Category Archives: Saturn

2008 Saturn Astra 3 Door XR (704)

General Info:

Parts – US/Canadian 3%, Germany 35%, Hungary 17%, Transmission – Japan.
Assembly – Antwerpen, Belgium
Class:  – Compact Crossover
Cars: – Astra, Aura, Aura GL Hybrid, Icon, Outlook, Relay, Sky, Vue and Vue
GL Hybrid.

“An Automotive Love Affair”
By Joseph Mavilia       2008 Saturn Astra 3 Door XR

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2008 Saturn Astra 3-Door XR compact crossover
built in Belgium based on Opel’s Astra. So this is the US version of that
European car which is built well for Euro budget conscious consumers.

I found its interior equipment and features control layout to be foreign as
well and not to my liking. I won’t bore you with the details because after a
week I could get by but they just weren’t as intuitive and friendly as they
could be for US consumers generally. The guy in charge of the development
team for the US version, Don Straitiff is said to have done little to make
it more acceptable to American consumers. I’m sure it was more budget based
than thinking it was all that different from other cars sold in America.

Observation:

I was watching the news the other day and they were talking with SUV owners
at the gas pump and one young man said of the gas prices, “I didn’t see it
coming”. The DMV should take that guys license away because he has to be a
bit blind. But I would say to him, now that you are strapped with $4 gas on
the way to world market prices of up to $8 a gallon don’t panic. Don’t dump
the SUV because for the loss you’d take on selling it right now you can buy
a Smart car from Mercedes Benz that is the rage of Europe for $11,000 that
gets about 50 mpg. Drive it commuting and when you have to pull the boat or
motorcycle trailer take the truck/SUV.

Handling & Performance:

The automatic transmission has a unique Neutral Idle feature that shifts
into neutral whenever the car is stopped and idling, thereby eliminating
torque-converter drag.

It has nice handling characteristics from the front engine front wheel drive
and braking is excellent because of larger disc brakes. The European Opel
version has smaller discs that tend to squeak. It seems American consumers
are more picky about squeaky brakes.

Styling:

There is something of a European flair in the look to offset the lousy
interior controls.

Fit and Finish:

Very good as you’d expect from most European products.

Cost:

Not bad and the good news is there is a crowd of competition in this
commuter class.

Features and Conveniences:

Large cargo area for this compact and usability is enhanced with easy fold
down seats.

Consumer Recommendation:

Resource – www.safercar.gov
<http://www.safercar.gov>
Because you’re in the market for a car you need to look at the hottest class
and any of these will be a better investment when it comes time for resale.
The Smart Car will do better on fuel consumption but it is only a two seater
and really doesn’t belong in the mix. But if 2 seats is ok it is the best on
gas of all listed.

Recognized Competition:

Saturn Astra $16-18,000, Honda Civic $15-25,000, Mazda 3 $14-20,000, Pontiac
G5 $15-20,000, Dodge Caliber $14-23,000, Chevrolet Cobalt $14-22,000,
Hyundai Elantra $14-16,000, Volkswagen Rabbit $16-18,000, Kia Rio
$11-14,000, Ford Focus $14-17,000, Toyota Corolla $15-20,000, Suzuki SX4
$15-17,000, Suzuki Forenza Wagon $15-16,000, Suzuki Reno $14,000, Mitsubishi
Lancer $14-18,000, Nissan Sentra $16-20,000, Kia Spectra 5 $15,995, Scion tC
$17,000, MINI Cooper $18-25,000, Mini Clubman $20-23,000, Smart fortwo
$12-17,000.

Good News:

Decent fuel economy and roomy.

Bad News:

Annoying controls and pricing will be rigid as demand is escalating with
every increase in gas prices.

Standard Equipment:

including options.
1.8 liter 4-cylinder 138 hp engine, 4-speed Aisin auto trans, 18″ alloy
wheels, ABS disc brakes, vehicle stability control, premium trim package
including leather heated seats, leather wrapped steering wheel, advanced
audio package with 6-disc CD player and MP3 format.

Gas Stats:

$4.10/ Gal avg. June 5 ’08
www.fueleconomy.gov <http://www.fueleconomy.gov>
for more information.

24 City and 30 Highway MPG
www.safercar.gov <http://www.safercar.gov>
or 888-327-4236

Pricing:

MSRP $17,875 and as equipped above $21,035.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
<mailto:joe@atthewheel.com>
Copyright (c) 2008 – An Automotive Love Affair

2007 Saturn Aura 4-Door Sedan (646)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2007 Saturn Aura that is clearly a contender for top honors. In fact I’ll be bullish and say this is perhaps the top of the field in this class. It is built on a German Opel platform and is finally a serious Mid Size Sedan for Saturn.

