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2001 Saturn LW
Ron Moorhead

Introduction
Now in its second year, Saturn's L-Series fulfills the wishes of loyal Saturn owners longing for greater roominess and comfort. In keeping with the Saturn tradition, both sedan and wagon body styles are offered.

Changes to the 2001 model include optional front- and rear head-level air bags, a rear center-seat three-point seatbelt for the sedans, and a larger fuel tank. Model Lineup
Saturn offers the L-Series in three versions of the sedan and two versions of the wagon.

The sedan comes in L100, L200 and L300 versions. The wagon gets two models, the LW200 and the LW300. (That nomenclature represents a change from last year's models, which were dubbed LS, LS1, LS2, LW1, and LW2, respectively.)

A 135-horsepower 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine powers the L100, L200 and LW200. The L300 and LW300 are equipped with a 182-horsepower 3.0-liter V6. Walkaround
Saturn's L-Series is based on the same structure used by the Opel Vectra. (Opel, a highly respected German automaker, is a GM subsidiary.) While some changes were made, the L-Series retains its German heritage. This platform appears to have been an excellent choice because the body structure is quite rigid.

Over this impressive structure are Saturn's trademark composite (plastic) body panels. These composite panels resist rust and minor dents and dings. Unlike Saturn's smaller S-series sedans and coupes, the L-Series cars use steel for the rear fenders and trunk lid. Saturn engineers felt that a large car dictates a large cargo area and that this area must have the added rigidity facilitated by steel.

Even though the L-Series is loosely based on the Vectra, Saturn's designers were adamant that the L-Series retain a strong resemblance with the rest of the Saturn family. There is no mistaking the L-Series with anything but a Saturn. The car's rakish front hood and fender line, tied to the steep slope of the windshield, the swooping line of the rear doors combined to the high rear deck signals your visual sensors that you indeed are gazing upon a Saturn. Interior
Sliding behind the steering wheel reveals another reason Saturn has enjoyed such success. The interior isn't full of gaudy, non-essential doodads. It is basic and practical, yet offers a splash of elegance most Saturn owners will welcome.

Seats are roomy and comfortable. Saturn designed them to provide big-car accommodations without a sofa-like experience. As a result, the front bucket seats are supportive without being restrictive.

Most controls are exactly where you would expect them to be. One of our pet peeves of previous Saturn vehicles was the vagueness with which the switches operated. Not so with the L-Series: Every switch and knob operates smoothly. Window switches are mounted on the center console, however, less convenient than having them on the doors.

The center pod of the L-Series forms a Saturn design theme. The sound system is located above the heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls; audio controls are nice big knobs that are easy to operate when driving. Steering wheel spokes are set lower at each side, which allows for easy use of the correct 3 and 9 o'clock hand positions. Wood trim at the center dash area looks out of place, however, and the two-tone door trim and mouse fur roof liner are not up to the standards of this class.

Driver and front passenger air bags are standard equipment; front and rear head-level air bags are a new option for 2001. A stronger, more substantial body cage was designed with stronger B-pillars and side-impact bracing in the doors. Energy-absorbing interior door panels help reduce impact force. Building a more substantial body cage was imperative to aid in lessening the chance of crash injuries and damage.

The Saturn L-Series provides plenty of rear-seat legroom. And, while headroom is adequate for people who are just a shade over 6 feet tall, it would be wise to leave the Stetson at home. The rear seats split and fold down for additional cargo space. Driving Impressions
This car delivers excellent acceleration performance when equipped with V6 engine. Ours blasted out of South Florida's toll gates and rocketed ahead of other cars with more leisurely drivers.

The V6's power advantage over the four-cylinder engine in this 3,100-pound car is quite noticeable, dropping 0-60 mph performance to a respectable 8.2 seconds. On the downside, fuel economy also drops from an EPA-estimated 24/33 mpg city/highway with the four-cylinder engine to 20/26 mpg for the V6.

The four-cylinder engine in the entry-level L100 and L200 produces 135 horsepower, propelling it from 0 to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds with an automatic transmission. The automatic transmission is balky, however, slow to downshift and, in general, not responsive. The standard manual gearbox is a better match for this engine.

Much of the German engineering from Opel remains in the suspension system, and that's a good thing. Saturn increased the suspension compliance for a softer, more comfortable ride. Yet it isn't so compromised as to eliminate the handling capability the Germans contributed to the system. As a result, the L-Series is an agile four-door sedan. It's stable in high-speed turns. On 7-Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys, we found the L-Series did a good job of resisting 25-knot crosswinds with minimal buffeting. It absorbed road vibrations and provided a stable platform over roller-coaster undulating roads outside Phoenix. Summary
Saturn believes in treating people well, and offering them value. The L-Series cars give S-Series owners a mid-size car to trade up to.

Model as tested
L300 ($19,495)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Wilmington, Delaware
Destination charge
500
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
14495
Price as tested
23440
Options as tested
ABS with traction control ($595); leather seating and trim ($1295); 6-way power driver's seat ($325); power sunroof ($725); Saturn advanced audio system ($255); rear spoiler ($250)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
L100 w/manual trans. ($14,495); L100 w/automatic ($15,355); L200 w/manual trans. ($16,750); L200 w/automatic ($17,610); L300 ($19,495); LW200 ($18,835); LW300 ($21,360)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front air bags; ABS and front and rear head-level air bags optional
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.0-liter V6
Transmissions
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
tilt steering wheel, intermittent wipers, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo with eight speakers and automatic tone control, 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, front and rear floor mats

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.0-liter V6
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
182 @ 5600
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
20/26
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
vented disc/solid disc with ABS
Suspension, front
Independent
Tires
P205/65R15
Suspension, rear
Independent

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
39.3/NA/42.3
Head/hip/leg room, rear
38.0/NA/34.4

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
17.5
Wheelbase
106.5
Length/width/height
190.4/69.0/56.4
Turning circle
36.6
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
1000
Track, front/rear
59.8/59.4
Ground clearance
5.7
Curb weight
3153


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