Saturn LW300 and L300 car reviews
|Review Notes: Saturn LW300 Wagon||Review Notes: Saturn L300 Sedan|
|Personality||Offspring of a Eurowagon and an SUV||Personality||Hard to pin down|
|Unusual features||Gas mileage, continuously variable automatic, V6 speed; plastic body panels||Unusual features||Plastic, dent-resistant body panels|
|Quirks||Cruise control, electric steering||Quirks||Cruise control|
|Above Average In:||Power (V6), gas mileage, handling, dealer experience||Above Average In:||Dealer experience|
|Needs Work In:||Five-speed automatic, price||Needs Work In:||Automatic, price, drivetrain tuning|
The Saturn LW is a well-styled wagon with a good-sized passenger compartment and small cargo area. Based on a popular Opel, the LW could feel like a Saab wagon if the seats were more supportive, the controls less sensible, and the transmission replaced. The closely related L sedan has a pleasant, well-designed interior, plastic body panels, and the Saturn dealer base, but has fewer distinct advantages than the wagon.
The Saturn L series includes two sedans and two wagons, differentiated mainly by their engines. The L200 and LW200 are powered by an economical new four cylinder engine generating 135 horsepower, while the L300 and LW300 have a modern 3-liter, dual-cam V6 which manages to produce 182 horses. The four cylinder makes good torque for its size (142 lb-ft) for better oomph, while the six is a bit on the low side for a modern three-liter engine. A manual transmission is available only on the L200 sedan, an unfortunate change from prior years.
The V6, with 182 horsepower, comes with an automatic which tends to lurch into gear and sag on acceleration. Still, the V6 has plenty of power and passing is quick and easy, giving the LW a sportier feel than one would expect from a wagon of its size. All wheel drive would be handy, though, because sudden starts lead to screeching tires, and, sometimes, a sag as the traction control kicks in. The L sedan is more disappointing, perhaps because the competition is steeper - the Camry V6, Galant, Intrepid, and other similarly sized vehicles feel more responsive.
Gas mileage is good for a wagon, especially compared to SUVs, with 21 city, 29 highway for the V6 and 24 city, 32 highway for the four.
Handling is relatively good, benefitting from a stiff suspension which still insulates the interior well. There is relatively little wind or road noise, and the engine is quiet. Visibility is very good, with no obvious blind spots and effective demisters. The wagon's rear window has a windshield wiper/washer, and its standard electric defroster works on both the rear window and the side mirrors.
For model year 2003, the Saturn L series went through a styling change, dropping the rear, raising the front, enlarging the grille, and generally helping the Saturn to stand out more while looking less like the original small Saturn S series. Most agree that the styling is a substantial improvement, right down to the truck-style honeycomb grille.
Our test car had an interesting and well-implemented feature, normally reserved for minivans: a built-in DVD player, with jacks for plugging in a portable VCR. The screen is sensibly stored in the roof, while the player takes the place of the center console. The controls are simple but effective, and there is a remote control and two pairs of headphones included. If you absolutely need to take a TV around with you, this is the way to do it, though playing the DVDs through the stereo can be rather distracting. As far as we know, this is the only production car that comes with a DVD player, which may be a handy feature for parents who want a digital babysitter without the styling of a minivan (or the weight of an SUV) around it. The DVD system costs $2,290 on the 200 models, including the Audio II package and chrome-clad wheels, but raises the price on the 300 by a whopping $4,060 (admittedly including the Premium package, except for the sunroof, which includes Audio II, OnStar, leather, power driver's seat, thermostatic climate control, and other extras). If you were planning to buy a lot of options, the DVD system isn't too costly.
The interior controls are generally sensible and forthright. The driver's power seat controls are unusually good, since they are clearly labelled and easy to reach - and to see. Window controls are, in European fashion, in the center console, but rear passengers also have switches on their doors. Our one quibble is the stalk arrangement - the right hand stalk has one "mid-mount" knob for the rear wiper/washer, and one for the interval of the front wipers. There are three sets of labels on the stalk, making experimentation the best way to figure it out. The cruise control is mounted on the steering wheel, lacking only a "cancel" button.
The traditional looking vent controls allow for fine control of temperature and vent choice (with increments between settings, so you can have, say, most of the air going through the heater ducts, with just a little coming from the higher vents). Even at its highest setting, the fan isn't noisy. A thermostatic control option is easy to use.
The stereo is not standard GM issue, but still sounds fine. It can be a bit hard to get used to the controls - for example, to play a CD, you press AUX.
The interior is well-designed, functional and pleasant, with light plastics and a dark center console and instrument panel. An oversized speedometer and tachometer are flanked by good-sized fuel and heat gauges. Those who get the higher trim versions - for example, our LW300 - may be disappointed, though. The LW300 goes for $22,850 without options, and our test vehicle with leather, fog lights, and power driver's seat (but not including the DVD system) was $24,695. That's enough to buy a better-outfitted Chevrolet Impala or Chrysler 300M, large cars with capacious trunks, nicer interiors (in the case of the 300M, a much nicer interior), and better powertrains. To be fair, those cars don't come with Saturn's user-friendly dealer network, a money back guarantee, or dent-resistant plastic doors and fenders.
All passengers benefit from personalized dome lights and cupholders (from a fold-down bar in the rear). Both front doors have small map pockets, and both front seats include pockets on the back, so everyone has some storage. The doors also include standard low-level lights for greater visibility and less chance of an accident while getting out on a dark road. Head curtain airbagsare also included for both front and rear passengers.
The wagon's cargo area is moderately spacious, larger than a hatchback but smaller than old-fashioned wagons. It provides more length than most SUVs and minivans, with the ability to fold down the rear seats (with a 60/40 split so you can still carry two people while having one seat flat) for even more storage. Underneath the flat loading surface is a large area containing the spare tire, but with lots of room to hold more stuff in a pinch. The sedan's trunk is par for the class, which is to say very spacious.
OnStar is available on this and other GM cars, providing an excellent concierge/emergency service we've described before.
Overall, the Saturn LW is a good wagon and a bargain compared to most SUVs, but for the same price you could get a Chevy or Dodge minivan, or Saturn's own VUE. On the other hand, if you were planning to get the sedan, we'd suggest you test out the Mitsubishi Galant, Toyota Camry, and Pontiac Grand Am (L200) or Chevy Impala, Dodge Intrepid, or Chrysler 300M (L300) as well.
If you value being treated well by your car dealer, it's hard to beat Saturn, which features a no-haggle sales policy, 30 day money back guarantee, and a reputation for friendliness. Resale values have also been good.