Saturn’s outstanding reputation for friendly dealers has been a plus from the consumer. They have eliminated the high pressure image of “Car Salesmen”.

On the product front Saturn continues to impress me with new entrants like this Aura and the very popular Sky sports car. The roll out of the product last year was impressive too. The people at the top of Saturn and their staff are special people and have earned the reputation for advancing a first class product line.

Handling & Performance:

The Aura is quick and agile and built for a comfortable sedan ride. But it does great in the mountains and it handled the twists and turns of the Angeles Crest Highway with ease. The 252 horsepower V6 is no slouch either. Plenty of power when you need it.

Styling:

The styling by even the most critical is outstanding. I have to tell you my friend looked at this Aura and parked across the street was his $90,000 BMW. The color was different but the look was not $50,000 better. You could see the look on his face of revelation in consideration of comparative value. We concluded the satellite antenna was not painted to match the color of the car. Wow, interesting conclusion. Is that it? Can’t we come up with more than that? Should the antenna be mounted on the front of the car, as it is or on the back as the BMW has mounted it? Who really cares? And why is that the focus of our discussion of the differences in the car that is priced $65,000 less? I can think of a lot of things I could do with the difference.

Fit and Finish:

Quite good. Ok so we go from outstanding styling to Quite good attention to detail. Sorry, you can’t have it all and for the difference in price – you guessed it – there are some drawbacks. In this category I was disappointed with the armrests. After the great job they did with so much else why couldn’t they do a better job with making the armrests on the doors sturdier? Secondly there is no way to close the trunk without pushing it closed from the top. It gets you hands dirty or at the very least smudges the shine. It was apparent others also assumed the rubber spacer was provided to close the trunk as it fell off in my hand. The other side was tight so they failed to do the right thing here.

On the other hand the sun visors are thoughtful and slide out to cover more of the side sun. Thus the inconsistencies are baffling.

Cost:

Very competitive at a few grand less than Camry.

Conveniences and comfort:

Equal to the best and better than the perceived best for the money.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you are considering a Japanese Toyota Camry, drive this American alternative. Now that American Car Makers are #2 we’ll need to try harder as the head of Avis promoted and elevated his company.

Recognized Competition:

Saturn Aura $20-24,000, Toyota Camry $18-28,000, Pontiac G6 $27-37,000, Hyundai Sonata $17-23,000, Chevrolet Impala $21-28,000, Buick LaCrosse $22-27,000, Mazda 6 $19-27,000, Subaru Legacy $20-34,000, Honda Accord $19-30,000, Mitsubishi Galant $20-27,000, Nissan Altima $18-28,000, Kia Optima $16-20,000, Mercury Milan $19-25,000, Ford Fusion $17-24,000, Volkswagen Jetta $16-28,000, Chrysler Sebring (2008) $25-32,000.  

Good News:

In the top of its class, wonderful styling, roomy inside and good size trunk, quiet smooth ride, thoughtful sun visors and decent fuel economy.  

Bad News:

Does not utilize the no-rust dent resistant surfaces, cheap attention to detail in a few areas.   

Standard Equipment:

3.6 liter 252 HP V6 engine, 6-speed automatic trans, steering wheel mounted paddle shifting, 4-wheel ABS power disc brakes, front and side curtain passenger sensing air bags and outboard rear side impact bags, daytime running auto headlights, Stability control, child safety latch system, remote keyless entry and remote start system, tire pressure monitor and theft deterrent system, fog lights, power heated mirrors, 18” multi spoke aluminum bright wheels, auto air conditioning, 8-way driver power seat with lumbar support, power windows and locks, stereo with 6-CD / MP3 player, rear electric defogger, steering wheel radio controls, rear seat audio controls with wireless headphones, cruise control, auto dimming mirror with compass, tilt & telescopic steering wheel.

Options: leather seats and wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 6-way power passenger seat, OnStar safety system (one year included) and XM satellite radio (3 months included) and power sunroof – $2,324.

Gas Stats:

$3.45/ Gal avg. May 12 ‘07
 www.fueleconomy.gov
for more information.

20 City and 28 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $23,945 (add $2,324 with options.)

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2007 – An Automotive Love Affair

2007 Saturn Outlook AWD XR (645)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2007 Saturn Outlook AWD XR SUV. Wow – Saturn and luxury SUV in the same sentence seems unlikely but this is it.

