By on June 27, 2017

2007 Saturn Ion Red Line

Absence, it is said, only makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe ’80s fashion wasn’t so bad after all. Go ahead, roll up the sleeves on that oversized rayon blazer. Naturally, the sentiment also applies to defunct car brands.

Just last week, Corey asked what extinct car brand you would resurrect if given the chance, leading this author down a mental road populated with nothing but Studebakers and Oldsmobiles. There’s a Sophie’s Choice for you. However, one brand that didn’t see much discussion that day, at least not on our Slack channel, was Saturn.

Bozi’s had a hell of a time recently with the problem-plagued engine under the hood of his wife’s Vue hybrid, something which hasn’t exactly endeared him to the former GM division. Still, yesterday we got to talking about the brand, and it seemed very few people do not have a memory of a Saturn SL1 or SL2, or perhaps the unpopular L-Series — including myself.

Unpleasant to drive, but utterly reliable. Hmm… is it time to journey down a plastic-coated memory lane? You bet.

As we live in an unusual world, there’s no doubt enthusiast groups exist for the Saturn brand —that spunky, oddball newcomer which appeared at the dawn of the ’90s with its “A Different Kind of Car Company” slogan and exited this world under the banner “Rethink.” Well, rethink GM did, and it figured holding on to the brand during a recession and government-mandated restructuring wasn’t a smart bet. Production ground to a halt in 2009 and the Saturn name joined that of Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Eagle, Pontiac and Hummer in the automotive afterlife.

Eight years after its two-decade lifespan dried up, it isn’t the final models we remember most. Not the finicky but fun Astra, itself a badge-engineered Opel, nor the Lambda-based Outlook SUV or Epsilon-derived Aura sedan. Those modern and reasonably normal-looking models, along with the Vue crossover and sexy Sky roadster, briefly gave brand loyalists hope of a bright (though not entirely unique) future.

No, it’s the older models that spring to mind — mainly, the S-Series. Certainly, not the Ion (except in two-door guise). With no rust lapping at its polymer body panels and, if it was an SL2, a twin-cam four-cylinder providing decent power under the hood, there were arguably worse cars to find yourself in. Yes, it had an uncomfortable seating position and ride, and yes, my mother’s SL2 buzzed and rattled like it was going out of style. No two interior panels were the exact same shade of beige, I recall.

But what about that Quad Coupe? To this day, I look back and admire the ballsiness of offering a mass-produced American car with clamshell doors. It’s a simple solution to solving the problem of rear-seat access while still preserving the coupe bodystyle. Mazda sure liked the idea. Frankly, someone should pick up that torch again.

So, what say you, Best and Brightest? Do you harbor feelings of admiration or, dare I say it, love for the Saturn brand or a particular Saturn model? If you dig down deep, will you discover a grudging respect for a certain Saturn vehicle from your past? Does thinking about a former plastic-fantastic lover bring your heart rate to the Red Line? If so, tell us all about it.

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91 Comments on “QOTD: Are You Feeling Any Love Yet for Saturn?...”


  • avatar
    ...m...

    …not exactly a saturn, but only available for lease through saturn dealerships was the EV-1, radically forward-thinking at the time and smothered in its cradle; a squandered opportunity to follow-through with incremental improvement and evolution of a vanguard product class…

    …take all the politics out of it, and GM’s impact concept was a pretty amazing work of engineering in the early nineties…i guess saturn was where fresh ideas went to whither in neglect?..

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      “Squandered opportunity”? You’ve got to be kidding. We have the Volt and Bolt because of the EV-1. GM told EV-1 lessees from the start that the program was an experiment. The company learned a lot, went back to the drawing board and is now putting out some really decent EV’s.

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        It took them a very long time at the drawing board to take the EV-1 “lessons” and use them to make some new models.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          Because one of the lessons learned was the technology was not ready.

          Case in point, did the Prius rely on lead-acid batteries to support its hybrid system? Did any manufacturer have success with a lead-acid battery based electric? ANY? Don’t Ni-cad batteries have a litany of issues that due to the chemical processes involved, provide challenges to charge properly without “breaking” the battery due to charging memory?

          Did GM start R&D on the Volt when they were well on the path to bankruptcy, and the project took away hundreds of millions in resources that could have at least on paper, kept the company afloat?

          DaVinci’s designs would fly if he had access to the lightweight materials. Those issues weren’t resolved for 400 years. In another 66 years, we put a man on the moon. 48 years later we can’t even put a man in orbit without hitching a ride with the Russians, or putting them on top of a Space X rocket and crossing our fingers (something that Space X doesn’t even want to do).

          The issues with large Lithium-Ion batteries, specifically that they can get hotter than the butthole of the sun, wasn’t resolved to an acceptable degree of safety, reliability, and cost for all of about…a decade. Not even a blink in time.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            Later EV-1s had NiMH batteries.

            “Did GM start R&D on the Volt when they were well on the path to bankruptcy, and the project took away hundreds of millions in resources that could have at least on paper, kept the company afloat?”

            GM lost almost $40 billion in FY2007. What they were spending on the Volt was peanuts in comparison.

            ” Don’t Ni-cad batteries have a litany of issues that due to the chemical processes involved, provide challenges to charge properly without “breaking” the battery due to charging memory?”

            Nickel-cadmium’s main problem is cadmium’s toxicity. The memory effect was only ever a problem on an early type of NiCd battery used in aerospace applications. mass market NiCd, NiMH, and lithium cells don’t suffer from any memory effect. in certain cases they can experience “voltage depression” but that’s usually the result of over-charging and even fairly basic re-chargers have been able to prevent that for a long time.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Honda stole this “opportunity” with their first gen Insight, yet it took Toyota and a much more mundane car design to make the idea work.

