station wagons weren't quite dead at the beginning of the 1990s, but the future certainly looked bleak. After spending the previous 6 years watching their chief market eroded by the advent of minivans, it had become clear that a fundamental shift in family transportation was well under way. Domestic manufacturers were still plying their full-size wagons based on large sedan platforms, but these too were beginning to disappear as vans continued to pile on features, fuel mileage benefits and greater passenger and cargo room.
Saturn debuted their first line of cars at the beginning of the decade, and included in the mix was a compact wagon named the SW. Aimed at families who didn't need the reams of space provided by a minivan but who still wanted a larger cargo area than a typical small car could provide, the SW (or S-Series wagon) packed a tiny but economical 4-cylinder motor and used polymer side panels that resisted denting and corrosion. A Saturn trademark, this unusual construction would come to embody in the minds of consumers Saturn's unique way of doing things as compared to other domestic manufacturers.
The S-Series wagon would form the backbone of Saturn's people mover strategy until just past the turn of the millennium, when it was superceded by the larger L-Series wagon. The LW was sold alongside the SW for 2 years, but eventually stood on its own as the only wagon available from the company. With more power and greater hauling capacity than the original Saturn family transporter, the LW offered good utility and was a fixture of the automaker's lineup for 5 years. It would be the final wagon ever produced by the company, which like so many other brands would turn its attention towards building vans and SUV's instead.
Despite no longer being a part of the current Saturn lineup, each of these wagons has a lot to offer families interested in an inexpensive vehicle that can handle the rigors of transporting sports equipment, camping gear and large loads of groceries and supplies. Their automobile platforms ensure that ride quality will not suffer from the same stiffness and harshness that is a frequent feature of full-size SUV suspensions, and their light weights help to contribute to excellent fuel economy and better than average handling. These smaller wagons are also easy to park, which makes them a true boon when attempting to navigate the narrow, busy streets of many modern cities.
This article takes a look at the 2 best used wagons available from Saturn, the S-Series and the L-Series, and discusses their features and specifications in order to help potential buyers decide whether a Saturn wagon is right for them.
1998 - 2001 Saturn S-Series Wagon
The 1998 - 2001 Saturn S-Series is a compact station wagon that manages to capture the standard Saturn styling cues while grafting on an extended roofline that still looks graceful and well-intentioned when parked beside the S-Series sedan of the same year. The vehicle received an update in 2000 which rounded out the front end and streamlined the automobile's sheet metal and greenhouse, creating an appearance that is slightly sportier than more upright compact wagons like the Ford Escort.
There are two different editions of the Saturn S-Series wagon, known as the SW1 and the SW2. Each uses a 1.9-liter, 4-cylinder engine, but the SW1 is limited to a single camshaft that keeps production down to 100 horsepower. The SW2 sees a dual overhead camshaft design that increases engine output to 124 horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque, making it the stronger performer and much more responsive to throttle inputs. Both vehicles offer excellent fuel economy, with the SW2 turning in 27 miles per gallon in stop and go traffic and a superb 38 miles per gallon in highway driving. A 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission are on hand to take care of the gear shifting duties.
With the rear seats folded down, the 1998 - 2001 Saturn S-Series wagon is capable of swallow 60 cubic feet of cargo, which is enough to rival some compact SUV's. Later models of the wagon feel as though greater attention has been paid to the small details that are so important when assembling a vehicle's interior: fit and finish between pieces, the elimination of squeaks, and the used of quality materials throughout the cabin. The SW is basic transportation but it isn't completely barren when it comes to the passenger compartment, and drivers and passengers should have little to complain about in terms of overall functionality.
The 1998 - 2001 Saturn S-Series is a capable used wagon whose excellent fuel mileage places it near the front of the compact segment.
2000 - 2004 Saturn L-Series Wagon
With its vaguely Saab-like forward styling and a longer wheelbase that suggests greater power and interior room, the 2000 - 2004 Saturn L-Series wagon is a clear step up from the entry-level S-Series. The L-Series was one of the first Saturns to benefit from designs cribbed from General Motor's European Opel division, and as such the vehicle uses a platform that is closely related to the rigid chassis of the Opel Vectra.
The Saturn L-Series is not only larger than the wagon which came before it, but it also manages to offer much more power. Base models, dubbed the LW200 are provided with a 2.2-liter, 4-cylinder engine that puts out 135 horsepower and 142 lb-ft of torque. Opting for the LW200 trim substitutes a 182 horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 engine that also pounds out 190 lb-ft of torque. This is a far cry from Saturns of old and really helps the L-Series (or LW) wagon feel more confident in merging and passing. Fuel economy is still acceptable, with the larger engine seeing 21 miles per gallon around town and 29 miles per gallon at highway speeds. A 4-speed automatic transmission can be paired with either engine, while the 4-cylinder gets the additional option of a 5-speed manual.
The passenger compartment of the 2000 - 2004 Saturn L-Series wagon follows the standard Saturn edict of form over function, but it is not an unpleasant place to spend an full day of driving. Controls are intuitive and placed within easy reach, and the entire layout draws its strength through simplicity. The mid-size trumps the smaller SW wagon in terms of cargo space, throwing in almost 20 additional cubic feet with the rear seats out of the picture. Seating is comfortable and head and legroom are adequate at each position.
The 2000 - 2004 Saturn L-Series offers excellent utility combined with available V-6 power to make it a viable mid-size used wagon choice for buyers on a budget.