Used 2001 Saturn L-Series Review

It costs thousands less than comparably equipped Accords and Camrys -- and it looks, drives and feels like it.

what's new

The Saturn L-Series sedans and wagons didn't exactly set the world on fire when they were introduced in 2000, but they return for 2001 virtually unchanged. Saturn has addressed safety concerns by making front and rear head curtain airbags optional on all trim levels. All sedans are now equipped with a three-point seatbelt in the rear center seat, but this feature is still not available in wagons. Later in the model year, sedans will get an emergency trunk release handle. New colors include Cream White, Bright Silver, Silver Blue and Straight Shade Black. Bright White, Silver, Silver Plum and Blackberry have been discontinued.

vehicle overview

While Saturn enjoys strong customer loyalty with its line of small cars (almost 50 percent return to buy another Saturn), GM researchers found that when owners move on, they most often move up to a midsize vehicle. So a medium-sized entry makes perfect sense for both Saturn and its loyal customer base. Enter the Saturn L-Series, American-built Opel-based sedans and wagons designed and priced to compete with top imports such as Toyota's Camry and Honda's Accord.

With an overall length of just over 190 inches, the L-Series slots nicely between the segment-leading Camry Sedan and the Ford Taurus. Saturn has changed the L-Series trim level nomenclature slightly for 2001 to avoid confusion with the S-Series model names. Available as base L100, midlevel L200 or top-line L300 Sedans as well as fully equipped LW200 or upmarket LW300 Wagons, all models include air conditioning, four-wheel independent suspension, theft-deterrent system, and front disc/rear drum brakes (disc/disc standard on the 300 models; ABS with traction control is optional).

Inside, the L-Series features a spacious interior with logical, easy-to-use controls. Seats have been designed for all-day comfort. Sedans offer 17.5 cubic feet of trunk space, which is about 3.5 cubic feet more than you'll find in either Camry or Accord. With the rear seats folded, cargo capacity in the wagon is 79 cubic feet - this is 10 more cubic feet than the Subaru Legacy wagon offers and 2 cubic feet less than the Taurus wagon's capacity. Unlike other Saturns, the L-Series has steel quarter panels (remember, this is built off an Opel platform); nevertheless, engineers were able to fit Saturn's signature dent-resistant polymer panels for the doors and fenders. We're hoping that Saturn will take more care in the assembly of its L-Series cars, as 2000 models suffered widely from ill-fitting panels and wavy plastic bodywork.

A pair of DOHC four-valve engines are offered: a Saturn-exclusive 2.2-liter, 137-horsepower four-cylinder with twin balance shafts, and a 3.0-liter, 182-horse V6. The four is standard on L100, L200 and LW200 and comes with a five-speed manual transmission. An electronically controlled four-speed automatic is optional. The V6 is available only in the L300 and LW300 and must be mated to an auto-box. Though the mandatory automatic may not please sport sedan/wagon wannabes, we've found this transmission to be quite savvy - it never picks the wrong gear.

Saturn wanted the L-Series suspension to provide a balance between a smooth ride and European-like handling - this balance holds up until the car is pushed on rough or undulating roads. And while our editors have praised the responsive steering feel in the past, we've also noted that response becomes sluggish during spirited driving on canyon roads.

A head curtain airbag system - for both front and rear passengers - has been added to the option list for all 2001 L-Series cars. When electronic sensors along the sides of the vehicle detect an impact, the bag drops from the roof rail and unfolds as it inflates. Saturn says that the system will help reduce the severity of head and neck injuries incurred by occupants involved in side-impact crashes. While we approve of this timely safety upgrade (timely indeed, since the 2000 L-Series earned a "poor" rating in the "side impact front" category) we would still like Saturn to add seat-mounted side airbags to protect against torso injuries. We're pleased to see that Saturn has added a three-point seatbelt for the rear center passenger in its L-Series sedan, but we don't understand why the wagons were denied this important safety feature. Saturn claims that its L-Series wagons compete against offerings from Volvo, Subaru, Volkswagen and Audi, but all of these brands offer a standard three-point belt in the center of the rear seat.

Unquestionably, a fully loaded L-Series car offers excellent dollar value (though you will pay the no-haggle MSRP regardless of demand) when compared with similarly equipped Accords, Camrys and Passats - but the Saturn doesn't meet its peers' established standards for build quality and interior materials. Decide whether you're willing to make these concessions before you buy.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.