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2002 Saturn S-Series REVIEW

Edmunds.com logo Edmunds.com 4/5/2017

Con: Poor seating position and comfort, flimsy interior materials, questionable build quality.

Pro: Advanced airbag system, dealer sales and service experience, composite dent- and rust-resistant body panels.

Edmunds Say: Few cars on the market go 11 years without a major redesign -- the S-Series shows us why.

What’s New: New aluminum 15-inch wheels and four new exterior colors are the only notable changes for 2002.

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.

Saturn's biggest innovation as of late is an optional head-curtain airbag, which is available on all models. Deployed from the side roof rail, the head curtain unfolds as it inflates, creating a broad cushion to help prevent head and neck injuries in the event of a serious side impact. While head curtains have been incorporated into numerous high-dollar luxury sedans, Saturn was the first car company to offer this technology on economy-class cars.

Although the S-Series has never been fully redesigned since its debut in 1990, the various models have undergone slight revisions to keep their looks fresh. Last year saw the SC Coupe getting numerous reshaped body panels, while the SL Sedan and SW Wagon received their new faces a year earlier. As always, all models feature dent- and rust-resistant polymer exterior panels that not only eliminate corrosion, but provide dent resistance to the ever-present runaway shopping cart.

Inside, the small Saturns 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. 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 autobox. Allow us to suggest the twin-cam engine mated to the manual for less-pedestrian performance; they're a must if you plan on spirited driving. Rear drum brakes are standard on all models, with no option for four-wheel 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. Although SC coupes received more standard equipment last year, be aware that the equipment list is short on all base versions, and many 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 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 been vastly improved so as not to deserve such an ignominious title.

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