When it comes to success in GM’s automotive cosmos, few stories in recent years top Saturn’s.
With its simple mission to treat customers well, Saturn has become a bright spot for a company still trying to regain its stride.
They’ve done it with great service. The cars? Ordinary, but serviceable.
But for 1997, Saturn gets a restyled coupe to add some sizzle to its lineup.
While the styling of the old coupe was sharp, it had a very ’80s sensibility to it. The new car is more modern, if a bit chunkier in the rear flanks. That’s mainly because of a stretch –the sedan and coupe now share a common 102.4-inch wheelbase. The headlamps are now fixed, replacing the pop-up units. This is good, mainly because daytime running lamps are now standard.
There are two coupes, the SC1 and SC2. Both share all body panels, most of them plastic, for the first time. While the SC1 gets 14-inch tires, the SC2 benefits from 15-inch tires. There’s a difference in engines as well, although they remain unchanged from last year. Both cars are powered by Saturn’s somewhat noisy 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine (“power module” in Saturnese). The base car gets a single-overhead-cam version of this engine, producing 100 horses. The up-level car gets a double overhead cam and 24 more horses. You might decide that the extra horses and sporty nature aren’t worth the extra scratch. But when it comes to a car with sporting pretensions, more ponies mean more fun.
Whichever engine you choose, you’ll encounter a fair amount of noise whenever you really press it. They used to be a lot louder than most competitors, and they’re still louder than the top Japanese competition. But there’s more than enough power to move this car through traffic safely and the noise settles down when cruising.
Either engine can be hooked to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Brakes are front disc-rear drum on the SC1, four-wheel disc on the SC2. Both comewith anti-lock. The SC2’s brakes proved excellent.
The handling is average for a small car. But there are a couple of qualities that make it fun. Its quick steering and good road feel combine for a tossable character. Bump absorption is only average. Road and engine noise are always present.
However, the engine had a harmonic hum at 35 mph that could be heard and felt in the cabin. It was very disturbing.
Inside, the car had loads of somber dark gray plastic. The gauges are large, easy-to-read dials clustered in front of the driver. They were incomplete — no voltmeter or oil pressure gauge. The turn signal lever felt clunky, but all other controls felt well assembled. Even so, this car has more plastic in it than the kitchen appliance aisle at K mart.
The seats were comfortable for the first 15 minutes or so. Long-legged drivers might find the front seats don’t go back far enough. The rear seats are much improved, thanks to the wheelbase stretch.
The center console is very nicely designed and very original looking. Even though the controls depart from a normal look, they were easy to work.
Saturn’s safety stacks up well. Standard dual air bags along with 5 mph bumpers help protect you. But be sure your Saturn has the anti-lock brakes and traction control, two worthwhile options that could save you in an emergency maneuver.
Base price for the SC1 starts at $12,495. Jumping to the sportier SC2 means a starting price of $13,695. But watch the options. Our test car came in at an eye-opening $18 grand, about the same price as cars that are much bigger.
There are lots of good small cars for sale. Saturn sells one that’s fairly reliable and has a great dealer network. But the car itself is just OK. It won’t sing to you with its charm (unless you count the engine noise), but will prove to be a faithful servant. So will the dealer.
That’s why GM has sold so many.
SATURN SC2 Standard: 1.9-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine, 4-speed automatic transmission with shift-point selection, variable effort power steering, front disc/rear drum brakes, 185/65R15 tires, compact spare tire, fold-down rear seats, intermittent wipers, bucket seats with console and cupholders, AM/FM 4-speaker stereo, rear defroster, remote trunk and fuel door releases, dual airbags. Options: Package 2 (keyless entry, security system, power locks, power windows, air-conditioning, power right side mirror, cruise control, alloy wheels), floor mats, rear spoiler, anti-lock brakes with traction control system, fog lamps, cassette player. Base price: $13,335 As tested: $17,400 EPA rating: 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway Test mileage: 23.5 mpg