New & Used Saturn Ion: In Depth
2004 Saturn ION Red LineEnlarge Photo
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The Saturn Ion is an affordable, fuel-efficient compact car, with sedan and coupe versions. It replaced the brand's S-Series (SL, SC, SW) in 2003, and entered the market as a competitively priced rival to compact-car entries like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, and Hyundai Elantra, among many others.
Compared to the S-Series models, the Ion offered a little more interior space and better ride comfort—although its interior appointments in some respects felt cheaper. GM made the odd decision to go with a centrally located instrument cluster atop the dashboard—a feature that some shoppers to this day might actively dislike.
One other quirky feature is that coupes offered two small rear-hinged rear doors in addition to the 'normal' front doors. You needed to close the rear doors before the fronts, which could lead to some mishaps—although the layout made entry a bit easier to the back seats.
The Saturn Ion was powered by a 2.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine, making 140 hp and paired to either a five-speed manual or continuously variable (CVT) automatic. A five-speed automatic was also offered through 2004, and then 2005-2007 models offered a four-speed automatic.
Ion models from the first model year, 2003, are to be avoided. All Ions have one of the first electric power steering systems in a mass-market small car, and the first year for this feature was poorly tuned and trouble-prone. Beginning with a rush round of improvements for the 2004 model year, GM introduced a revised calibration, as well as some upgrades for the spartan cabin.
We'd also avoid Ions from the first couple of model years with the CVT, which was one of the first mainstream models with that transmission, and it wasn't particularly well-calibrated to the engine here.
The 2004-2007 Ion was offered in Red Line guise—packing a 2.0-liter supercharged four-cylinder engine larger four-wheel disc brakes, and all sorts of other improved performance hardware. It was closely aligned with the Chevrolet Cobalt SS.
Otherwise, this model is offered in Ion 1, Ion 2, and Ion 3 trims, with the Ion3 receiving the 2.4-liter engine. The Ion 1 was very basic, with no air conditioning and manual wind-up windows. Ion 3 models stepped up to what most buyers today are going to want—including cruise control alloy wheels, and a better audio system.
Overall, the Ion failed to charm the market the way that its predecessor had, and it was prematurely cut from the lineup after 2007 in favor of the Astra hatchback—an even slower seller for the brand.