2003 Saturn ION (455)


This week I drove the 2003 Saturn ION 4-door sedan that replaces the S-Series. My auto enthusiast nephew and colleague, Vince and I refer to cars like this as cookie cutter cars. The inference is that it means they are stamped out like cookies. But the ingredients are important as well as the design of the cutter and more so the care given to the production.

Yes, this Saturn car is a plain Jane to some and unassuming in its presentation. It is therefore unimpressive to folks that consider a car more than transportation in its simplest form. We’re such materialistic jerks if you really think about it. Always trying to impress other folks we don’t know and probably never will. I just had a long conversation with my daughter about the importance of who we are and now what we have to impress our neighbors. I put it this way. If you are embarrassed about the house you live in or the car you drive around your friends you don’t need a bigger and more expensive house and car…. You need new friends.

And with an economy car you can commute to work and keep more of the money you make all the way from purchase price to lower operating costs. The great mileage will help you make friends with this Saturn and you’ll probably acquire “more real” friends.

Handling & Performance:  

Ok, so I gave this a tough test taking it from Los Angeles to Bass Lake, California. I tested the 5-speed manual shift transmission and it was a trooper climbing the hills with relative ease. It handled the corners with ease as well.


Cookie Cutter, simple design, but some feel it is a “Patch work” of shapes and angles.

Fit and Finish:

Functionally acceptable. Now don’t get the wrong idea by that label. Components are not poorly assembled, but I don’t expect the precision look and feel of a Mercedes or Lexus. Suffice it to say the seams and assembly are clean and functional with user-friendly controls well placed for ease of use. I do have one bitch however, and that was a whistling wind noise from the rear widow. That will drive a body mad like Chinese Water Torture. So, drive the car with the windows down, up without the radio and with the Air on and off. If it’s an assembly bug, they’ll fix it.


You know what, you don’t need the options noted below, but I’m beginning to find more and more reasons to have it the OnStar Communications system. The cost is really coming down and adds only $695 to the price tag. Why is it so good? Here’s one more reason: I’m driving up to a family reunion and I realize the battery on my cell is low and I forgot the 12-volt charger for the car. You know how much we’ve come to rely on cell phones and you know what I mean and the panic I felt. But wa-la I notice I have OnStar. I push the button and the concierge found a place closest to my route that not only was open, but also had the part in stock. I got off the highway, traveled two blocks, bought the charger, and was back on the road in ten minutes. Thank you Christine for the assist.


Great pricing. Transportation doesn’t get much cheaper unless you ride a bicycle.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you’re a snob you would have stopped reading long ago. If you are looking for a solid economical car you’ll still be reading and if so, you should consider this very strongly for a good family commuter car that will serve you well at a fraction of the cost of the Jones’s high cost, low mileage SUV. Since 40% of all cars are SUV’s and trucks, I’ll hazard a guess you have at least one neighbor with at least one SUV. Go ahead; tell me I’m wrong.

The Competition:

Saturn Ion $11-16,000, Chevrolet Cavalier $14-17,000, Chrysler Sebring $20-30,000, Daewoo Nubira $12-14,000, Dodge Neon $13-19,000, Honda Civic $13-21,000, Hyundai Elantra $13-14,000, Kia Optima $16-19,000, Mitsubishi Lancer $14-29,000, Nissan Sentra $12-17,000, Pontiac Sunfire $15,000, Toyota Corolla $14-15,000.

Good News:

Roomy, great gas mileage, adequate power.

Bad News:

Whistling wind noise, cookie cutter styling and generally unexciting for me.

Standard Equipment:

 2.2 liter 140 horsepower inline 4 cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission, power steering, front disc- rear drum brakes, dent resistant exterior panels, stainless steel exhaust, air conditioning, power locks, remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, stereo with CD and Cassette players, adjustable steering column, rear defroster, auto headlights, remote trunk release, fold down rear seats, dual front air bags, rear door child safety locks, theft deterrent immobilizer, daytime running lights. Options: Power Sunroof, Leather and OnStar communications system for a total of $2,400.

Gas Stats:

26 City and 33 Highway MPG.


MSRP $15,010.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2003 – An Automotive Love Affair

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