    • 0 avatar
      tkremark

      2002 L300 limited edition 166k miles. Most oil shops refuse to change oil because of oil filter location. Also, they never have oil filter in stock have to bring my own.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I remember that the Aura was reviewed by Robert Fargo and received the most positive review that I can recall Fargo ever writing.

    I had a crush on the SW2 wagon back in the day (manual transmission please) but never made the leap to one.

    I will say that I still see a few original SC coupes running around Gallup which is odd given the scarcity of parts and the dealers when they existed were likely 130 miles away.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Yeah, the Aura was nice.

    • 0 avatar
      paxman356

      I drove a G6 rental, and it was nice. The Aura would have been nice, too, but if it was plagued by the same reliability problems, it would not be nice for long.

      I had an SW2 (auto, sadly). It was the last model year for it. Only two problems with it. The rear seats had a weird release that almost always breaks, rendering it nearly useless. I had to drill a hole and keep a screwdriver in the car, and even then it wouldn’t fold 20-30% of the time without a lot of work. Mine also had some issues in the engine department, probably because the previous owner didn’t change the oil enough. It was all sludgy up top, and I didn’t notice until after it ate a valve. The only time I drove the Tail of the Dragon was in that car. I donated it to Goodwill and shed a few tears doing so. A year or two later, someone was advertising an SW2, same year, same color, different mileage, so it couldn’t be mine. Went to look, and alas, he listed the engine mileage, not the cars. It was mine, and he wanted $500 more than I originally paid for it. CP all day… LOL.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a ’93 SL2, stick, bought new. It was very agile. A friend who’d been a race driver loved driving it. The engine, however, had major NVH. And forgive me, Steph, but I didn’t find it the least bit uncomfortable, and I had it until I was 51, and took frequent trips between Mass and DC in it (450ish miles). They lost me–and they lost their way–when gen 2 came out. Here’s the story

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/the-truth-about-saturn/

      If they could resurrect gen 1, with better reliability and more power, and the same sporty appearance, I’d be in.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      I had an Aura as a rental in 2006 or 2007. It was a stripper model, no options, with the 3.5L V6. I remember I was impressed with the car, the style, the ride, power was acceptable and fuel economy was mind blowing. I got 37 MPG going from SFO to SMF. I remember thinking to myself, “wow, for a 4-cylinder this has a lot of power” and was shocked to find a 3.5L V6 under the hood. Was a darn nice car for about $21K sticker.

      However, I am not here to praise Ceasar but bury him. I had a chance to get another Aura as a rental about 6 months later, a loaded XE with about 36K miles. I was very excited based on my prior experience. It was toast. Wiped out. 36K miles of rental duty had basically worn the car out. It was so bad, I returned it just minutes after leaving the rental lot.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I have no love for Saturn, I do have respect for them though. Very recently a family in our neighborhood retired their Saturn 4 door, honestly I don’t know the model. The owner who DD the car for some 15 years or more, I have known them for 10 and it was old when I met them, finally donated it to charity north of 200k. He never had any issues with the car of major note, and mostly he admitted that for the last five years or so was waiting to come out to the garage one morning and when the car did not start he would get rid of it. He is not an automotive enthusiast of any sort as you may surmise, so for him when his appliance quit working his plan was to get another. It was donated still working…wife got a new car and he took her 10 year old Dodge minivan.

    • 0 avatar
      paxman356

      I bought a ’97 SL1 with a 5 speed and air for $1900 back in the mid-2000s. I wound up putting 10 years and 100k miles on it with no big issues. I had to change out the radiator fan… that’s it. I loved that car but wound up selling it with 214k, because I got a courier job, and it was too much stress on my ankle to shift 200+ times a day.

      Since I have owned cars that didn’t cost much more but were much better in the NVH department. I was in the market for another car, and a really low mileage 2002 SL2 came up on Craigslist. I went and drove it and it was exactly as I remembered it… terrible. It was in great condition, but a lot louder than I was currently used to, and it didn’t drive as good as newer stuff. Unfortunately, you can’t go back.

  • avatar
    ...m...

    …i think i’ll just leave this here…

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x560p2d

  • avatar
    spookiness

    Neither love nor hate. I thought it was a squandered opportunity. They had a reasonable following and seemingly positive perception among the general public. The average person probably didn’t know they were part of GM, which was a plus. They could have grown the brand but didn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      Absolutely. The thing that’s so insane is that they started off *so* strong, back at a time when GM was building terrible Cavaliers and Corsicas (I know, I owned both). The first Saturn felt modern, had a great feel-good advertising campaign showing off the factory, and was relatively safe. Then after that initial shocking wave – a reliable GM compact car with modern powertrains – they just got lazier and lazier. The Ion was such a joke it’s not worth mentioning.

      I will say I see a ton of first-gen Vues still in the suburbs, though. All with that Honda V6, of course.

      #bringbackplasticdoors

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I think the idea of Saturn was neat, but it was never gonna work… unique platforms for a low-volume mid-priced division was not real promising, profit-wise. And once they shifted to variants of standard GM platforms to save on cost, they became Just Another GM Brand, but with dealers that only sold at list price.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      I’ve always had the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” feeling with Saturn.

      How much better off would Oldsmobile have been if those billions invested in Saturn had gone to Olds division? Or if Saturn SL styling hadn’t been a ripoff of the W-body Cutlass styling?

      • 0 avatar

        My thoughts too–the Aurora, Intrigue, and Alero were good cars, but they could have been great cars if GM funneled some of the money from Saturn into them. And I always thought the Saturn front end looked like they copied off a 1980’s Firenza.

        • 0 avatar
          Delta88

          I remembering wondering, sometime in the 90’s, if they were styled closely to Oldsmobiles in case the experiment didn’t work. They could just close Saturn and slap Olds badges on them. (Geo >> Chevy and Scion >> Toyota)

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            From my recollection, the reason the second generation S-series resemble period Oldsmobiles is because Oldsmobile designers worked on the styling. There was no backup scheme to rebadge them on which I have ever been made aware.