It will strike you I believe, as it did me, to be up there with more expensive competition. I appreciate that and am pleased to bring that thought to you as well and encourage you to take a look and support American car companies. Toyota is rapidly overtaking GM in not only the most profitable but the largest of car manufacturers. That almost seems un-American and it has been a long time coming that the US auto industry is back. Surely they will suffer from the historical arrogance that typified the attitude a generation ago.

General Info:

Parts – n/a

Assembly – Lansing, MI USA

Class: – Special Purpose

Cars: – Aura / Green line hybrid, Ion, Outlook, Relay, Sky and Vue / Green line hybrid.

Handling & Performance:

All wheel drive makes a great difference most noticeable for me, of course, on the Crest Test mountain driving.  General road ability makes the Outlook very enjoyable to drive because it hugs the road very well for a big high profile vehicle.

Unlike the paddle tip tronic shifting style manual automatic transmission feature on, say the Aura, this Outlook model utilizes the manual setting shift button on the shift lever. I thought it was fine and find the paddle style can be frustrating as you hunt for the paddles in the middle of a turn.

Styling:

Comparable with most high end luxury makes and models. Nice lines. Over 200 inches long which allows for a reasonable cargo area even with all seating rows in place? They have also provided air conditioning for the rear area seating area.

 

Fit and Finish:

Exceptional, although many will claim there is too much plastic. But that is consistent with most competitors and keeps the cost from escalating needlessly. Elegant look and feel of more expensive makes and models.

Cost:

Clearly it is competitively priced with even the most popular makes.

Conveniences and comfort:

Outstanding. I’m not crazy for the remote start feature but have used it in colder climates where it is nice to let it warm up while you’re in the comfort of your home.

Consumer Recommendation:

Don’t leave this out of your buying options. Saturn is a special kind of dealership experience and that too is a factor in your buying decision of a new car.

Recognized Competition:

Saturn Outlook $27,32,000, Mazda CX-7 $24-28,000, GMC Envoy $27-37,000, Dodge Durango $26-36,000, Subaru B9 Tribeca $30-33,000, Hyundai Santa Fe $21-28,000, Toyota Highlander $25-32,000, Honda Pilot $27-35,000, Mitsubishi Outlander $21-25,000, Nissan Murano $28-32,000, Mercury Mountaineer $27-34,000, Ford Freestyle $26-31,000.

Good News:

Excellent FWD handling prowess, 3rd row seat for 8 passenger seating with easy entry feature and powerful V6 engine.

Bad News:

Does not utilize the no-rust dent resistant surfaces.

Standard Equipment:

3.6 liter 270 HP V6 engine, 6-speed automatic trans all wheel drive, power steering, ride & handling suspension, stability control, traction control, dual air bags, side curtain airbags, passenger sensing system, child safety latch system, power windows and locks, OnStar 1 year included, theft deterrent system, remote keyless entry, fog lights, roof rails, rear lift gate, power heated mirrors, 18” machine aluminum wheels, cloth front bucket seats, 8-way driver power seat, 2nd & 3rd row split bench seat, smart slide 2nd row feature, climate control, stereo with CD / MP3 player, rear electric defogger, cruise control, auto dimming mirror with compass, tilt & telescopic steering wheel. Options: leather heated (front), power lift gate, ultrasonic rear park assist, remote start feature, heated wiper fluid, 115 volt outlet, rear seat audio controls, touch screen navigation system, XM satellite radio (3 months included) – $5,994.

Gas Stats:

$3.21/ Gal avg. Apr. 11 ‘07

www.fueleconomy.gov

for more information.

17 City and 24 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $31,555 ($37,549 with options)

2007 Saturn Vue FWD Hybrid (644)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2007 Saturn Vue FWD Hybrid which of course is a cross breed with an Inline 4-cylinder internal combustion engine with a battery backup – of sorts.

As you read this review consider emailing me with a testimony of your experience with a Saturn, OnStar or anything else. I’ll include your comments in future issues that will surely help others to avoid costly mistakes when buying their new car.

Over the past 15 years I have been unable to review the cars new and then go back and drive that car after several years of use, so your comments could add a dimension toe my reviews that others would like to hear your experience over time. Share those feelings and we can add some balance from your views.

