Saturn L200 Comfy new Sedan
by Jim Bray
With a name like Saturn, this company must be running rings around its competition.
Okay, okay, anything for a bad pun
Still, you see plenty of Saturns on the road, so people must like them. And
judging by my week in their new L200 Sports Sedan theyll probably continue
I found this more sedan than sports, however, but that could have been because
my test unit was of the four cylinder, automatic transmission variety and that
(especially the automatic) works against the sports aspect every time. Other
than that, the L200 is a nice car, and one that would undoubtedly be eminently
easy to live with.
The front engine, front wheel drive L200 is Saturns mid size four door
sedan, meant to compete with the likes of the four cylinder versions of the
Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, VW Jetta, Chrysler Cirrus, Ford Taurus, Hyundai
Sonata, Nissan Altima, etc. Its luxurious to the point of coddling, at
least in the trim level I drove, and it performs quite well. It didnt
really get my adrenaline going, however, which I would think is quite a bit
of the point of a sports sedan, above caveats about transmission etc. noted.
The 2003 L Series has been tweaked in form and in substance. Since this was
my first experience with a Saturn test drive, I cant comment professionally
on these updates as compared to the old versions of the car, but the new model
is very nice inside and out. Saturn says the new L is meant to
combine European ride-and-handling characteristics with North American refinement,
whatever that means, producing a car thats fun to drive yet also
smooth and quiet.
I agree wholeheartedly with the smooth and quiet part, but would argue about
the fun to drive (and thats the last Ill say about that lest I
be accused of harping). The cars roomy, comfortable, civilized, and quite
posh. It reminds me quite a bit of a smaller version of the Impala and LeSabre
I drove a few months back: roomy, comfortable, civilized but in a package
thats easier to afford, and easier to park.
Anyway, my test L200 was filled to the gunwales, including a leather interior
with heated front seats and a six disc CD changer stereo. The seats are very
comfortable, but since theres little side bolstering the first time you
try to drive the L200 like a sports sedan the flat seatbacks, combined with
the slipperiness of leather, will give you a lesson in Newtons First
Law of Motion. The seats appear more meant for cruising, rather than bruising.
One of the nitpicky things that bothered me was the drivers seats
power controls. Theyre all rocker switch buttons mounted together on
the left side of the seat cushion and they feel very similar to each other.
This means that, until you get really used to it, youre just as likely
to adjust the seat back tilt when youre trying to move the seat cushion
forward or backward. I would probably have gotten used to this if Id
had the car for longer than my week long test drive, however.
The control layout is good, and the full instrument panel is attractive without
being obtrusive or garish. The stereo systems controls, and their labels,
are comparatively small, however, and the system isnt particularly intuitive.
When loading a CD into the changer, for example, you not only have to hit the load button,
but you have to tell it which disc you want to load. The sound quality is very
good, however, which is a plus: it practically thunders.
The 2003 model features exterior freshening of the hood, fender, headlights,
grilles and much more, and the headlight cluster features the new type of projector
lamps and they work well.
Powering the L200 is GMs 2.2 liter double overhead Cam SFI L4 inline
four cylinder engine, rated according to the company at 135 horsepower @ 5,200
rpm and 142 ft. lbs. of torque @ 4,400 rpm. This isnt really mid size
Sports Sedan territory, though the torque isnt bad - but its more
than adequate to propel the L200 from a red light to freeway onramp speeds
as necessary. The L200s four speed automatic transmission works fine,
though Id have loved to try the standard 5 speed manual shifter instead.
Im sure it would have added a little sport
to the package.
I assume I would also have enjoyed the Big Brother L300s 3 liter DOHC,
24-valve, V6, rated at 182 horses @ 5,600 rpm and 190 ft. lbs. of torque @
3,600 rpm. That sounds more Sports Sedan-like to me - except, as
with the V6 Honda Accord sedan and
others, you cant get a manual transmission with the 6.
The L200 features four wheel independent suspension and the ride quality is
good, though a tad soft for my taste. It handles nicely, though, with good
smoothness and imparts a feeling of comfort to the driver.
Brakes are discs up front and drums in the rear, and ABS and traction control
are available. Both systems work fine, as I discovered on some wintry roads
during my test period. The 16 inch chrome wheels of my premium L200 were quite
handsome and wore a decent set of all season rubber.
Inside the cabin theres room for four people comfortably, and a third
can ride in the back without undue hardship. Comfort and convenience features
abound, including automatic air conditioning with a dust and pollen filter,
cruise control, power steering and brakes, power door locks, and power windows.
You also get dual heated power outside mirrors, keyless entry, and the abovementioned
Theres plenty of storage space inside, and cupholders for the front
and rear passengers. The rear seat splits 60/40 and folds down to make even
more storage space available in the already-generous trunk.
The Saturn also features an optional power sunroof thats a nice size
and which inflicts surprisingly little road and wind noise onto the interior
when its open. And it closes with only one hold of the button, unlike
some other cars Ive tried recently whose roof panels stop when halfway
closed, forcing you to press and hold the button twice.
The L200 also includes child safety locks in the rear as well as child seat
anchors and tethers. Passengers regardless of age are treated to front and
rear head restraints, driver and front passenger airbags, and side head protection
The car also features a galvanized metal space frame and stainless steel exhaust.
Oh, and one mustnt forget Saturns dent and rust resistant polymer
body side panels. A friend of mine had a Pontiac Fiero with this type of body
work and it lasted very well; in fact, he finally sold the 1984 model car in
late 2002 and it still looked good, so longevity of the Saturns body
panels shouldnt be an issue. Im surprised more manufacturers dont
offer such a feature. Maybe there are drawbacks I dont know about.
I also took a friend of mine who owns a Saturn for a couple of spins in the
L200 and he liked it a lot, so the company may be on track for its target audience.
Time, and sales, will tell.
Saturn has also included GMs wonderful automatic headlight setting that
means you never have to remember to turn the lights on or off. Its a
small thing, but Ive grown to really love this feature and I miss it
when Im driving a vehicle that doesnt have it.
The L200 and L300 are also available in wagon configuration.
My fully equipped tester tipped the scales at just over $23,000 US ($31,4K
Canadian); the base model starts at just over $18,000 US ($23,500 Canadian).