  • avatar
    arach

    Saturn was too little too Early.

    The non-negotiation thing could work today, but it was too early.

    Their marketing approach was good, but their cars didn’t quite stack up.

    They always were like budget cars presented with a mid-tier buick-like marketing pitch.

    If your going to pitch like that, your cars need to be more buick and less chevy.

    So I do think fondly of them. Like other brands that went defunct, I’m not surprised they did, but there was a lot to love.

    Like the Saturn Sky Redline.

    the only problem is… that made no sense from the Saturn brand.

    And therein lies the problem ;)

  • avatar
    M1EK

    I have a soft spot because a SL2 was my first new car.

    The natural opportunity for that nameplate today would be as GM’s electric car brand. I have concerns that dealers who make a lot of money doing oil changes and the like aren’t going to sell the Bolt the way it should be sold.

  • avatar
    Rocket

    Love? Absolutely none whatsoever. Quirky is fine when you get something in return, like with Saab or Subaru. But quirky combined with odd designs, poor quality and a mediocre-at-best driving experience simply makes for a bad car brand. I’m sure a few former owners feel nostalgic for their own reasons, but I say good riddance.

  • avatar

    “Unpleasant to drive, but utterly reliable. Hmm… is it time to journey down a plastic-coated memory lane”

    Um… No.

    There are so many cars that fit the “unpleasant to drive but reliable bill”, including plenty of options from GM.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    Saturn only reminded me of one thing, that commercial with the 3dr coupe and the guy that said, “hey, how’d you trick out that door?”.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    A long time ago I bought my then-gf-now-wife a used 1994 SL (I believe it was one trim lower than a SL1??) from a rather low-rent dealership. The car burned oil like it was free. The engines were known to have ring issues.

    I had the engine replaced – donated from a wrecked SL1 – and even that engine consumed oil, but just not as much.

    As far as driving – manual transmission with no power steering – it was an okay car. Solid / “Teutonic” feeling but without very good handling. More appliance than lust. I wasn’t sad to see it go, replaced by a Honda Accord 2-door which was a lot more enjoyable to drive.

    Only other Saturn in my life was my dad’s Outlook, which I drove down to South Carolina. Worst seats I’ve ever suffered through. My back was killing me the entire way.

    • 0 avatar
      Sloomis

      We had a ’95 SL2 that we got 200,000 reasonably trouble-free miles out of before we sold it, and the last few years we had it it went through oil like nobody’s business. I just got in the habit of topping it up once a week and everything was fine.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I had a 1999 SL2 5-speed. I never had a single mechanical problem with the car. I also recall taking it to my dealer for $19 oil changes from which it came back washed, vacuumed, and with a flower on the dashboard.

    Our other car was a BMW 5-series (525iT manual, natch) which was continuously in the shop. The dealer could never get me checked in for service in less than an hour and it always came back dirtier than when I went in. I think even the oil changes cost 3x more than the Saturn. Frankly, Saturn was more of a luxury experience.

    Yeah, I think Saturn lost their way after the L-series came out. They had great dealers and the no-haggle thing worked well for them. It really wasn’t sustainable once they started selling Chevy clones, but I would argue that the entire auto retail experience is likely better today because of Saturn (and probably Lexus at the high end). However, Saturn just never had great cars. They were good cars but that S-series essentially lasted more than ten years while Honda and Toyota kept innovating and improving. The L-series was a flop, the Ion was a desperate attempt to replace the S-series with a product that just wasn’t ready, and the Sky suffered the same usability and design issues as the Solstice but looked even better. It was just never going to be a high-volume car. The Aura was actually a nice car but, again, it was competing with a nearly identical Chevy from an aggressive dealer down the street.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I can’t recall where I heard this, but I was once told by the second gen SL “GM” (perhaps more Saturn Corp?) was losing 2K on every one sold. The MY98 my father purchased was something like 14,3 in 1998, but I was never made clear if that was OTD or this was the “invoice” price. I have also read the polymer panels were very expensive to produce, and this may have been the “lost” costs.

  • avatar
    BunkerMan

    I have owned 4 Saturns. A ’92 SL1 Manual, a ’98 SL2, a 2007 ION3 2.4, and a 2007 Vue V6.

    My favourite of the bunch was the ’92 SL1, which happens to be my first car. My grandparents thought that me driving to university everyday in a second hand car was ludicrous, so after shopping around, we settled on a new 1992 SL1. For a couple of years, it was the only one in my hometown and really stood out. I learned to drive manual on it and miss having one to drive today.

    It didn’t have much power, but it was relatively light. It was good in the snow with proper tires, and reliable. The only major issues were a broken rocker arm, which was a factory defect, and the clutch needed to be replaced after 220,000 km.

    The magic mouse seat belts were quite a novelty at the time, but they got annoying after a while.

    I drove it for 7 years, until I got married. We then upgraded to a larger car.

    The 1998 SL2 (a few car purchases later) definitely had more power, but not the personality that the original style had.

    The ION3 2.4 also had quite a bit of power, but it was basically generic GM underneath. I had no problems with it, but it was a forgettable car in general.

    I inherited my mother’s Vue after she passed away in 2011. I drove it for a bit, but I’m just not an SUV guy. It was traded on a hatchback.

  • avatar
    3XC

    In the summer of 1998 I found myself at Saturn of Ellicott City buying a used 1995 Camaro Z/28. My dad was my “co-signer”, which is to say, he was the only person any dealership employee was remotely interested in talking to.

    As I wandered the lot while my father and the finance manager dueled to the death over 4 dollars a month in interest charges, a young Saturn salesman sidled up to me. Hackles raised, I defensively informed him I had already bought a car that day.

