Redesigned, but still affordable and friendly.
Base Price $10,685
As Tested $18,550
Saturn's S-Series sedans, the SL, SL1 and SL2, are redesigned for 2000. Changes include a restyled exterior, an all-new interior, extensive updates to the electronics and a new anti-lock braking system.
But before making all these changes, Saturn says it listened closely to what its customers were saying they wanted. Since Saturn's launch just one decade ago, GM's newest division has focused on maintaining a close relationship with its customers. So when it came time to redesign its core product, the S-Series sedans, Saturn listened. Every time a change was considered, the company asked itself whether it would add value for the customer.
These cars do indeed offer value. Saturn has been winning accolades for high resale values and its cars are regarded for low maintenance and repair costs. Prices for the S-Series sedans range from $11,000 to $16,000. Buying one brings the owner into the Saturn family. You are treated well during the buying process; Saturn has been named best overall nameplate in sales satisfaction by the J.D. Power research firm for four consecutive years. But that's only the beginning. When it's time for service, you are welcomed back warmly. There are even picnics and other family gatherings.
The only thing diluting all this good value is that, in the past, the cars have been perceived to be unrefined. To address this, Saturn completely redesigned its S-Series engines for 1999 to make them smoother and quieter. Coupled with this year's refinements, the 2000 S-Series sedans have much to offer people who are seeking value and a pleasant ownership experience.
Saturn's S-series consists of a coupe, a sedan, and a wagon, all based on the same platform. Each body style is distinguished by a base model and a more-powerful model. It is useful to think of the number in the model designation as standing for the number of camshafts in the engine: The SL1 sedan comes with a single-cam engine (sohc), while the SL2 is powered by a more powerful twin-cam (dohc). It works the same way with the SC1 and SC2 coupes. The wagon, however, only comes as an SW2.
Saturn's sedan lineup consists of the $10,685 SL, $11,485 SL1, $12,895 SL2. An automatic transmission adds $860. Anti-lock brakes are $695.
Prices for options have risen and can drive up the SL's bottom line. A $1,480 Option Package 2 for the SL2 adds cruise control, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry and security system, dual power mirrors and aluminum alloy wheels. A similar package for the SL1 goes for $2,090. Air conditioning is standard on SL2, but adds $960 to the SL and SL1. Sunroofs, spoilers, CD stereos, fog lamps and leather drove our SL2 to $18,550.
Its upswept, mildly wedge-shaped body and clean, smooth surfaces continue to form Saturn's distinctive design. But all body panels below the beltline are new for 2000, giving the cars a fresh exterior appearance.
2000 S-series sedans retain the dent-resistant polymer body panels. These plastic body panels, bonded to a steel subframe, are flexible so that minor dings don't form lasting impressions. And they won't rust.
New reflector headlamps are designed to offer improved lighting. Taillamps are redesigned with a contemporary wraparound look. New wheel designs further freshen the appearance.
Gone is the functional but funky interior and we don't miss it. The interior has been dramatically restyled for 2000. The new one is attractive and its styling reflects that of the exterior design.
The top of the dash looks better and is designed to reduce squeaks and rattles. A new instrument cluster provides more information with a revised telltale display. A new center console features storage for audio tapes, provisions for a six-disc CD changer and improved cupholders. SL2 models include an armrest with fore-aft adjustment. New door panels offer additional storage space with a place for a 12-ounce soda can. A new steering wheel locates the horn button in the center with cruise-control buttons on the spokes.
Saturn S-Series sedans seat five, four comfortably. SL1 and SL2 come fully trimmed in cloth, while the SL uses cloth and vinyl. Saturn upgraded all the fabrics for 2000. Leather trim is available for the SL2 for $700, which includes a comfortable leather-wrapped steering wheel with contoured humps at the proper 2 and 10 o'clock hand positions. The grey leather in our SL2 was attractive and comfortable. Front seats offer improved built-in lumbar support for 2000. Fore and aft seat travel has been increased to provide additional legroom for taller drivers, addressing a complaint we had last year. Stereo performance has been improved, but the small buttons make it a challenge to operate.
Reduced-force airbags are standard, of course. Seatbelts were revised last year with buckles and shoulder belt height adjusters that are easier to use. New for 2000 are top tether anchors for child safety seats.
Power door locks have been improved: For starters, the system won't let you lock the car with the key in the ignition. The horn complains if you try to lock the car with a door or the trunk lid open. The range of the keyless remote has been increased to 30 feet. Vandals and thieves are thwarted by an alarm that goes off if the doors or trunk are tampered with and an engine that won't start if the ignition is tampered.
SL sedan trunk is big, but shallow. SC coupe offers almost as much cargo capacity with 11.4 cubic feet compared with the sedan's 12.1 cubic feet. SW2 wagon offers nearly 25 cubic feet with the seats up, more than 58 cubic feet with them folded down.
Our Saturn SL2 is substantially improved over pre-1999 models. These cars have always handled well and that holds true. Steering and handling is one of Saturn's strongest suits. The SL2 seems to provide more accurate steering response than a Dodge Neon. It comes with 185/65R15 tires that provide good roadholding in sharp corners. (This year's SL and SL1 models come with 185/65R14 tires.) Though it rides well, the softly tuned springs allow the body to lean in turns. Softer springs also require slowing a bit more for rough roads to avoid bottoming out the suspension. It feels stable at high speeds, though strong crosswinds blow it around a bit.
GM worked hard to reduce noise and vibration in the 1999 Saturn engines. Pistons were made smaller and lighter, connecting rods were made longer, more counterweighting was added to the crankshaft, the block was redesigned and reinforced, the timing chain was made smaller. The cylinder head was redesigned on the twin-cam engine. The list goes on and on.
All that work paid off. The new twin-cam engine is so smooth that power delivery is now nearly invisible. It's also much quieter at cruising speeds. The noises you do hear are not as annoying. The SL2 engine now hums along happily with a pleasant roar in the middle of the rev range. It no longer feels like it's going to blow up every time you hold the gas all the way down for an extended period. The muffler produces a pleasing sound. Road noise, engine noise and ride quality still do not match that of some of the more refined German and Japanese cars in this class, however.
Saturn's S-series cars deliver excellent fuel economy. The SL gets 40 mpg highway, while the SL2 gets 38 mpg. The SL2 isn't as quick as a Dodge Neon or Honda Civic, but it offers good performance in city traffic. Saturn claims the SL2 can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 9 seconds.
To save money, Saturn last year changed the rear brakes from discs to drums on all S-series models, something we don't think rates as progress. In all fairness, however, base Hondas and Toyotas make do with drums in back as well. Saturn refined its optional anti-lock braking system for 2000. Saturn's tests indicate reduced stopping distances with ABS, and independent published test results indicate these cars provide good stopping power. It seems like the ABS comes into play often. We can barely hear it when making normal stops at intersections. We don't know whether that's because the tires lack grip or if it's because the ABS is aggressive. It also kicks in when just one side of the car is on a slippery surface, which is a good thing.
The traction control system works aggressively as well. While standing on the throttle at the bottom of an ice-covered grade, the SL2 slowly and methodically motored to the top of the hill. These are easy cars to drive. A switch on the console allows the driver to turn off traction control for those times when a bit of wheelspin is needed to get unstuck or to accelerate at maximum levels.
Value and a pleasant ownership continue to be Saturn's hallmarks. With attractive interiors and nimble handling, these are pleasant cars to drive. They still may not offer the refinement of some of the best compact sedans from Europe and Japan, but Saturn's S-series sedans have come a long way. Affordable payments and a trustworthy dealer are important considerations when choosing a car and these new Saturns deliver those benefits in spades.