The Saturn Corporation is everybody’s favorite success story.

Good little cars, an appealing corporate culture and a whole new way of selling automobiles have brought Saturn raves and a core of customers who otherwise would have bought Hondas or Toyotas.

The good little cars, a sedan, a coupe and a station wagon, just underwent their first makeover, with redesigned body and some initial problems ironed out.

So, with a sharper body style and more interior space, the Saturn SC2 sports coupe heads out, still bearing the Good News from Spring Hill, Tenn.

Nearly every U.S. and Japanese automaker has some form of little sports coupe, inexpensive fun machines for people who enjoy driving and profiling. The SC2 is not particularly exceptional, though it is good-looking and benefits from the rugged reputation and good feelings inherent in being a Saturn.

The SC2 designation signifies that the coupe is powered by a double-overhead-cam version of Saturn’s 1.9-liter engine, which produces 124 horsepower, rather than the single-overhead-cam, or SC1, version of the same engine, which only produces 100 horsepower.

The sedan and station wagon have similar nomenclature involving the same engine.

The twin-cam engine, though more expensive, is well worth it. Though not terrifically powerful, it is reasonably strong and flexible. The single-cam, however, is kind of a dud.

I recently road-tested an SW1 station wagon that had automatic transmission, and found it to be sluggish at best.

But with the twin-cam and five-speed stick shift, the little coupe had plenty of spunk, enough to enhance its superior handling and steering system. Even so, the power is not up to such small-coupe competitors as the Chrysler Neon with 132 horsepower, and twin-cam power rated at 150, or the new Hyundai Tiburon with 130- or 140-horse engines.

Still, the SC2 provided a reasonable amount of sporty feedback under spirited driving, especially around the curves.

Though much improved, the four-banger is pretty noisy. This has been a longtime complaint with all Saturns, though it’s considerably toned down in the new models because of some engine redesign and lots of sound insulation.

The steering is tight and direct, though fairly numb, without the driver feedback desired in sporty cars. Shifting is precise, and the gearbox is one of the best anywhere.

The ride is stiff but supple, without harshness or excessive road noise.

The best improvement of the new SC2 is interior space, with increased headroom and legroom up front, and enough space in the back for taking real-world human beings along for the ride.

Saturn’s approach to the interior is a classic example of the old adage: If it ain’t busted, don’t fix it. Apparently recognizing that there was nothing wrong with the simple, well-designed layout from the former model, they left the dash, console and controls as they were. Probably saved a bunch of money, too.

The body, thoug h restyled, retains the plastic-composite fenders and door skins that fend off rust and parking-lot dings. And like other Saturns tested, the SC2 was solid and rattle-free.

The well-equipped Saturn tested here had a price-tag of about $18,000, relative chicken feed. That included about $4,500 worth of options, including full-power features, air-conditioning, custom wheels and leather trim. Also, $700 for anti-lock brakes, which should come standard.

In purchasing a Saturn, you buy into the corporate image of friendly workers, cooperative sales people and durable automobiles. There are sportier cars for the price than the SC2, certainly faster ones.

But probably none that are better.

1997 Saturn SC2

Vehicle type: Four-passenger, two-door coupe, front-wheel drive. Base price: $13,695. Price as tested: $18,040. Engine: 1.9-liter straight four, 124 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, 122 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm.Transmission: Five- speed stick shift. Curb weight: 2,385 pounds. Length: 180 inches. Wheelbase: 102.4 inches. Safety features: Dual air bags, anti-lock brakes. EPA fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 37 mpg highway Highs: Improved interior space. Sharp new styling. Good handling. Lows: Engine noise. Numb steering. Engine power lacking.

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