    “Eventually, you’ll buy a Saturn” was his reply.

    Such optimism. He probably made a decent living selling conventionally engineered, unconventionally marketed GM cars. I wonder what percentage of his customers didn’t know these were GM products? Half? 75%? GM played coy and seemed to be actively concealing Saturn’s origin story well into the 90s.

    Anyway, I loved the Camaro. I was a 20 year old dirtbag with the t-tops off and the stereo turned up to obnoxious levels. Nothing Saturn sold was going to get the attention of girls with tramp stamps.I wouldn’t have taken a SL1 for free.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Pre 2001 Saturn? Yes. Post 2001 Saturn? Only miss the polymer body panels which cannot rust and took abuse with aplomb.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    I don’t have any great feels for Saturn. Their offerings early on were reliable enough, but not great cars to drive. After that, they had better driving cars, but tinged with the complexity and unreliability of pieces from Euro GM offerings.

    It was time for them to go.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Saturn died in 2000/2001, “Saturn” lived on as a zombie for another eight or nine years.

    • 0 avatar
      stevelovescars

      I disagree on the “great cars to drive” part. The early cars, up to about 2000 were pretty good. They were light and the twin-cam models pretty peppy. I had a 1991 Jetta GLI 16v before my SL2. The Recaro seats and BBW rims were cool but, honestly, that car was much more rattly and noisy than the Saturn and cost me a lot more to keep on the road despite being just a couple of years old at the time.

      Alas, Not only was the SL series getting old by 1999/2000, but to make matters worse they were also de-contented with a horrendous interior/dash redesign after 2000 that made them seem even more cut-rate. It was a shame.

      I heard that Saturn was pretty desperate for the ION and couldn’t delay any more so they brought it to market. The Chevy brand guys took one look at the Delta platform design and puked… they decided to keep selling the Cavalier for an extra year or two to the Cobalt could be redesigned. The Cavalier was even more dated than the Saturn at that point but not quite as critical to the division’s success so they could wait.

      I blame corporate leadership, honestly. I think Saturn really started to die when Skip LeFauve left as President and Don Hudler took over. Customer service shortcuts, slower reaction times to product issues, dealer relationships, etc. all started to falter behind the scenes as the company became more GM-like.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    I have a customer who had an SW2. It came in needing a clutch, brakes, and some other expensive work required for state inspection, IIRC. The estimate exceeded the car’s monetary value and likely its utility value by some multiple. I tried giving the guy some advice about other options, like buying a good car or leasing a crummy one that he likes. He wasn’t having it, and put me to work sourcing old Saturn parts. I didn’t give him any reassurances that the car would continue to function for any meaningful amount of time. It was back shortly in need of a half-shaft, which we probably should have caught sooner. It failed inside its immaculate CV boot though, so I’ll give the tech a pass. The next time it was towed in, he didn’t even ask us to look at it. He just wanted it to sit until the junkyard opened and gave him $50 for it.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    I had a ’99 SL2 5-speed through my college years. I loved that car. Unbelievably reliable and fun to drive briskly on the country roads outside of Gainesville. It was a very lite car and felt nimble and quick with the twin cam. I put 179k miles on it and during that time it only needed a new starter and rear engine mount. It drove like new when I sold it to a family for their daughter’s first car.

    In fact, we liked it so much that when it came time for something larger than our ’04 Civic coupe after my daughter was born, we bought a new ’09 Aura XR that my wife still commutes daily in today. Still not a single issue with 130k on the clock.

  • avatar
    matt3319

    I briefly owned a 2001 Gold SL2 auto. decent options too. Bought it in 2008 with around 50,000 miles. I bought it becuase I owned a V8 F150 ext cab. gas was $3.50 plus so the SL2 was my run about. Paid $4500 for it. Drove it a year or so then sold it with les than 60000 on the ODO. Sold it quickly for $5500.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged Miata Man

    In the summer of 1997, I actually traded in a generally faultless ’92 Accord coupe for a ’94 SL2 “Homecoming” car. It was reliable over 57,000 miles of service (taking the odometer to 93K) and was also rather fun to drive, at least as far as my then-22 YO self understood the concept at the time.

    That said, it’s also one of the very few cars I’ve owned that I don’t find myself occasionally searching for on eBay now, so it’s probably safe to say that I don’t really miss it very much. Saturn as a brand started going downhill with the second-gen SL/SC, and I stopped paying attention completely after the horrid Ion.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    Had a first generation base sedan. Pretty reliable. Bad seats for a 1hr commute. If GM had kept up their commitment to the project, it would have done well. They gave up well before the division closed shop.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Yep, when the plastic-bodied Cobalt clone replaced the popular S-series, I thought “oh look, they’re going to Oldsmobile it to death (ruin the brand’s identity and customer base with terrible cars)”, which is exactly what they did.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    My buddies and I bought a 1994 SL with manual steering and trans. It was vandalized (all windows broken) but other than that, it was a neat little car. I loved the manual steering. We replaced the windows and it was our “shop car” for a while (parts runner).

    My best friend bought it and put it through hell. Finally, it got stuck in 2nd gear and I sold it to someone who needed a parts car, only to find out later that the plastic linkage for the shifter was likely at fault.

    Years later, as my old 1993 Taurus approached 300k, I decided to replace it with something newer. I found a 1999 Saturn on eBay for cheap, I bid $1300 on it and won.

    I got it so cheap because it lacked A/C from the factory, which is a tough sell in the Dirty South (it was originally purchased by a guy in the Army in Puyallup, Wa).

    It had almost 130k, and I gave it a decent tuneup and new brakes, and it was a loyal commuter for the next 30-40k miles, at which time its oil consumption, buzzy and uncomfortable interior, and a weak clutch made me decide to get rid of it.

