Among the better small cars of 1994
The odometer quit at 70,000. At some point before that the seat leather cracked, the headliner started falling, and the turn signal lever always vibrated against the steering column (bad design).
Random electrical issues spring up sporadically -- one time it wouldn't start, another time the Check Engine light went on -- and the ignition switch stopped working properly, which sets off the warning chime any time the key's not inserted.
Having owned almost all the small Japanese cars of the 90s, I figured I'd try a Saturn SL2 -- the only domestic entry to get acclaim back in the day. I'd say the respect was deserved: this is a well-engineered, good-performing car whose only real flaw is interior quality.
For sure, it has character. Its twin-cam engine pumps out 124 HP -- good for 0-60 in 9 seconds with the automatic. Steering is fairly quick, responsive, and gives some feel of the road; it's also got good grip and doesn't lean much in turns (thanks to the SL2 having 15" wheels and a better suspension than the Saturn SL1). The pedals are well-weighted, and models with anti-lock brakes get 4-wheel-discs that feel solid underfoot. Ride quality is reasonable at all times. Aside from the absurd Ford Explorer-like turning circle, there's nothing unusual to report about the drive.
Back in the day, the press made a habit of complaining about the engine's loud, craptastic drone. I think the main reason this became an issue is because Saturn was among the first to use timing chains (everything besides the Nissan Sentra used a timing belt), which are inherently noisier, but promise lower maintenance costs in the long-run. Here in the 21st century, when everyone else has caught up and is using a chain also, the Saturn doesn't sound much worse. Guess it was just ahead of its time.
But if Saturns drive well and last long, the interior leaves a lot to be desired. Plastic quality is atrocious, and every component housed in the dashboard (along with the layout itself) is pretty ugly. The center console has an odd and useless shape, the glovebox opens the wrong way, and the lone cupholder is a brittle afterthought. Taller folks might take issue with the Saturn being only 5'5" (roughly 4 inches below average, and part of the reason it looks cool), and don't expect any person taller than that to tolerate the back seat for long. Items like the door locks and turn signal manage to feel both soggy and stiff, and the speakers sound horrendous, though the ones in front are thankfully easy to swap out (no need for door surgery -- just pry off the grilles with a screwdriver). And of course, the decapitating motorized seat belts were old, even when new. At least, the driver's seat is pretty comfortable, and everything's within easy reach.
Overall I'd recommend picking up a Saturn SL2, especially a 94, which has a cooler interior than the 95+s, and a cooler exterior than the 96+s.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Don't Know
Review Date: 24th June, 2012