New Car/Review

1999 SATURN SC2 3-DOOR COUPE

By Matt/Bob Hagin

Saturn 3-Door Coupe (:55) 28.8, 56k or 200k
SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 15,865
Price As Tested                                    $ 18,330
Engine Type              DOHC 16-valve 1.9 Liter I4 w/SPFI*
Engine Size                                 116 cid/1901 cc
Horsepower                                   124 @ 5600 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               122 @ 4800 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  102.4"/67.3"/180.0"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     2492 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  12.1 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P195/60R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front/engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                      Four-passenger/three-door
Domestic Content                                 90 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.31

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            25/35/29
0-60 MPH                                       10.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     18.5 seconds @ 81.5 mph
Top speed                                           120 mph
     * Sequential port fuel injection

(Matt Hagin says Saturn earned a reputation for its easy, no-hassle attitude towards selling cars. His father Bob admires this and says its products are equally noteworthy for quality in small packages.)

MATT - During the eight years that the Saturn brand name has been on the market, the company's forte has been to stay away from "trendy" stuff and stick to the basics of producing conventional compact coupes, sedan and station wagons. With this in mind, I was mildly surprised when Saturn added a third-door to the coupe line. Coupes traditionally have more appeal to younger buyers by virtue of having a more sporty profile and the three-door may offer the best of both worlds.

BOB - It's almost a misnomer to call it a third door, Matt. In truth it's really more on the order of an easy access to the back seat when the driver wants to carry "stuff" back there. Both the entry-level SC1 and the fancier SC2 offer tight quarters to rear-seat passengers and the less aerodynamic four-door sedans are better bets if the back seat is to see much action. And just like many of the newest crew-cab pickups with a third and even fourth door, it can't be opened unless the front door is opened first. Saturn's third door is located on the left side which means the street side when the car is parked. That's not very handy. So in my opinion, it's more a business coupe than a three-door sedan, but I do like the fact that there is no door post in the way when the two left-side doors are open.

MATT - The SC1 is targeted towards budget-minded buyers, since it packs a less sophisticated single-cam 1.9 liter engine. But under the hood of our tester was a twin cam, 124 horsepower version of the same engine with some improvements that add around one more mile-per-gallon. Both of them are offered with either a standard five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. Last year, we tried a five-speed SC2 but this time, it came with an automatic. The automatic changes the character of the car and I have to be honest and say that I liked the stick-shift better. The gear ratios are carefully chosen to give the best acceleration, and the overdrive top gear made it a great "cruiser" on the freeway.

BOB - The chassis is pretty straight-forward and it gives good handling without resorting to a lot of trick parts that drive up the price of a car. It has MacPherson strut front suspension and there's a simple three-link system with struts in the back. The SC2 has sway bars at both ends and the anti-lock braking system is an option, sold in unison with a traction-control system for an additional $700. The company dropped the rear disc brakes that were a feature on the upper level Saturns. This was to "decontent" the costs a bit and I don't think any of the Saturn buyers knew the difference.

MATT - They do now, Dad. As it was last year, an AM/FM stereo is standard on both SC1 and SC2, with upgrades available up to a 12-disc trunk-mounted CD changer. This fancy system ups the price by $510, and the power-operated sunroof adds $695. Leather upholstery bumps it again by another $700, but I don't think that "leather" and "Saturn" seem congruous in the same sentence. There's an additional options package that adds cruise control, power windows and door locks, a built-in security system and fancy alloy wheels for $1320 extra.

BOB - Saturn has done an amazing job of maintaining customer loyalty right from the start, Matt. Almost half the owners of older Saturns come right back for another when trade-in time rolls around. That number should be even higher in the near future, since Saturn is adding a larger car with a V6 engine to its lineup. I hear that new product at Saturn is a main priority, and I'd bet that the company will roll out the news cars with those quirky, cutting-edge ads that are so famous. At present, the majority of Saturn buyers are female, and around half are single. In a compact car field that contains some of the heaviest hitters in the world, Saturn has held its own against the best.

MATT - And the amazing thing is that Saturn has achieved its success with just a few models. I wonder if a rebadged corporate SUV is next.

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