Saturn is aptly named.

Press foot to gas pedal, and the sound coming from the engine compartment makes you feel as if you`d just been launched toward the ringed planet viabooster rocket.

We had the opportunity to test-drive the Saturn line this summer inMichigan. Now we`ve had the car to drive in Chicago and environs.

Between then, when driving prototypes, and now, when driving a production model, we had hoped some of the problems would be resolved. They weren`t.

Regardless of locale, a Saturn with 4-speed automatic is not quiet-atleast not when stepping from the light, swinging to the passing lane orrambling down the merger ramp trying to beat a cab for a plot of pavement onthe expressway.

It`s a shame. Saturn was years and $3 billion in the making, as GeneralMotors Corp. sought to come up with an all-new car, a vehicle that theblueprints said would out-Japanese the Japanese in quality as well as low-costproduction. The Honda Accord had been the benchmark of room, comfort,performance and reliability, but the Saturn was earmarked to nudge it off its pedestal.

The subcompact (102.4-inch wheelbase/176.3-inch length), front-wheel-drive Saturn is offered in 4 versions: the base SL, SL1 and SL2 sedans andthe SC coupe. The coupe just recently went into production, and finding one ata dealership is akin to the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack routine.

The sedans look like miniature versions of the midsize Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and the coupe looks like a Chevrolet Geo Storm.

There are two engines, an 85-horsepower, 1.9-liter, 16-valve, singleoverhead cam 4-cylinder and a 123-h.p. version with dual overhead cams. Thisis an all-new GM engine that no other division offers. A 5-speed is standard(and the only trans in the base SL); 4-speed automatic is optional.

We drove the SL four-door sedan equipped with automatic and a laudable 23 m.p.g. city/32 m.p.g. highway rating.

We`ve driven Saturns with 5-speeds, the smoothest shifting manual GM hasever built. It isn`t noisy. If Saturn wants to recoup some of that $3 billion,it should sell the 5-speed to Chevy and Pontiac so those divisions would have a tolerable manual.

But with the automatic, Saturn must deaden the engine/transmissioncommotion or slap a few extra inches of insulation along the firewall andfloor pan to keep the racket out of the passenger compartment. Rule No. 1 inbasic engineering is that quiet is the sound of a well-made car.

Problem No. 2 you bring on yourself by ordering the optional ($530)moonroof that robs headroom and features a thick lip along the edges that yourhead kisses with each bump in the road.

You can find relief by reclining the seat back to move your head fartherfrom the roof, but in doing so you rob from the rear-seat passenger room,which isn`t abundant to begin with.

Another gripe is the automatic shoulder belts that saunter along a railin the door to fasten themselves against your upper torso when you turn on thekey. The belts retract when the key is off and you open the door to exit.

We found that, when the sun visor was positioned along the driver`s sidewindow to shield glare and the door was opened after the ignition was off,that the shoulder belt lodges against the visor. The belt stops retracting andyou`re a captive. The belt lodges so tightly in the visor you have to turn on the ignition key so the computer tells the belt to move again to release it.

One final complaint is that the Saturn doesn`t offer air bags. FewJapanese cars offer them, and if GM wanted to win consumers from the importsit could have done so with this simple addition. It chose less costlymotorized, sun visor-chewing belts instead.

As for the good points, the body panels are made of flexible plastic.They give and pop back into shape after those parking lot door-bangingepisodes. We put the panels to a more vigorous test by kicking the doors and fenders. Each snapped back into shape undamaged.

In terms of value for the dollar, the plastic will save you money inavoiding those nasty body repairs, in which removing tiny dents or nicks runs two weeks` pay. Also, the panels won`t rust, so they don`t need costly add-on protection.

The trunk is spacious. If you need more room, the rear-seat backs fold.

Interior layout is above average. Whatever the control-dial, knob orswitch-you can see it and reach it without a map to find it and a schematic touse it. Power window and mirror controls are in the center console, lights andwipers on steering-wheel stalks, radio and heater dead center in the dash.

The SL2 comes with a road-holding performance suspension.

The power steering is one of those fingertip-light systems that requireslittle effort, a feature that always made Honda seem so nimble to maneuver.Ditto now for Saturn.

With the power steering, suspension and 15-inch tires usually found onlyon larger cars, you need only point the nose in the direction you want to goand the car responds. There`s no body roll or sway in sudden or frequent lane changes.

Though it doesn`t offer air bags, Saturn offers antilock brakes as an$875 option. Our car didn`t have antilock brakes, the option we`d put at thetop of our list in any car.

Standard equipment includes power brakes and steering, body-coloredmirrors and bumpers, body-side moldings, intermittent wipers, AM-FM stereo,digital clock and trip odometer.

Base price for the SL2 is $10,990 ($7,995 SL, $8,595 SL1 and $11,775 forthe SC coupe). The test car came with one of two option packages (the ``B``), which runs $1,535 and includes power locks and windows, air conditioning,power right-side mirror and cruise control. The power moonroof added $530 and an upgraded AM-FM stereo with cassette added $295. The sticker was $13,350plus $275 for freight. You could save $825 by deleting the moonroof and radio upgrade and put the money toward the optional antilock brakes.

Saturn sales numbered only 1,881 cars last year after an Octoberintroduction. About 1,000 were sold in January; quality is taking precedenceover quantity. There`s still only one local dealer, Schaumburg Saturn, but twomore, in Libertyville and Tinley Park, are supposed to open next month andanother in Naperville this summer.

Saturn offers a 30-day money back guarantee. Twelve 12 people have takenSaturn up on the offer.