Saturn, the Tennessee-based division of General Motors established in 1991, has never offered bad cars, but it still can be said that the 2003 line — topped by the LW300 wagon — represents a quantum jump.
With a list of standard features that shames some of its midsize rivals, the LW300 may look like your traditional station wagon, but it doesn’t drive or ride like one. It’s tight, eminently controllable and comfortable.
There are options, including a $4,280 entertainment package, that Saturn and its dealers will gladly supply. Buyers can get virtually anything they want except blazing performance and a manual transmission (unless opting for the base LW200 models with shifter, not speed).
Prices start at about $16,000 and culminate with the loaded LW300 wagon. The test car was based at $22,575 plus $610 delivery and totaled $27,865. And, yes, there are some interesting options out there for anyone investing that amount of money or credit.
But recollect how the initial Saturns felt and drove while behind the leather-wrapped wheel of the wagon, and the difference is akin go going from the really traditional American-built wagon to one of the high-end European wagons. There’s that much difference.
With the LW300 and Saturn’s 3.0-liter V-6, you’re not afraid of merging with those speed-limit scoffers on the expressways (zero to 60 mph in eight-plus seconds). Perhaps even more satisfying to most, you’re not going to be shut out of the fuel economy sweepstakes either (21 and 29 mpg regular unleaded EPA figures are pretty close to real-world numbers; the tester’s combined average was about 20 mpg).
The four-speed automatic in the tester gave no reason for complaint. Shifts were smooth and appropriately spaced, with the throttle position influencing when they happened.
Or you can do it yourself with the console-mounted shifter. It, like the other controls, is easily located, particularly for anyone who’s even remotely familiar with GM products.
Equally easily adapted to are the instrumentation, dressed up for ‘03, and controls, although some of the grouping — like the center console stack of stereo/climate system switches — is not at all new.
But given its exterior improvements, including the projector headlamp grouping and new taillamps, the Saturn wagon is pleasing enough to look at, and it’s easy to argue that the comfort and convenience levels are even more appealing.
For bottom-line purposes, Saturn has come a long way, and the beginning was not from a bad starting point.
Test vehicle: Saturn LW300 front-drive station wagon
- Price as tested: $27,865 (base: $22,575, plus $610 delivery)
- Drivetrain: 3.0-liter V-6 engine (182 horsepower), four-speed automatic transmission
- Safety features: Dual front and side head-curtain air bags, side-impact beams, switchable traction control, optional anti-lock system for disc brakes ($400); optional OnStar system for obtaining information, roadside assistance and emergency services for one year (included in $4,280 entertainment package), additional years for an additional fee.
- Other standard features include: Air conditioning; power mirrors, windows and automatic locks with keyless entry system; CD stereo with six speakers; cruise control; tilt wheel; sport-tuned suspension; 16-inch alloy wheels with 215/55 performance tires; dent/rust-resistant polymer body parts
- Other options on test vehicle: Package with automatic climate control, DVD entertainment system with fold-down screen and headphones, six-disc CD/cassette stereo, leather interior, chrome wheels and trim, fog lamps, heated mirrors, power driver’s seat
- EPA figures: 21 mpg regular city, 29 mpg highway