Observation:

Traffic enforcement – I watched with amazement that a traffic cop ignored a slow driver obstructing the flow of cars lined up behind that slow traveler. Yes it was an old man and even if the cop just gave him a warning at least he would be made aware of the dangers of driving much slower than the normal flow of traffic. If they are not admonished they surely would cause road rage and frustration of average drivers who then make poor decisions to pass. How many accidents are caused by slow drivers? I suspect it is a very high percentage. For those who fit this category of slow drivers remember when you took your driving written exam one of the questions may have been letting you know that if 5 or more cars are being held up by you, you are to pull over and let them pass. And there are posted signs everywhere that state “Slower traffic use right lane”

I encourage you to be “aware” and “courteous” by pulling over to a slower lane or turn out when others want to pass. I do it all the time especially when I’m in no hurry or just out for a stress free drive. And you know what, I feel better when I am considerate to others who are sharing the road with me. Try it – you’ll like it too.

Handling & Performance:

With the rising gas prices that yo-yo up and down and up and up and up and down and up again, it is comforting to know that I can drive over 30 miles on one gallon of gas. And the nice thing is most Hybrids don’t give up any perceptible performance.

Styling:

I rather like the size of this Vue because it fits so many, especially small young families.

I do however believe they could have done better with the interior design. I found the armrest for the driver to be obstructive in mountain driving where there are many turns. I routinely give these cars what I call the Crest Test from northern desert towns to the southern cities of Los Angeles . The arm rest was annoying and it is obvious those who test drove the car for production and design simply ignored the obvious flaw. I’m average height and weight but of course they could have used jockey’s do the testing. Well…. It’s possible.

Fit and Finish:

Quite good and the dent resistant side panels really do work which has been a feature of this one car company. As you may recall there is a price the designers must deal with which is the seams which can’t have as close tolerances as with non-flex surfaces. It is however, in my opinion a small price to pay for those who get crazy by inconsiderate drivers in parking lots or run away shopping carts that cause dings and dents on most car surfaces.

Cost:

Quite good for a hybrid. Prices seem to be coming down for this ecologically responsible auto option for us all – not just the green peace folks. Al Gore will love you. Gee I wonder if he drives a Hybrid?

Conveniences and comfort:

Very good. I continue to give high marks for OnStar communication on GM cars. I particularly like the “Turn-by-turn” feature for navigation and have used the system many times for assistance with directions, finding a gas station late at night, finding a particular store or getting out of potential trouble by making a wrong turn into a questionable neighborhood. Somehow having a real person to talk to in this day and age is comforting and rare.

I think the pull out organizer in the rear cargo area is helpful to keep groceries etc. from flying around. Very cool.

Consumer Recommendation:

Consider adding the OnStar convenience on your next car purchase.

Recognized Competition:

Saturn Vue $22,870, Mazda CX-7 $24-28,000, Hyundai Santa Fe $21-28,000, Chevrolet Equinox $22-29,000, Pontiac Torrent $22-24,000, Subaru Forester $21-27,000, Jeep Liberty $22-28,000, Toyota RAV4 $21-27,000, Honda CR-V $21-28,000, Mitsubishi Outlander $21-25,000, Nissan Xterra $20-28,000, Mercury Mariner Hybrid $26-28,000, Ford Escape Hybrid $25-27,000.

Good News:

Very good fuel economy, ecologically responsible, dent resistant technology, OnStar availability with “Turn-by-turn” feature and a thoughtful cargo organizer.

Bad News:

Design flaw in the arm rests but not much else to complain about. Sorry.

Standard Equipment:

2.4 liter inline 4-cylinder 170 hp engine, hybrid system with electric motor generator unit, regenerative brakes, 4-speed auto trans, 4-wheel independent suspension, 100,000 mile oil change interval, extended hybrid component warranty, OnStar 1 year service, dual front airbags, passenger sensing system, daytime running auto lights, traction control, child safety rear door locks, rear window washer wiper, theft deterrent system, air conditioning with filtration system, power windows and locks, steering wheel audio controls, compass and temperature indicators, cruise control, fold flat passenger seat back, 70/30 split folding rear seat, remote keyless entry, fold away rear cargo organizer and dent resistant body side panels.

Gas Stats:

$3.19/ Gal avg. Apr. 4, ‘07

 www.fueleconomy.gov

for more information.

27 City and 32 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $22,370.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2007 – An Automotive Love Affair

2007 Saturn Sky (618)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2007 Saturn Sky sports car. Remember the song with lyrics that go something like “Blue Sky’s smiling on me, nothing but blue skies do I see…” And that’s what I’m driving as I speak, and it’s blue. But there are a few clouds in this Sky even if the overall feeling is very positive and rain isn’t likely.

Of course, you know its sister – Pontiac Solstice but because this is the better looking sister it will surely be hot – hot – hot. This one will be asked to the prom first – count on it. It has nice edges that flow beautifully where Solstice is more rounded and not near as exciting to the passionate eye.

