Pros: * Powerful 3.0L V6 engine * Great Stereo * Polymer Panels
Cons: * Fair gas mileage * Some parts of interior could be built better
I was in the market for a new vehicle, but I didn't really know what I wanted. I had
heard that the Toyota Corolla was a reliable car, so I went to try one of those first.
Well, I'm 6'1" tall (1.85 meters), and I quickly found out that there wasn't nearly
enough legroom, and the tilt wheel didn't "tilt" high enough for me. I tried the Camry
next, but realized that everyone around here owns a Camry, so I kept it in mind as a
last option if I didn't happen to like (or couldn't afford) something else.
Saturn of Metairie was very close to the Toyota dealer, so I swung by to see what they
had available. I thought maybe an SL2 would be nice, but again, it felt too small and
cramped for me. My sales consultant took me to the back of the lot to look at the new
L Series cars. I fell in love with them immediately. The look was very euro (the L
being based on the Opel Vectra, Opel being owned by GM and based in Germany), and I
felt it would be a great vehicle for me.
The test drive...
I test drove both the LS1 and LS2 (as they were known at the time - as of the 2001
model year, they were renamed as the L200 and L300), and felt that the 4 cylinder
engine in a midsize car was woefully underpowered. It felt as though the parking
brake was on whenever I took my foot off the gas, because my speed would drop like
a rock. In comparison, the V6 in the LS2 was much more powerful, and I took to it
After driving the LS2, I knew I had to have one. It was close to the end of the 2000
model year, so I factory ordered a new 2001 dark blue L300 with ABS/traction control,
side head curtain airbags, and the outline kit. I took delivery on October 3rd, 2000,
and I'm still loving the drive just over a year later.
* Powerful 3.0 liter V6 engine - This car has a spec 182 horsepower (@5,600RPM)
and 190 foot-pounds of torque (@3,600RPM), but if you're not one to read specs, this car
*moves* when you tell it to. I've easily passed 18 wheelers on the interstate with no
trouble at all. This car is also immensely fun to drive, even though it's not a stick
* Smooth shifts - This car comes standard with a 4 speed automatic transmission,
and and it's hard to hear or feel the car shift, unless you stomp on the accelerator. If
you need passing power, hit the gas, and the car downshifts easily to give you all the
power you'll need.
* Minimal wind noise - When doing interstate driving, the wind noise isn't very
noticeable at all. I don't have to turn up the stereo to drown it out like I have to in
our '98 Ford Taurus.
* Excellent factory stereo - I believe the Saturn factory stereos are manufactured by
Panasonic, and the base setup (AM/FM radio, tape deck, CD player) sounds great through the
8 speakers located around the vehicle. I can't comment about the advanced audio option, but
it includes a subwoofer, and actually *removes* 2 of the speakers in the rear doors.
* Polymer panels - A standard Saturn feature, the polymer panels cover most of the car.
The roof, hood, trunk, and rear quarter panels are steel, however. When I wash the car, it always
looks as good as the first day I took delivery.
* Controls laid out well - The center console has everything logically placed, and
easy to read. Some people may say the window controls should be on the doors, rather than
on either side of the shifter, but it adds a touch of European styling to what I feel is a
great car. (Besides, I believe that it's a trend in the newer BMWs... ;)
New items included standard with all trim levels (2002 models) - Starting in the
2002 model year, all L Series cars come standard with ABS/traction control, side head airbags,
emergency trunk handle release, and the L200 and L300 both come standard with 4 wheel disc
brakes. (The L100 base trim level still has rear drum brakes.)
* Lower maintenance and insurance costs - If you purchase the Saturn car care package,
you'll pay about $500 for 3 years/36,000 miles worth of standard maintenance, including oil
changes, tire rotation, fluid checks and changes, new windshield wipers, etcetera. This alone
will save you quite a bit of money. There's also a longer plan - 5 years/60,000 miles, I believe,
for around $1,200 (this amount may differ depending where you live.)
In addition, State Farm insurance has worked with Saturn in the design of their cars, so
depending upon your insurer, you can usually get very reasonable premiums. I'm with USAA,
and I thought they made a typo when I received my first bill ;-)
* Fair gas mileage - Realizing that with any larger engine, you'll use more fuel,
I still feel that the city mileage could be at least 1 or 2 mpg better. In the city, I
still tend to get slightly *less* than the EPA estimate of 20 mpg. Highway mileage is
usually slightly better than the estimate of 26 mpg, however.
* Isn't mated to a manual transmission - This, at first, may not seem like a big deal,
but I'm now in the market for a stick shift, and sadly I may have to trade my car in for a
different make. Several Japanese cars are now mating their V6 engines to a stick shift, such
as the Toyota Camry Solara, and the Nissan Maxima and Altima (for 2002). The V6
engine in the L300 just *begs* to be mated to a manual transmisson. I hope Saturn seriously
reconsiders this for the 2003 model year, when the L Series is supposed to be restyled.
* Doesn't come standard with ABS or head curtain airbags (2000-2001 models) - Most
cars these days are starting to add these options, but be aware that if you purchase a
2000-2001 model, it may not come with these options. (My dealer, for example, didn't
stock any cars with ABS in inventory, so that's why I was forced to factory order my car.)
* Interior could be made of better materials - In general, the interior is nice,
but it's not as refined as its primary competition - the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. I
realize that my car is only the 2nd model year of the L series, so I hope that they continue
to improve the quality. One point I can't overlook, however, is the center console between
the seats, where you can store things. This piece unfortunately looks quite cheap. I hope
they decide to improve the quality in future designs..
Also, the interior door handles are basically plastic, but coated to appear chrome. This is
a *very* cheap item for the flagship model (it's included in *all* of the L series trim
levels as well.) Either they should give us chrome door handles, or make them plastic and
don't make them *look* chrome. In the 2000 models, they were known to break off as well, if
pulled too hard (A service bulletin was issued to replace broken door handles.)
* Horrible OEM tires - These cars come standard with Firestone Affinity HP tires.
All I can say is, *please* get them changed out as soon as you purchase the vehicle. I
had a tire blow out on me on the interstate once, and the tech couldn't find any sign
of damage to the tire. He said in the comments section that the tire looked like it
just came apart, there was no sign of impact or damage.
* Pedals are much too close together - Being a larger car, Saturn should realize
that larger people would probably be purchasing these vehicles, but the gas and brake pedals
are quite close together. With my big feet, I *still* once in awhile manage to hit both
pedals at once.
The final analysis...
Overall, this is a wonderful car, despite the weaknesses mentioned above. For a price of
just over $23,000 including taxes and fees, I was able to purchase a solidly built and
much less expensive midsize automobile than most of the Japanese midsize competitors
could match. I bring my car in for free (pre-paid) service every 3 months with the Saturn
car care service, and I know that my car is being well maintained.
Whether you love haggling with car dealerships, or you can't bear the thought of it, give
Saturn a try. You'll be treated with respect and courtesy, and the car is a great value for
the money you spend.