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2001 Saturn S-Series REVIEW logo 4/5/2017

Con: Poor seating position and comfort, flimsy interior materials, weak standard equipment list.

Pro: Dealer sales and service experience, composite dent- and rust-resistant body panels.

Edmunds Say: Few cars on the market go a decade without a major redesign -- for a reason.

What’s New: The S-Series sees no change from last year, save for optional head curtain airbags.

Review: Saturn's small cars have enjoyed quite a following over the years, proving both fun to drive and reliable. And Saturn dealers have almost single-handedly sparked a retail revolution that emphasizes the ownership experience over sales commissions. Unfortunately, we want more from Saturn, such as more comfortable seats and better quality switchgear and interior trim.

Last year, Saturn freshened the looks of its SL Sedan and SW Wagon. The ding-, dent- and rust-resistant polymer exterior panels give SL and SW models a contour line that runs the length of the vehicle for an angular appearance. The SC Coupes come with a driver's-side third door, providing better access to the back seat.

Inside, the small sedans and wagons have a one-piece instrument panel cover, ostensibly to eliminate miscolored plastic pieces and ill-fitting seams, but we still find fault with interior fit and finish. Some componentry from the L-Series cars are shared to reduce costs through parts commonality. The seating position is low to the floor, while the seats themselves feel too flimsy for long-haul comfort.

Two engine choices are on the S-Series roster, a 100-horsepower, 1.9-liter four-cylinder or a twin-cam version of the same that generates 124 ponies, with either a five-speed manual or four-speed auto box. Allow us to suggest the twin-cam engine mated to the manual to make for a less-pedestrian sedan or wagon; they're a must if you plan on spirited driving. Rear drum brakes are standard on all models, with no option for disc brakes.

Sedans can be had as a base SL, midrange SL1 or uplevel SL2; wagons are available as the standard SW1 or high-end SW2. Coupes come as the basic SC1 or sportier SC2. Be aware that the standard equipment list is short on all base versions and that features are not packaged well enough to sell you on the midrange models. That means you may be forced into pricey, high-end versions to get the kind of equipment you really want, which puts the price near or beyond such formidable opposition as the Nissan Sentra and the excellent Ford Focus.

Packaging aside, if you're tired of the haggling quagmire, and you're pretty much set on the car and options you want, Saturn's excellent dealer network, money-back guarantee, customer-first philosophy and reputation for reliability are attractive selling points. But we'd recommend that you shop around - many econoboxes of yore have recently been vastly improved so as to not deserve such an ignominious title.


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