I can offer a suggestion for the 50% of car buyers who want or need an SUV. If you are young at heart and on a beer budget, buy the very fun Retro Chevrolet HHR for car #1 and you’ll have enough money for this heart warming Sky for pure driving fun and short week end romantic getaways.

Public Service:

Another look at the Diamond Lanes. Some smart diamond lanes allow all traffic to use them during lighter traffic hours. Thus it becomes the #1 fast lane. The Highway Patrol advises you can’t cross over the lines however, even though technically it isn’t a Diamond lane in off peak times. It’s a stupid rule and shouldn’t be enforced by our Robo-Cops.

Handling & Performance:

If you like the exhilaration of driving through the mountains with the wind blowing through your hair, this is wun-der-ful. Even critics will have to give this Sky high marks for a chassis and suspension that allows for great road-a-bility. It has a solid, comfortable, wide track, road hugging ride that makes it totally fun to drive.

The 5-speed trans shifts well but I like to skip shifts where ever possible and you can’t do that very well with 177 horsepower. The Red Line model produces 260 horsepower for an MSRP of $28,295. That model includes standard equipment upgrades like traction and stability control. Good stuff.

Styling:

This has to be one of the highlights at the debutante ball. Everyone I’ve spoken with love the look, but if you are 6 feet tall and over forget this one. I suspect you can’t please everyone about everything, but I believe they could have made it for all – short and tall.

Tall folks will say: not enough leg room and the gauges are blocked from view by the steering wheel that will not adjust up far enough for them.

But even average build people will add:  poorly placed cup holders, not nearly enough space for things like sun glasses, paper, pens or road maps. There are pouches in front of each seat, but they blew it for not giving the interior more thought.

Fit and Finish:

You’ll find seams fit better than prior Saturn’s. Engineers tell me they have eliminated the polymer siding (dent resistant material with all new Saturn cars) which they credit for reduced gaps. It seems the dent proof siding flexed so as to require wider space. Consumers perceived that as an indication that the car was put together poorly.

On the oops side, little things like the metal name plate on the door opening is not glued down well enough which is all too common in much of the assembly details. These are not expensive things to have been done right and which points to a project “Unfinished”.

Cost:

Properly priced in my estimate, but it appears they are in such demand they carry a premium over MSRP of as much as $5,000. Tell me it isn’t so.

Conveniences and comfort:

I continue to wonder why manufacturers don’t have journalists or other real people drive these cars before they hit the production line. Hello! Anybody home? Automotive engineer, Art Center College of Design professor and author and friend Merkel Weiss noted a few things but generally he liked the car. For those of you who know Merkel know how rare that fact is.

He feels the convertible top is bulky with larger components than necessary. A shiny black plastic piece on top of the dash glares and serves no evident purpose. The fuel tank could have been designed to allow more trunk space – Miata did it! Everything on the interior is plastic and junk. Merkel, don’t hold back, tell me how your really feel.

Agree Merkel, it is an unfinished symphony.

The seats are very comfortable for the average man or woman, with side cushions that hold you perfectly in those side “G” force corners through the mountains.

The sun visors are only partially useful as they don’t rotate to the side window.

Consumer Recommendation:

Test drive the Sky, Solstice, HHR and PT Cruiser if you want to cover all the family needs while conserving cash. For a more rugged off road capability test drive the Toyota FJ and you will have driven three of the hottest cars for 2007.

Recognized Competition:

Saturn Sky $25-28,000, Mercedes SLK $43-62,000, Mini Cooper $17-25,000, VW New Beetle $17-22,000, Nissan 350Z $28-40,000, Honda 2000 S $34,050, BMW Z4 $36-42,000, Pontiac Solstice $21-26,000, Mazda MX-5 Miata $20-26,000.

Good News:

Special styling, eye candy for the car lover.

Bad News:

Poor attention to detail in several areas.

Standard Equipment:

2.4 liter inline 4-cylender 177 horsepower engine, 5-speed manual transmission, front engine rear wheel drive, hydraulic rack and pinion steering, 4-wheel independent suspension, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, stainless steel exhaust, dual air bags, tire sealant and inflator kit, theft deterrent system, daytime running lights, cloth convertible top, fog lights, 18 inch painted aluminum wheels, air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry with alarm, cruise control, audio with CD, tilt steering wheel, rear window defogger, remote trunk release, map lights and driver information center.

Gas Stats: $2.75/ Gal avg.
20 City and 28 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $23,115.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2006 – An Automotive Love Affair

2003 Saturn ION (455)

Overview:

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.