    After piling all those miles, doing very little work (plugs, wires, brakes, oil changes, an O2 sensor, 1 set of tires), I sold it for more than I paid for it at $1500.

    It got a solid 40 mpg no matter how you drove it, and aside from a flat tire, never left me stranded (the spare was no good or not present, can’t remember which).

    I wish that PSA would have bought the brand from GM, and slowly replaced the GM-sourced cars with their own. I thought it would be the perfect way to reenter this market with an established brand know for quirky cars, and a full dealer network serving customers who adored the brand.

    Anyone remember the Saturn Homecoming at the Spring Hill plant (then exclusively the domain of Saturn)? I do. Never went, but remember hearing and reading about it.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Knew a few people that had these.. Nothing memorable and typical GM plasticrap interiors, frail transmissions, valve covers that would not seal once they started leaking after changing out the cover and gasket. The best was an SL2 a friend had that kept eating motor mounts (less than 100k on odo). He knew it was time when the car shook like a paint mixer at idle. #noloveforsaturn

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    The original Saturns – coupes, sedans and wagons – were the only ones that interested me. I seriously considered one, too. This, after 20 years of GM being literally invisible to me (for good reason). But I could never reconcile the price with the vehicle.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The SL seems okay.

    However, other ones had things like the Ellesmere V6, the worst CVT of all time, a Honda V6 with 5A combo, and prolific timing chain failures.

  • avatar
    sprkplg

    A couple years ago my beater needed a little work, and while I eventually fixed it I almost replaced it with a late 90s SW2. It was a little harsh, but peppy and nimble. It was definitely a much better value than comparable Hondas and Toyotas. When said beater does reach the point of no return a Saturn will be on my list.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    A person at my work had a horrendous commute, 70 miles each way in the DC area. He used to buy SL1s with 100k miles on them for dirt cheap and then sell or scrap at 200k miles. Went through 3 of them in the time that I knew him, 2002-2006. Never had a serious issue. He stayed away from the Sl2s because he stated that DOHC part often needed work.

    I don’t know why GM didn’t use these engines elsewhere?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      GM was a company that had half a dozen different six-cylinder engine families around 2004. Economies of scale wasn’t their thing.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      He was not only completely wrong about the LL0 (DOHC), he was also incredibly lucky his L24s neither cracked a cylinder head (through MY98) or popped a head gasket.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_I4_engine

  • avatar
    rpol35

    No

  • avatar
    deanst

    The only brand I’ve owned twice is Saturn, but totally due to the price/ value equation. I had a base SL as a second car – no air, no passenger side mirror (just like Honda used to do!). I don’t think I even had brake work on the car – nothing ever went wrong. I currently have an Astra (why do you call them finicky?) which I bought at half price during the GM going out of business sale. The main reason I would want Saturn to return is for the potential to find another vehicle with a manual transmission, cloth seats, and panoramic sunroof. Otherwise, I’m forced to confront the issue of buying a potentially unreliable GTI.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    GM put all that money in to get it going and then basically let it fester w/o keeping it up to the same level as others.

  • avatar

    The first new car I bought was a ’94 SC2, and I still have fond memories of it. It looked good in then-fashionable teal green, had pop-up headlights, was way more fun to drive than the ’89 Escort GT it replaced, and I admit that I liked the whole Saturn story.

    I only had the car for 2 years before I traded it, but it never had any problems at all. Drove it from NC to Montreal and back one winter with skis and luggage in the back, and it was great in all weather. I have no doubt that it probably made the lives of subsequent owners less joyful, since that is apparently what Saturns do over time, but we had a good run.

    But there didn’t need to be Saturn AND Geo. One small car brand would have been enough for GM.

  • avatar
    427Cobra

    I had an ’04 Saturn Vue V6. Bought it new in ’04. One of the best cars I’ve owned. Yes, the interior was cheap & plasticky… and the huge panel gaps made for a lot of wind noise… but it was roomy, comfortable, and economical. Great visibility. The Honda-sourced V6 was a sweetheart of an engine… smooth as silk… powerful… bulletproof. In the 10 years I owned mine, the only things I replaced were tires, shocks/struts, swaybar end links, and brakes. The Vue was quick, light on its feet, and would return 26-28 mpg all day long, provided you kept it below 80. The A/C absolutely ROCKED!

    • 0 avatar
      HeyILikemySaturnOK

      Awesome! I have an ’07 Vue with the same engine and transmission. Bought it used a few years ago when I wanted a small SUV but similarly-aged Hondas and Toyotas were too expensive. It has turned out to be an extremely useful vehicle. I feel the same way about the interior and wind noise, but otherwise yeah it is roomy, comfortable and you can actually see out of the damn thing which gives it an advantage over a lot of more modern compact SUVs. I like that it is just large enough to fit my family and our gear for camping trips and vacations, while also small and light enough that it handles well and is relatively efficient. I get anywhere from 18 MPG in city driving to 28 MPG on the highway.

    • 0 avatar
      cognoscenti

      We still have one of these! 2004 Saturn Vue V6 AWD, also bought new in 2004. I drive it on bad weather days when I’m not driving the M3. It needs swaybar end links right now, and possibly a motor mount (also a know issue on this chassis with the Honda V6), but has been excellent overall.

      I should also mention that the purchasing experience was the best we’ve ever had. I still remember the name of the dealer sales guy thirteen years later, and would happily buy from him again. Unfortunately, he went to Dodge when Saturn folded – and I’m not a Dodge Boy anymore.

  • avatar
    Sloomis

    As much as I despise GM for all the times they’ve burned me, I’d love to see Saturn come back. We had a ’95 SL2 bought new that was a great car in a lot of ways (though in true GM fashion all the positives were counterbalanced by glaring insultingly amateurish flaws). When we sold it (still dependable and running great) at 200,000 miles we shopped around for a final model year Aura, which were selling fully loaded for under $20,000 with relatively low miles at the time. Great looking cars. In the end we opted for a new Camry instead. Still wish we bought an Aura.

