The catchwords that will sell the newest Saturn are a little more mundane, but more important to its midsize family-car niche: respect, safety and value. With the launch of the larger L-Series sedan and wagon, Saturn is finally ready to give fans of its smaller sedans another dose of those values, albeit in a bigger package.
The L-Series doesn’t arrive a moment too soon. Saturn’s launch almost 10 years ago was an unqualified success, but recently, sluggish sales had the naysayers smirking. The small-car segment had been bypassed by the buyers, they said, and most of the interest had shifted to larger, more luxurious and more rugged cars and trucks. And they were right.
There were fanciful dreams of quickly making Saturn a full-line brand, with convertibles and even pickup variants, but the logical step was to produce a larger car for the loyal buyers to move into. The midsize segment, as sharply competitive as ever, is the heart of the passenger-car market, and that’s where Saturn is aiming with the LS sedan and LW wagon.
Upsized and upscale
On sale just in time for summer pleasure trips, the 2000 Saturn L-Series features solid performance and safety features. The brand’s popular retail experience, with no-haggle pricing and customer-friendly attitudes not always found in car dealerships, are provided gratis.
2000 Saturn L WagonEnlarge Photo
2000 Saturn L-Series
The series starts with the LS base sedan, LS1 sedan and LW1, all of which come with a new 137-hp four-cylinder engine. The upscale LS2 and LW2 have a 182-hp 3.0-liter V-6, derived from the same unit that powers the Saab 9-5. The four-cylinder, a brand-new 2.2-liter engine exclusive to Saturn for at least a year, features twin balance shafts for quiet operation. Both it and the V-6 also have dual overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder for excellent response.
The four-cylinder sedan comes standard with a five-speed manual, almost unheard of in domestic midsize cars but common in Saturn’s targeted Japanese competitors. A computer-controlled four-speed automatic is available with the four-cylinder and standard with the V-6.
The right responses
The chassis and powertrain of the L-Series provide excellent performance and control. The front MacPherson strut design has a large stabilizer bar mounted to the subframe to limit lateral sway; in back, a multi-link suspension pairs two unequal-length lateral control links on each side with one longitudinal link for fore-aft control. In developing the four-wheel independent suspension and the brakes for the L-Series, Saturn engineers worked to offer good cornering capability with the ride quality midsize sedan buyers want, and we’d say they’ve succeeded.
Brakes, borrowed from the Opel Vectra on which the L-Series is loosely based, consist of power-assisted front discs with rear drums, with the option of anti-lock control on the base LS sedan and LS1 version. The top models, LS2 and LW2, use four-wheel discs all around and sport standard anti-lock control.
2000 Saturn L Sedan interior
The L-Series’ interior has a more refined, muted appeal than that of its S-Series siblings.
Inside, the L-Series features a spacious interior with logical, easy-to-use controls. The seats have been designed for all-day comfort. The LS sedan features adult-size rear seating and a large trunk. The LW wagon is an appealing alternative for customers who want sport-utility versatility with the style and comfort of a sedan, or for those who simply want a GM-built wagon: At this point Saturn has the only GM wagons, since other divisions have gone to SUVs or minivans.
Possibly the L-Series’ most compelling feature is the Saturn retail experience. The one-price selling strategy consistently ranks at the top of customer surveys, with Saturn besting even luxury brands in the last four J.D. Power and Associates sales satisfaction surveys. However, it’s unknown how customers will respond to the fact that the L-Series will be the first Saturns not built in Tennessee: the range is being assembled in Wilmington, Del.
The base LS sedan and LS1/LW1s will be the least-costly L-Series cars, starting at about $15,000. The price quickly build into unfamiliar territory: At $20,135, the LS2 is pricey for a Saturn but competitive for a midsize V-6 (the wagons are a little more than a thousand on top of sedan prices). Will the brand name be enough to convince buyers to move into a new class of Saturns? We think so.