Styling:

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.

Conveniences: 

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.

Cost:

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.

Pricing:

MSRP $15,010.

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

2003 Saturn L200 Sedan (415)

Overview: 

This week I drove the 2003 Saturn L200 Sedan. Cool car? Not necessarily. Cool is a Lamborghini Mercielago on an overcast day cruising up the coast anywhere in the world. Italy would be cool. The all-new Lamborghini features a 580HP 6.2L V12 Motor (which propels the car from 0-62 in only 3.8 seconds!), 6-speed transmission, All Wheel Drive, and Carbon Fiber Body.  Inbound MSRP $281,100.

At the end of the day and in the real world, the Saturn is cool enough. It’s been said, “If it Flies, Floats or … motors up the coast for about $281,000 – Rent it!

In the meantime, when home in “Your” castle, it is comforting to know you can spend time with the kids, go out to a ball game and drive home at 32 miles per gallon versus 3.2 miles per gallon in a car that won’t even accommodate the kids.

I’ve driven several Saturn’s over the years, some Ferrari and Lamborghini’s too, but I’m a practical kind of guy who considers simplicity for everyday life to be more important. If you want to fly, try an airplane. Cars don’t need to be that fast. In fact, for the price of the Lamborghini, buy and airplane and take lessons.

Another reason I’ve been impressed with Saturn is the low-pressure way they sell their cars, which is very different than the stereotype “Car Salesman” approach. I hope they continue with that approach, which is reason enough for developing a relationship with the people who will help a car owner maintain this important investment.

Handling & Performance:

Saturn won’t do 0-62 in 3.8 seconds but for normal driving I found the 135 horsepower inline 4-cylinder responsive. Horsepower ratings for this group of competitor’s ranges from 135 to about 200 with a V6. If you will be climbing lots of hills and like to travel in the fast lane you will need to look at the L-300 with a V6 at 182 horsepower.

Styling:

Unexciting, some say, but mid size passenger cars pretty much are designed for pound it out reliability and normal transportation day in and day out. Most styling is computer aided and this limits design options. Aerodynamic features are common with most cars these days to improve gas performance. Vast differences in car design ceased about thirty years ago when computers took over and as gas prices went up. Take a look at cars over the past 100 years and you go from boxy to cigar shapes. All this is boring to some, while practical to others.

Fit and Finish:

Good.

Cost:

The highlight of economy cars is they are affordable to purchase and to operate, and this Saturn is as good as they get.

Consumer Recommendation:

Most families require two cars for working mom’s and dads. Here’s a great car to keep the overall transportation cost down.  It is worth your time to test-drive this economy mid size car.

New Developments:

Technology never ceases to amaze me. Last week (Buick LeSabre review) we talked about the “Black Box” that has found its way from planes to cars. Now another recent development from Mercedes Benz called “Pre-Safe” seeks to prepare us for an impending crash up to five seconds before it happens. Actually it anticipates an accident from analyzing various data, like a skid that sometimes is a precursor to rollover. It prepares for the anticipated accident by closing the sunroof, bringing your seats to upright positions and tensions the seatbelts. Now that is cool.

The Competition: * (in order of ranking)

(1) Saturn L-Series Sedan $18-21,000, (2) Ford Taurus $19-23,000, (3t) Mercury Sable $20-22,000, (3t) Toyota Camry $19-25,000,  (4) Honda Accord $16-26,000, (5) Nissan Altima $17-23,000, (6t) Chevrolet Malibu $18-20,000, (6t) Mitsubishi Galant $18-24,000, (6t) Volkswagen Jetta $17-27,000, (7t) Subaru Legacy $19-25,000,

(7t) Dodge Stratus $18-22,000, (8) Pontiac Grand Prix $21-26,000.

 * – Ranking is based on cost, cu ft, number of features, warranty and gas mileage.

Good News:

Dent resistant, great gas mileage, economy at its best and it is ranked above number 1.

Bad News:

Unexciting design.

Standard Equipment: 

2.2 liter 4-cylinder engine, 4-speed automatic transmission, front wheel drive, air conditioning, stereo with CD player, power locks and windows, cruise control, tilt wheel, lockout protection, fold down 60/40 seat, dual front and side air bags, 3 rear latches for child seats, theft deterrent system, remote access, auto door lock, dent resistant doors and fenders, power mirrors.