  • avatar
    alff

    Nope. For me, Saturn was defined by a line from one of the earliest reviews I read. I don’t remember where I saw it or who said it but the comment was something to the effect, “Congratulations, GM has finally managed to make a five year old Honda Accord.”

  • avatar
    pickle

    Most definitely do not miss Saturn. Bought an SL new in 2002, I think. Had massive issues with the engine and transmission. Had to fight the stupid dealer like crazy to get them to fix. Finally gave up and traded it in at the same dealer on a used SL2. Couldn’t do anything else with the pile since no one in their right mind would have bought it. The SL2 was mostly problem free for the few years I owned it.

  • avatar

    Saturn should have never existed.

    The reason it DID, was because the GM brands were so damaged, that despite their market share, the road to bankruptcy was under way.

    Instead, “Saturn” should have been a philosophy under which GM would have slowly but surely reinvented itself, one model at a time.

    You have to consider the billions spent in developing and marketing Saturn. What if that money were spent making GM’s existing lines better? Might Oldsmobile have been saved? What if the SL-1 had instead been the next-gen Cavalier.

    It’s true, “no haggle pricing” and other principles unique to the dealer experience would have been lost or dramatically diluted under such a scenario, but the quality of the product and value proposition would have remained.

    One of the reasons GM built so much crap during Saturn’s existence was that Saturn lost, by some estimates, as much as $12 billion dollars. That’s 12 billion that could have gone into making every GM vehicle better. Instead, money to develop new and better models in each GM division was diluted and thrown to whichever division was in the greatest need. This is why the later years of Saturn were so increasingly bad…

    To be fair, Saturn wasn’t GM’s only overreach during that period.

    And the bean-counters still had too much influence over every aspect of the company.

    But I’ll argue that “Saturn” would have better off as a set of principles to make all GM’s lines better. About $12 billion better.

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/automotive-history-saturns-early-years-corporate-camelot/

    http://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/automotive-history-the-sad-final-years-of-saturn/

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Great post, I agree with mostly everything you said. I have said, if we must have done the whole separate corporation thing, than Saturn should have been *the* small car of C-P-C and Olds/Buick. There should not have been a second gen J-car or Geo, Saturn should have been sold in all mainstream dealers as the “different” small car. There was no need for a separate distribution network, this was old Detroit thinking at work (instead of fixing existing terrible dealers, spin up new ones and leave the old ones in place). Saturn could have been the root of make all lines better, the only thing I would add is UAW would have had to modify some of its absurdity in the 90s for this new philosophy to have worked and I would not have counted on it.

    • 0 avatar
      5280thinair

      “Saturn should have never existed.

      The reason it DID, was because the GM brands were so damaged, that despite their market share, the road to bankruptcy was under way.

      Instead, “Saturn” should have been a philosophy under which GM would have slowly but surely reinvented itself, one model at a time.”

      Actually, one of the major reasons Saturn came to exist was because GM’s then-CEO Roger Smith had failed to stamp out the incessant infighting between GM marques. He thought starting a new brand, one that shared almost nothing with the other divisions, was the way forward.

      His timing was terrible. GM needed less divisions, not more, and by adding a new one he stretched corporate resources extremely thin. Second, Saturn was an economy car division that launched as fuel prices came down and the SUV craze was just about to get going. Saturn sales never took off and Smith’s successors didn’t think it wise to continue to continue to invest money in a division competing in a category with slowing sales and low profit margins.*

      *Yes Saturn was “no haggle” on the price of a new car, but they could (and did) offer high trade-in values in order to bring monthly payments down to similar levels as the Nissan dealer down the street.

  • avatar
    denster2u

    Saturn “Phase Two” was basically a North American outlet for European Opel Products. When GM pulled the plug in 2009, the Saturn Astra was straight off the boat from the Opel plant in Atwerp, Belgium. The only difference was the Saturn Badge. The 2007-2009 Saturn Aura was based on the Epsilon platform, shared with the Opel Vectra. The then-new for 2008 Saturn Vue was a Mexican-built Opel Antara. Lastly, the Saturn Sky convertible, built in Wilmington, DE, was reverse badge-engineered, and exported as the Opel GT to Europe. If you still crave Opel products, look no further than Buick, which basically took Saturn’s place as purveyor of all things Opel. In fact, the 2010 Buick Regal was actually the still-born 2nd Generation Saturn Aura, which was very close to production at the time GM shut down Saturn. The Buick Regal is the US sister of the Opel Insignia, and was actually imported from Europe as well, until production ramped up at Oshawa, Ontario in 2011. Buick was set to rebadge the Saturn Vue/Opel Antara, but the pre-production model was so strongly criticized in customer clinics, that they pulled the plug before it came to market. Still, the Saturn Vue soldiered on until 2014, rebadged as the fleet-only Chevy Captiva. The Buick Encore (and Chevrolet Trax) is a twin of the European Opel Mokka, and the latest Rebadged Opels from Europe now include the Buick Cascada (Opel Astra), and the upcoming 2018 Buick Regal Sportback and Tour-X (Opel Insignia). Had Saturn been spared in the GM Bankruptcy of 2009, I can only imagine that most of these products would have become Saturn models. As for Buick? Maybe they wouldn’t be as well off as they are now, without the range of Opel-based products in their showrooms. But for either brand, things would be complicated, now that GM has sold Opel . Another bit of trivia: When the GMC Acadia was “redesigned” for 2013, it actually used all the body stampings from it’s dead cousin, the Saturn Outlook, likely to make use of all that expensive tooling still sitting around after it’s demise.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I slightly disagree, Buick is not “well off”, it is a zombie brand which exists in name only for the sake of the BPG distribution network and the PRCDM.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I still get a laugh when I see a newer Acadia looking like an old Outlook.

