Graded: Saturn’s

Welcome to Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. Have some fun with it.

Saturn came and went in flash. The import-fighting brand from General Motors lasted just 21 model years in North America. Saturn would merely been able to buy a whiskey and coke at a bar before it was put out to pasture.

But just because its time on the market was short lived does not mean the brand failed to leave a lasting impression. In two short decades Saturn was able to create a small cult following that is still alive and well to this day. Below we take a look at nine stand-out vehicles during the company’s run, and of course affix an arbitrary grade to each one.

1991 Saturn SC
AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

The SC was one of the OG Saturn’s along with the SL. The compact Coupe was a wholly Saturn product, unlike a lot of the rebadged vehicles that would follow. I always liked the wedgy shape of the car, especially these early models with the pop-up headlights. The 123 hp engine also made the car fairly quick for its day.

1993 Saturn SW2
AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

Three years after the S Series debut, a third body-style was added to the family – a wagon. Like the SL and SC, the wagon could be had with the more powerful engine and a manual transmission. Any compact wagon is always welcome in my books and these were cool little haulers.

2001 Saturn SC2 Limited Edition
AutoLobotomy Grade: B

As a sort of final hurrah for the SC, a special edition was released in 2001 with the unoriginal name Limited Edition. It came with bright yellow and black paint and a two-tone black and yellow interior. Mechanically not a whole lot had changed with the SC over the past decade besides the car growing in size.

2001 Saturn LW300
AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

In 2000 Saturn decided to explain the brand’s lineup to include a mid-size car. Called the L Series, the car shared a platform with the Saab 9-3 and could be had a as a legitimate wagon. A guaranteed recipe for success, right? Sadly no. As cool as the wagon was, the car as a whole was painfully ordinary and sales never caught on.  

2004 Saturn Vue Red Line
AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

To help boost Saturn’s image, the brand began to Red Line all things in the mid-2000s. The first model to receive the Red Line branding was, strangely enough, a crossover – the Vue. Based on the V6 model, the Red Line included unique exterior styling, a 250 hp Honda V6 engine and revised suspension tuning. The vehicle was equally part gimmick and part ahead of its time as a performance crossover.  

2005 Saturn Ion Red Line
AutoLobotomy Grade: A

As Saturn’s first true performance vehicle, the Ion Red Line was a corporate cousin to the Chevrolet Cobalt SS and featured the same 2.0-liter supercharged engine making 205 hp. Being an Ion Coupe, the Red Line included the funky suicide rear half doors that allowed easy access to the rear seats. Although I was a Cobalt owner, I always liked these cars more for their bonus obscurity, minus the center-mounted tachometer.

2007 Saturn Sky Red Line
AutoLobotomy Grade: A+

A 260 horsepower turbocharged rear-wheel drive drop-top roadster. This was peak Saturn. Was it the best sports on the road in 2007? No. Was it the best performing Saturn ever made? Yes. I will also die on the hill that the Sky was the better looking car compared to the Pontiac Solstice.

2008 Saturn Astra XR
AutoLobotomy Grade: C+

As a replacement for the Ion, the Astra was a direct Import from Europe. Available as a three-door or a five-door, I preferred the looks of the three-door XR. Handling was quite good, but sadly we were stuck with just the 138 hp engine in North America. Vehicle pricing was also quite high for the class.  

2009 Saturn Aura XR
AutoLobotomy Grade: C

There was nothing all that remarkable about the Aura when it came out, but it was a fully competent and capable mid-size sedan. Sadly, so was most of its competition and the Aura struggled to stand out from the crowd, even with a version of Cadillac’s 3.6-liter V6 engine in the XR trim.

2 thoughts on “Graded: Saturn’s

  1. No SL series or Outlook? The Outlook was nothing more than a reskinned Acadia, so understandable that you left it out (although it is notable that the Acadia adopted its body shell after Saturn was gone), but the SL was the origins of the brand.

    Also worth noting is that the original S series Saturns used GMs “space frame” construction pioneered on the Fiero and Transport.

    And because Saturn had its own computer controlled automatic transmission, they could tie it to the ABS system for a primitive traction control system. Pretty much unheard of in an economy car in the 90s, I think. I think my 1992 SL2 had it.

    Like

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