I have to admit I'm spoiled by the test cars that I drive on behalf of Mother Proof; so spoiled in fact, that when I get into the Saturn Ion-3, I am kind of disappointed. Where is my sunroof? Where are the dual-zone climate control and heated seats?
Then I have a reality check. I have been driving some cars that are priced in the $30,000-plus range, and I better change this rotten attitude! So I start over with a new perspective. The Saturn Ion-3 is priced starting around $14,000, so I prep myself to give this underdog a go.
The Ion has lots of features. The problem is that all of them are so oddly engineered that I just wind up hating them. It attempts to make up for lacking certain things by tweaking others. For example, Saturn's website says the Ion is "Modern, yet inviting."
They've moved the instrument panel to the center of the dashboard instead of its usual locale in front of the steering wheel. This is supposed to feel new and sleek. I happen to pick up the car at night, and this layout is so incredibly frustrating for me. I keep looking down to check my speed, only to find a dark, blank space. I panic a few times, thinking that I have not turned my lights on.
When I signal a left turn the arrow lights up on the left side of the instrument panel, yes, but being that the panel is to the right of me, it lights up on the right of the steering wheel, making me crazy. Please don't move the instrument panel for the sake of "modernity". It's a long, hard mental leap for some of us.
The usual compartment space for small items like cell phones and change (for those in the real world), or snacks and wet wipes (for those of us in the mommy world) is ideal for a lefty. The left side of the dash is all compartments. There's just one in the center of the dash, but it's plastic and slippery and has no grip or lip to hold anything in there upon braking or acceleration. Goodness knows I love pointless cubbies, but only ones that are useable. The trunk space is fine, and the size of the interior is OK for hauling all 4 members of my family, assuming the trip isn't too long.
I have a real problem with the rear-view mirror. It takes up so much space that it eliminates about 25% of my vision out the front of the car. The large mirror houses nice-to-have items such as Bluetooth, On-Star, and the nighttime dimming switch (weirdly re-engineered to twist instead of push). Whose brainchild is that?
Saturn's website also says the car is "nimble, yet powerful." I find that while the car can get up to speed just fine and seems to have good power, I would not consider it nimble. It feels kind of stiff to drive (not in a cool, tight, sporty way but in a hard, unforgiving bumper-car-at-the-amusement-park sort of way).
Lastly, let's talk about safety. NHTSA has tested the Ion without side-impact airbags. So the Ion gets 5 stars for driver and passenger in a frontal crash, but only receives 3 stars in a side impact in the front, and 4 stars for a side impact in the rear seats. Of course, I don't like the idea of there being less safety where my kids travel.
About the back seat, there are three Latch connectors, but not enough space to fit three child car seats. In addition, I cannot get my daughter's car seat's Latch connector attached to the anchor. The anchor on the door side works OK, but not the other one. I keep pushing on the connector, but it acts almost as if the connector is too small for the anchor. Click! I think the connector is secure. Click! The connector detaches and springs back at me. The anchors are squished so tightly between the seat back and bottom that I have a hard time just wedging the connector in there. There is no way for me to actually see what the problem is with the anchor and connector, so I give up and simply use the seat belt.
Saturn is trying to give me the goodies I want, but it seriously lacks attention to detail, common-sense placement, and usage of these items (ergonomics, if you're the engineering type). The high points for the 2006 Saturn Ion are that it has leather seats (love that for cleaning off icky, sticky spills) and it is budget-friendly. It'll get me around and not cost a fortune at the gas pump. As I'm definitely not pampered or spoiled by the car itself, it spoils me simply by leaving some money in my bank account. I suppose that counts for something.
*For more information on the Saturn Ion visit Cars.com.
LET'S TALK NUMBERS LATCH Connectors: 3 Seating Capacity (includes driver): 5
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
SENSE AND STYLE Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Not Really Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): None