      The only Outlooks I see now are in terrible condition. I parked next to one the other day, pretty sad that my far older, “well used” Taurus looked to be in better condition. Its like they went from a reasonably affluent suburban mom’s un-minivan to trashy superstar in no time. Buick Terraza and the Saturn Relay seem to be similar (looking much older than their actual age).

      No offence intended to those who may have one that isn’t ragged out, its just an observation.

      Oh, when I came out, the Outlook was parked in the fire lane (because red painted curbs say “park here if you want” I guess). The front passenger door made this horrible metal-on-metal creaking sound when opened, I guess it was hitting the fender. Only seemed to open about 1/2 way for the teenager opening it to squeeze in.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Fond memories of ours growing up. My parents had a new ’95 SW2, ’00 SL2, and ’03 VUE, all automatics. The SW2 made it to about 170k before its transmission lost 3rd, and the SL2 is still soldiering on today with over 220k miles; we gave it to a friend to drive to the train station and back on her commute. All rock-solid, plain cars that let us stretch our income and enjoy life a little. Never had a single major problem until we got rid of them.

    The VUE that replaced the ’95 wagon, however, was rock solid with a stupid Achilles heel in its CVT transmission. Failed once under warranty at 76k miles and stuck us with a Cobalt as a loaner for a month. Failed again at 132k miles and would have cost us $5,200 to replace as our lowest quote, so we put a down payment on a new ’09 Forester with the conventional automatic (before those got ruined by CVT’s as well in 2011). I loved the Forester, but with so many memories in the VUE and the rest of the car being in such great shape, it was a shame to see it let down by terrible product planning. If it had the Honda V6 and normal trans it would probably still be around, but we bought it when gas was getting stupidly expensive, and couldn’t afford the price difference anyway.

  • avatar
    Dave B

    They are not pretty and not sporty, but the s series has to be the best value car out there. My first car was a 93 SL1 (still drives today). In 07 I got an 01 SL with 100k for $750. Still drive it today with over 225k. I’ve really beat on this thing from cruising muddy forest trails, to mountain passes in snowstorms, and camping on Jeep trails in the desert. As long as you don’t mind adding oil between changes and replacing wheel bearings these things go forever. I’ve only had to replace a few other things. Parts are cheap, the car is easy to work on, and there is a great how-to library on the Saturn fans forum.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The VUE could never catch a break.

    * Product of GM bean countery – a sea of cheap plastic
    * The CVT automatics were horrid, beyond horrid
    * The 54 degree 3.0L V6 Ellesmere engine was even worse and is a maintenance nightmare
    * When GM cut a deal with Honda to provide Honda diesel engines in Europe, Honda provided V6 engines and 5-speed automatics to GM. The same 5-speed automatics that were basically a grenade with the pin pulled straight from the factory.
    * The last VUE, errr, Captiva, was a big ball of compromise, a horrid vehicle a decade dated the day it landed on rental lots – it was doomed to failure out of the gate had Saturn survived. The only thing it had going for it was an attractive exterior (subjective of course).

  • avatar
    zamoti

    I bought my wife (then girlfriend) as base SL which, while was not remarkable, did take a hit in the behind by a full size pickup like a champ. Back doors still opened after the fact. Not too bad.
    I also worked at a Saturn dealer in Pittsburgh in 1999. I drove many brand new S-series cars around and even when I was a young scamp, I thought they were crummy. I’d never heard an automatic transmission make so much noise; it was louder than the engine when puttering around town.
    As part of punishment for not selling enough (read: any) of the things, the sales manager gave me and two other loser sales people a stack of service invoices so we could cold call current owners to try to get them back for a new ride. While I think nobody took the bait, I did read the invoices out of sheer boredom and came to realize that 1st gen Saturns LOVED a new computer ever couple of years (I can STILL smell the stink of the yellow carbons, blech).
    The L-series were far more comfortable and quiet, but they were just Opels; they even had steel quarter panels even though the rest was plastic. Made no sense to me; plus the engines were early ecotecs and opel/catera V6s (we pushed timing chains real hard, the V6 didn’t have one). The V6 would haul a bit of arse, AND you could get a wagon, but nobody was buying.
    The one sale that stuck out is the one that was returned because back then, if you don’t like your saturn, just return it. Sales manager punishing me yet again, I had to drive from Pittsburgh to Saturn HQ with a redneck salesman who brought KKK music (I’m not white) and a pistol along with us. I hated that ride, I hated that sucky underpowered car, I hated Saturn.
    For those that know, “I hate, I hate, I hate SATURN!!!!”

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “To this day, I look back and admire the ballsiness of offering a mass-produced American car with clamshell doors”

    Well, it *did* sort of keep going a bit.

    In America, Ford did it for read doors in extended-cab pickups; still does, in fact.

    Honda put them on the Element.

    I’m about 99% sure there are more, but those are the ones I’ve personally dealt with.

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    Only to the extent that they imported some Opels and the future could have been bright.

  • avatar
    Nigel

    I had a brand new ’08 Aura XE well equipted with everything except the adjustable peddles. I really loved that car. Decent on the twisters but a very comfortable highway cruiser that gobbled up the miles. My only complaint with the interior was the chintzy glovebox everything felt nice to the touch. Stupidly traded it after 4.5 years for a Cruze thinking about getting better gas mileage. What a mistake. Should have kept it another couple years. Gas prices trended down right after I got the Cruze anyway.

    The backseat was roomy too.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I have mixed feelings about Saturns. When GM first announced the Saturn Project, they shopped the chance of getting the factory around, pitting cities and states against each other. I lost all respect for GM management at that point, I though it utterly crass. I still find that behavior despicable, although less companies do that now.

