movement, but if you travel a stretch of road with thick tar marks, you’ll experience too much vertical, or up and down, play.
Inside, Saturn has gone off the deep end. Our test car came with a cloth interior on the seat bottoms and doors that looks like somebody dipped a brush into a bucket of mauve paint and then tried wiping the brush clean on the beige upholstery. The paint scheme will hide dirt, but then how much dirt will you see with both eyes closed because you can’t stand looking at the design?
Interior room is good upfront but would be even better for hips and thighs if the door armrests were slimmer. Space in back is cramped.
The center console houses power window and mirror controls as well as cupholders and a tray to store coins for the tollway.
Like all Saturns, the SC2 has dual air bags as standard. The dash on the passenger-side features a protruding lip to ensure the bag inflates in the proper direction. The lip looks ugly.
Now that dual bags have been added, the SC2, and all Saturns, have done away with the automatic shoulder belts that fastened around your torso when you turned on the ignition and retracted when you removed the key.
As for annoyances, other than the mauve brush marks on the cloth seats and the passenger air bag lip on the dash, we wish staff engineers could find a less space-robbing location for the parking brake handle other than in the center console, and enlarge the sideview mirrors, which may be aesthetically and aerodynamically petite but don’t provide adequate side and rear vision.
The SC2 coupe’s base price is $13,815. Standard equipment includes power brakes a nd steering, stainless steel exhaust, adjustable steering column, intermittent wipers, AM/FM stereo, digital clock, trip odometer, fold-down rear seats, tinted glass, passenger-side vanity mirror, rear-window defroster, and remote trunk/fuel filler-door release.
The sticker rose to $17,540 with options (you can save $155 without fog lamps) and freight.
There’s debate as to whether Saturn should continue to offer plastic body panels, which prevent rust and resist most minor parking lot dents and dings, or switch to sheet metal.
Here’s one vote for keeping the plastic and its perceived value for the original owner, and especially for the second and third and fourth owners who will buy used without fear of purchasing a rust bucket. Saturn’s attraction is being different and refusing to follow the crowd. When it starts pinching pennies, GM will be left with the bruises.