Gas Stats:

24 City and 32 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $18,430.
Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair

2002 Saturn Vue (394)

Overview:

This week’s ride is the Saturn Vue AWD V6 Sport Utility Vehicle. You say, “Just what we needed, another SUV”. I agree, but Sport Ute’s are so popular logic is thrown out the window with the proverbial bath water. It is hard to imagine why America’s auto buying public has such a fixation and love affair with this class of vehicle. I’d be interested in your “Vue’s”. If you care to make a comment send it tojoe@atthewheel.com.

This Vue is positioned with the low end SUV’s but in the top half of those, in my “Vue”. Looking at the stats of size, weight, towing capacity, passenger cubic feet, cargo cubic feet, etc. confirms my overall feeling about these vehicles. See my ranking in parenthesis before each vehicle below.

Handling & Performance:

Typical SUV handling for the most part, but it is in fact as good or better than most in height and width and among the top for ground clearance.

Styling:

“Plain Jane” – but this is an economy version of this otherwise very expensive class vehicle.

Fit and Finish:

Very good. Competitive.

Conveniences:

Not as full featured as some. Jeep and Subaru both, for example, come standard with more for the money.

Cost:

Not as competitive as it needs to be in this market.

Consumer Recommendation:

Do include this SUV in your search. It will impress you as a very viable option to all the rest. I rank it 4 out of 11 noted here.

Manufacturer Recommendations:

Beef up the insulation and put the window controls on the driver door, which is more conventional.

The Competition:

(4) Saturn Vue $16-23,000, (1) Jeep Liberty $17-23,000, (2) Nissan Xterra $18-26,000, (3) Subaru Forester $20-24,000, (5) Ford Escape $19-26,000, (6) Suzuki XL-7 $20-26,000, (7) Honda CR-V$19-22,000, (8) Toyota RAV4 $17-18,000, (9) Chevrolet Tracker $16-22,000, (10) Mazda Tribute $18-24,000, (11) Hyundai Sante Fe $17-23,000.

Good News:

Great gas mileage for an SUV, dent resistant siding, and soft sell dealers.

Bad News:

Rear hatch didn’t close easily which meant I thought I was slamming it to get it to close completely – it was annoying to begin to drive and see a door open warning light. Road noise was noticeable. Window controls are on the center console, which is a reach for the driver to control the passenger side.

Standard Equipment:

 3.0 liter 181 horsepower V6 engine, 5-speed electronic auto trans, all wheel drive, air conditioning, Stereo w/ ck and CD and 6 speakers, power windows, mirrors and locks, cruise control, front and rear A/C outlets, electric power steering, power front disc and rear drum brakes, 4-wheel independent suspension, 100,000 mile tune up interval, dual airbags, child seat latches and safety locks, theft deterrent system, window washers, roof rails, stainless steel exhaust.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 25 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $22,575.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com
Copyright © 2002 – An Automotive Love Affair

2001 Saturn LW 200 Wagon (349)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2001 Saturn LW 200 Wagon. Just when you thought inflation was steeling you blind, up jumps competition. Ain’t it great? Consider that in 1967 I bought a new Chevy Malibu for a whopping $2,500. Relatively speaking, you get more for your money today in spite of inflation.

I’ve had several friends who’ve owned Saturn’s and it’s two thumbs up from one and all. This 2001 is a much-improved car from the first Saturn’s to hit the market in1991, in my opinion.

Handling & Performance:

This is an enjoyable car in which to zip around town. I understand the 4-cylinder model strains a bit, but the V6 I tested was spunky and it’s low profile gives it an almost sport car feel. Overall, it is very comfortable. The main structure is galvanized steel coated for long life and a warranty to go along with that. What gives Saturn the comfortable ride includes independent suspension, MacPherson struts in front, stabilizer bars, coil springs and gas shocks.

Styling:

Plain Jane, but clean lines none-the-less and a nice looking automobile.

Fit and Finish:

Perfectly fine. Not much to fault here. Saturn does a nice job and I believe that is a tribute to the unique organization of the company and it’s employee involvement. Saturn also boasts dent resistant doors and quarter panels that are covered with plastic. Friends tell me it actually works. I should have got a hammer to test the theory, but Saturn would take a dim view of that kind of testing.

Conveniences:

Not much. In fact there isn’t even a gear indicator. It has manual seats, and not a lot of storage compartments. It’s a pretty basic car.

Cost:

My first really nice car was a 1955 Ford ½ ton pickup truck and you couldn’t get any plainer than that. But it suited the need and was much better than the 1946 Chevy ½ ton pickup truck it replaced. In those days you might pay $1,500 for a near new car or truck. In any case, cost is more a function of how much your budget will allow. If this Saturn  fits your need, you’ll find prices have only risen with inflation over the years since its introduction in 1991 (the wagon was not included in the line that year). The price range was under $8,000 for the base model to under $12,000 for other models. At $20k this Saturn is well priced, in light of the fact it has improved in 10 years.