    I saw my first one at a Pace Warehouse (remember those?) store in Atlanta, it was styled to look like the “car of tomorrow”, but it wasn’t my cup of meat. My BIL, on the other hand, fell in love with the things. Got a SL2 sedan as soon as he could scare up the money, which wasn’t until they had been out for a couple of years. It was his pride and joy, and his to-be wife wrecked the car about a year after they got it. In the interim, he was given a brand new 1995 Cavalier to drive. I never could warm up to the Saturn, I thought they copied everything from Honda Civics. I thought that the refreshed Cavalier had some nice features and drove better than the SL2. All these years later, he still has his original one and a couple of parts cars.

    When I was in Germany I became a fan of Opels, and wished that GM would bring them back to the US. After the disappointing Ion, GM released Saturn 2.0. The Astra was sent here. Then the Epsilon based Aura was released, which was styled to look like a Vectra, but wasn’t actually one. I was never a fan of the Sky or the Vue. However, 2008-09 took place and I never got around to shopping an Aura or Astra. I went with the safe choice; a demo Pontiac G6.

    In 2011, my oldest bought a 2007 Aura XR. It had the two tone leather interior, pano roof and my favorite feature the 3.6 High Feature V6 with the 6 speed autobox. I borrowed that car from her whenever I could. It was fast, could eat the miles with no problem and got decent fuel mileage doing so. However, the used car Russian Roulette bit her in the ass. She traded it for a Chevy Malibu, which has been completely rock solid.

  • avatar
    starskeptic

    1995 SC2
    Except for having the valve body replaced at 3yrs, 4 alternators and 3 radiators – completely reliable…

  • avatar
    saturnotaku

    Former 2000 SL2 driver. Best car I’ve ever owned. The only major mechanical failures were the stereo at 60,000 miles, which was easily swapped with a second-hand unit from the scrapyard and a power sunroof motor at 85,000 that I never bothered to fix. Only two times over the 100,000 miles I drove it did it ever get less than 30 mpg. Highway trips would routinely return 40+, which was impressive considering that the twin-cam motor was pretty high-strung.

    I actually worked for a local dealer for a couple summers in college. The store was run by a friend of the family and was a great place to be. Even a decade on, the staff was still very enthusiastic about the brand, which resulted in lots of happy customers leaving the showroom and service departments.

    Those good vibes went away pretty quickly when I traded the SL2 for a manual-transmission Ion coupe. The four doors were cool, but the tiny steering wheel and center mounted instrument panel drove me up a wall. I ditched it in a little over a year. The Chevy dealer I traded it to for a better equipped Cobalt sedan gave me more than book value, so my payment ended up being LESS than the Ion for the same term. I never looked back at that point.

  • avatar
    tanooki2003

    In the famous words from Duke Nukem 3D…”Get That Crap Outta Here”

  • avatar
    commeatus

    longtime lurker coming out of the darkness here. I had a week to get a car for a new job 2 years ago and had a paltry 2k in the bank. I found a 97 SW2 with 168k on the clock and an auto inside that seemed in decent shape. Now at 217k it’s been stubbornly reliable aside from minor gremlins like a stuck window and a tempermental seat release lever.
    I looked up the car’s history and it has quite a story. After a few thousand miles it’s first owner took it to the dealer because it had spontaneously driven *through* her garage while warming up in park with no driver. about 10k after that, a loose bolt in the transmission blew out the bottom of the car on the highway. another 15k and the stearing wheel and dash bust into flames (!) randomly while driving. the demon inhabiting it was long gone by the time it arrived in my hands.
    the Saturn s’s are spectacularly easy to work on for a home mechanic. you can remove the engine with a picker, a 10mm socket, and a bucketful of ratchet extensions!
    It lifted me out of poverty and now that I’m staunchly middle-class, I’m having a hard time replacing it. There aren’t any wagons that drive well, get 30 combined mpg (what I see in mixed driving), and are light enough to be miata-like fun to drive. My auto wagon tips the scales at 2450 lbs! it does wallow a fair amount in hard corners, but I can take it on backroads to hiking trails outside of seattle and speed past all the timid Outbacks, so I’m happy with the compromise. It’s a hard car not to love if you have one.

  • avatar
    JeanneW

    I bought a ’97 Saturn SL2 in 1999; just retired it last month with over 200k miles on it.

    Reliability: Some repairs here and there, yes, but never any big issues.

    Drive-ability: Adequate power for me – great in snow.

    Style: I love the sleek style of my 1997 SL2. She’s a beauty in dark green exterior with black interior. There were minor changes to the exterior design every so many years, I think the ‘97 is the sharpest year for the SL2 (front hood flares, tail end, tail lights). And at 20 years of age, she looks practically brand new. Interior upholstery is a wonderful velour type material that’s held up over the years.

    Visibility: Wow, I can see really well out of this car (narrow pillars) – I’m confident I can drive defensively and do my best to see cars driving in spite of the *blind spots* every car has. A lot of new cars make changing lanes a game of Russian roulette – beefed up pillars leave very narrow slivers of visible space for quick glances to determine if there are any cars driving in the blind spot.

    I wish the Saturn brand was still in existence. I’d buy another one in a minute assuming the quality was as good as my car proved to be, but my preferance, if it was economically feasible, would actually be to keep my car going – to restore it. I’d love to find some eccentric that keeps old cars in a barn or outsized garage for years on end. One day my Saturn SL2 could be the only one left of its kind. So what if it’s not a Lambourghini or even a Saturn Skye.

    What caused Saturn’s demise? A former Saturn mechanic’s thoughts on the subject:

    Saturn was too good of a car, they ran forever and needed few repairs. Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public were not returning every few years to buy a new one which affected Saturn’s profitability. The corporate bigwigs therefore decided to keep the lower quality GM product car division going and shutter the Saturn branch.

    Sigh.

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