THE COLOR was black gold, the deepest ebony with tiny amber flecks.The paint looked liquid on the car in the sun. So convincing was itsapparent wetness, a few people felt compelled to touch the automobile’sbody and examine their hands. They murmured in admiration and walkedaway — all except one woman, who didn’t go so easily.

She is a Virginia restaurateur, an elegant sort who demanded theignition key. I gave it to her. Nobody says “no” to this woman, whotreasures her anonymity as much as friends covet her bank account.

I would not have picked her as a Saturn prospect, not even for thisSaturn — the 1995 SC2 coupe, with its leather-bound interior and itsbody that resembled a midget Nissan 300ZX. But the woman stood there inan imperious pose with outstretched palm.

On second thought, maybe she and the SC2 belonged together. Bothwere competent and stunningly attractive.

I watched them disappear down the road, headed toward Mount Vernon.Fifteen minutes later, car and driver returned. “Very nice,” the womansaid. “Very smooth.” But she still held firmly to the key. I stared ather hand. She looked at me. “Mine,” she said, and laughed. I didn’t. Shereturned the key. I left.

Background: Some automakers speak of change in terms of “evolution.”That means they didn’t have the money, time or will to make majorchanges in their products. Major changes are referred to as”revolution.”

The 1995 Saturn is an evolutionary work; but it’s nonethelessremarkable. Saturn is an econocar line, and the line’s new sedans andwagons mostly adhere to that heritage. The changes are subtle — aredone instrument panel with larger and more readable gauges; are-crafted central console, which houses controls for the sound systemand air conditioner; and, of course, dual-front air bags.

The much-loathed automatic front seat belts are gone, having beenreplaced by a more sensible, manually operated three-point belt system.Exterior changes to the sedans and wagons include modestly redone lowerfront fascias.

Saturn sedans include the base SL, the more upscale SL1 and theswanky SL2. Saturn wagons include the base SW1 and the “popularequipment” SW2 (with A/C, automatic transmission, AM/FM cassette, andpower doors and windows).

Evolutionary change also marks the coupe lineup, including the baseSC1 and the hot-to-trot SC2, whose reshaped front end and rear aredistinctive.

Besides dual-front air bags and manual belts, standard equipment onall new Saturn models includes front-wheel drive, five-speed manualtransmission, 1,000-pounds trailer towing capacity, independentfour-wheel suspension system, power front discs and rear drum brakes,and rack-and-pinion steering.

An electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmission isoptional, as is an anti-lock braking system. The tested SC2 came with astandard five-speed manual gearbox and optional anti-lock, powerfour-wheel disc brakes.

Complaints: A power door- lock system that seemed to work slowly. Onemust key the power lock on the driver’s-side door and wait severalseconds before the door locks activate. Also, I hate those pop-upheadlamps. With new headlamp technology, pop-ups are passe even on sleeksports coupes.

Praise: An all-around fun, well-executed, almost reasonably pricedsports coupe; a solid competitor in the pocket-rocket league.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Superb small-car handling and ride.Acceleration is excellent. The new SC2 is powered by a 1.9-liter,double-overhead cam, four-cylinder engine rated 124 horsepower at 5,600rpm. Maximum torque is set at 118 pound-feet at 2,400 rpm.

Mileage: About 30 miles per gallon in the tested SC2 (12.8-gallontank, estimated 372-mile range on usable volume of regular unleaded),combined city-highway, with one to two occupants and light cargo.

Sound system: Four-speaker, electronically controlled AM/FM stereoradio and cassette, GM/Delco system. Very decent.

P rice: Estimated base price is $14,000. Estimated dealer’s invoiceon base model is $12,500. Estimated price as tested is $17,000,including $2,650 in options and a $350 destination charge. Please notethat stated prices are preliminary for 1995.

Purse-strings note: A really nice car, but, as packaged, the testedSC2 coupe sort of pushes the concept of “economy” over the cliff.Compare with Honda Prelude, Eagle Talon/Mitsubishi Eclipse, Nissan 240SXand Toyota Celica.

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