CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — We're following twisty back roads somewhere between Nashville and Chattanooga, rolling over humpy convolutions of the Cumberland Plateau in the latest coupe out of a Tennessee assembly plant. It's the slick little SC2 by Saturn, upshot brand from General Motors, stocking the kind of suspension and steering and powertrain components that make driving both satisfying and fun. There's power on the pedal when you need it, the shifter feels tight and controllable, rack-and-pinion steering's quick in response to the slightest flick of driver's wrist, as various hardware of an independent suspension system evens out road bumps and checks body roll through so many corners on a curvy route into the Appalachian Mountains.
Saturn, it seems, has produced an assertive new generational edition of this subcompact coupe, and it comes with gutsy mechanical equipment to express a sporty flavor. The two trim versions — SC1 and SC2 — continue, although the duo show new exterior styling, support revised interior layouts and pack enhanced powertrains. New body parts appear on the coupes, but styling closely resembles former editions as expressed through the daring exterior shell with streamlined forms suggesting action. The nose tapers to a virtual point, and the dramatic slope of the front hood mirrors an aggressive slant of the windshield. A sharp character line on each side stretches from tip to tail. Also, roof pillars have been de-emphasized, so from certain angles the car looks like it carries the clear canopy of a supersonic jet.
Then there's the novelty of a back door. In a radical departure from the typical two-door coupe, Saturn sets the new door immediately behind driver's left front door. This third door, hinged at the rear with handle tucked flush into the leading edge of the jam, swings wide and permits easier access to the rear seats. To open the back door first requires opening the front door, and the rear panel then swings wide at nearly a right angle to create a broad and pillarless portal. Saturn's designers borrowed the idea of a third door from GM trucks, which posed the same question: How do you access the rear seat without crawling over the front seat? In effect, these coupes now function with the convenience of a sedan, yet they retain sleek and sporty styling lines of a two-door. Score the third portal as yet another clever idea by the newest brand from General Motors.