Recommendation:

When I had a couple of young kids, a larger wagon was a good idea but before we had children we opted for a small wagon from Datsun (later to become Nissan). This Saturn is much nicer than that vintage 1960’s plain import, and maintenance was a nightmare in those days for any foreign make. This, built in America, wagon is high quality and is great for a young couple about to start a family. It is affordable to buy and cost effective to operate. Later, when the family grows and a trip to the beach means surf riders, umbrellas, coolers etc., (boy I’m tired just thinking about it), a larger wagon or mini van is a better choice.

If price is even more important to you, take a look at Kia, Toyota – like the Corolla and Echo and Chevy Cavalier. See my web site “Price Range” for others by going to www.atthewheel.com

The competition:

Ford Taurus Wagon $20,480, Mercury Sable Wagon $21,285-22,985, Volkswagen Passat Wagon $22,250-29,010.

 Good News:

Priced well, easy to drive, unique low pressure buying experience, good gas performance for a powerful V6, adequate room in the cabin and cargo area and excellent for the young family.

Bad News:

You can usually spot a Saturn on the road but it’s still a plain Jane, not a lot of frills.

Standard Equipment:

3.0 liter 182 hp V6 engine, auto trans, dual air bags, child safety locks, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, radio with cassette and CD players.

Gas Stats:

20 City and 26 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $ 19,080-21,605

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is joe@atthewheel.com

Copyright © 2001 – An Automotive Love Affair

2000 Saturn SL2 (315)

Overview:  

This week we’re looking at the Saturn SL2 4-door sedan. My friend’s son Brent bought a 1999 new last year and as a young man, he has those old feelings. Speed and performance are most important. 124 horsepower just doesn’t get it for him. The 200 hp he’d like comes at a higher price but not all that much more. Equipped fully this Saturn costs enough to be able to move up to a muscle car like the Camaro or Pontiac sports models. I believe that’s where we go wrong sometime in selecting a car. We look at the price and then try to make it something it isn’t meant to be. Brent is now talking about modifying the engine etc. Why not just buy a car already designed for the added horsepower and torque?

When Saturn first came out, it represented a departure from the usual run of the mill car companies. Although spawned by GM, it is autonomous and if they remain true to their mission statement they are “kinder and gentler” car sales people. That is perhaps the most unique feature of this Saturn.

Handling & Performance:

As good as anything in its price and quality range. But if you, like Brent, want more power, go up in class and find a V8 to burn the tires off the car. Otherwise you’ll get frustrated from the performance of this 4-cylinder equipped car.

Styling:

Face it, this is pretty much cookie-cutter styling, but again it wears the Saturn badge because it is meant to be an economy car.

Fit and Finish:

By now, most folks know that the Polymer steel treatment is supposed to make the car finish more dent resistant. I haven’t had anyone tell me it doesn’t work. The rest of the car is put together pretty well, albeit, pretty plastic. But that’s the whole idea of economy so I’m not critical.

Conveniences:

If you buy the base model, you’ll have to live without remote keyless entry, cruise control, ABS brakes and traction control, power windows and mirrors.

Cost:

Equipped the way I’d want it, the price is a little much at about $18 grand.

Recommendation:

This is a good family car worth the look see, plus the low-pressure sales force is a nice change in the buying process. From my testing I’d look at the Neon, Corolla, and Civic for the best comparison. And then all things being equal, I’d add ABS and traction control at the very least.

The competition:

Chevrolet Prizm $13,995-16,060, Dodge Neon $12,640, Ford Focus $12,125-15,260, Honda Civic $10,750-17,545, Hyundai Elantra $11,799, Kia Sephia $10,195-11,795, Suzuki Esteem $12,399-15,699, Toyota Corolla $12,568-13,383.

Good News:

Excellent gas mileage, dent resistant panels, and a good starter family car.

Bad News:

Base price model excludes ABS and traction control, pricey with the options I consider necessary.

Standard Equipment:

1.9 liter 124 horsepower engine, 4-speed auto trans, power steering, power brakes with front disc, dent resistant exterior panels, air conditioning, fold sown rear seats, adjustable steering col., stereo radio, remote trunk and fuel door, dual air bags, daytime running lamps, child proof rear locks.

Gas Stats:

25 City and 36 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP  $13,755.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is movello@earthlink.net .

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Copyright © 2000 – Automotive Love Affair