I bought a 2001 SL1 saturn right off the lot and have been very happy with it since. It runs great and gets great gas mileage.
I have never had a better car and I really mean that. Look after it and you will be well rewarded. Excellent gas mileage, solidly built (there are bars in the doors to give you extra protection if you get hit). Easy to take care of. If you can find a mechanic who is honest!! I quit going to the dealership because these young service guys would hand me a laundry list of "to do's" - NONE of which needed doing! The dealers are extremely foolish (1) To alienate women - we are not stupid because we wear a skirt!! and (2) Tell the truth. Saturns are far better than any other car in my estimation and I've driven many and had years of experience. My Saturn SL1 is easy to park, clean and economical to operate. I'd buy another one any day.
My 2001 Saturn SL1 has been an excellent car. I have never had any mechanical issue with the car as long as I have had it. The only things I have replaced have been maintenance items. I live in upstate NY where the winters are harsh, and the 1.9L I-4 SOHC fires up every morning.
The 5spd transmission is geared for economy, and it shows because I have gotten 42mpg on a long highway trip.
For the original price I paid for this car, it has been by far the most reliable and best ownership experience. My only gripe with the car is its interior and seat comfort, but overall it has been good to me. I definitely recommend this car to someone on a tight budget who wants a cheap, dependable, fun to drive American made vehicle.