What's New for 1999
Starting in the late fall of 1998, all coupes will be fitted with a rear-access door on the driver side designed to provide easier entry to the backseat. Drum brakes replace the rear discs previously available on SC2s and SL2s equipped with ABS. Engines benefit from engineering upgrades that improve fuel economy and reduce noise, vibration and emissions. Finally, the SC2 gets new plastic wheel covers and a new optional alloy wheel design.
There is inherent goodness to Saturn designs, and the SC is no exception. The cars are fun to drive, they are reliable and Saturn dealers have almost single-handedly sparked a retail revolution that emphasizes the ownership experience over sales commissions.
Unfortunately, we want more from Saturn. We want more comfortable seats and better quality switchgear. A consumer pays full sticker when buying a Saturn and, frankly, we aren't convinced the cars are worth the price of admission. Let's examine the SC coupe, which costs more than $13,000 for the base model and doesn't include air conditioning, power windows, power door locks or a cassette stereo.
Under the hood is a 100-horsepower 1.9-liter inline four-cylinder engine, putting power to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. Add minimal essentials like A/C and a cassette and the sticker climbs well above $14,000. At this price, you're still cranking that window up on your own. Want ABS (which includes traction control)? You're at 15 grand, and the car still has plastic wheel covers and manual locks. Is this value? We think not.
Move up to the SC2, which gives you a more powerful twin-cam engine, variable effort steering, a sporty suspension, aluminum wheels, fog lights, spoiler, multi-adjustable seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The tariff for these goodies is an additional $1,300, which is well worth the money. But at this price, you could get behind the wheel of a Honda Civic HX, replete with power windows and power door locks. If you then add a CD player and the option package that includes air conditioning, power equipment, cruise control and remote keyless entry, the price soars above $17,000 and that doesn't include ABS, floor mats or an automatic transmission. With these additional items, the SC2 closes on $20,000 after taxes.
Price aside, the SC2 is a good time in the twisties. Saturn coupes grip the road well and the SC2's twin-cam engine provides entertaining acceleration. Seating positions are low to the floor, while the seats themselves feel flimsy. Long-haul comfort isn't a Saturn strong point, although the new driver's-side third door makes it easier to access the back seat. The dash is contemporary in style, but there obviously isn't much invested in the plastic used for panels and buttons.
One of the best parts about buying a Saturn is that dealers treat you like a human being. The service is outstanding, the advertising tugs at the heartstrings and the cars run for a long time. Still, sales are sliding, and we think it has more to do with stale product and high prices than anything else. Just make sure you shop around before settling on the Saturn.