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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 Saturn Ion Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 Saturn Ion Overview

Keep Your Eye On This One

Saturn's Ion is the first new small sedan to emerge from the company since its inception. The Ion replaces the aging S Series, the vehicle that drew so many foreign-car converts back to the GM family in the mid 80s. To fill the S-Series' shoes is a tall order in and of itself, but to do so and still be competitive in the crowded subcompact market is putting every aspect of the Ion design to the test.

For their new sedan, Saturn has sculpted a truly different looking vehicle that won't easily be lost in the crowd. The Ion looks nothing like the car it replaces, which may come as a shock to returning S-Series buyers looking to replace their conservative little carriages. Not that the Ion won't appeal to them, it's just such a departure from the old car. The Ion is far more attractive than the S-Series, projecting a sharp, youthful look that should be equally appealing to older eyes as well. The Ion is much taller than the car it's replacing, giving the nod to six footers that they are now welcome in both the front and rear seats. As you look closer, you'll notice the familiar Saturn styling cues are still in place; the trademark Saturn swoop along the side door, the dent-resistant polymer side panels and the happy Saturn smile that adorns the front fascia.

There is more to the Ion than just new sheet metal. Under the hood resides a brand-new powerplant: The 2.2-liter Ecotec. We found a lot to like about this new engine, beginning with its strong performance. Rated at 140-horsepower, the Ecotec is one of the strongest standard engines in its class. Even when teamed to the optional 5-speed automatic transmission, you'll find plenty of low-end pulling power and more importantly, ample power for passing and merging. The Ecotec is also much quieter and smoother at idle than the old S-Series engine ever was. Fuel mileage is excellent, earning an EPA estimated city rating of 24-mpg city and 32-mpg highway.

On the open road, the Saturn runs as smoothly as a midsize sedan. There is little wind or road noise, thanks in part to the aerodynamic greenhouse and narrow tires. Like all Saturns, the Ion is driven by its front wheels. This setup has obvious advantages for a car like the Ion, giving it improved traction and maximizing interior volume. The Ion's engine is not powerful enough to create any meaningful torque steering and its handling is right on par with most other front drive cars. Saturn has replaced the traditional belt-driven power steering pump with a new electric unit. Because it works independently of the engine, there is one less belt and pulley to drain power from the engine. Other than a faint but distinct high-pitched whine, there is no noticeable difference in the performance of the new power steering assist.

Oddly, the most radical design feature of the Ion can be found inside the car. The Ion's interior is more than just a departure for Saturn; it's a major shift. It all begins with the instrument cluster, which has been moved from its traditional position directly in front of the driver to a new center-mounted perch. The pod is angled toward the driver and houses gauges for the tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temperature. With the instruments out of the way, Saturn was free to reduce the size of the steering wheel, which now has a much smaller diameter, making it easier to initiate quick turns without having to rely on the hand-over-hand technique. The Ion's seats are wide and very flat, which may not be to the liking of those accustomed to well-bolstered sport seats, but will probably agree with most Americans who are tired of being shoe-horned into too small a seat. Though you'll find the Ion's head, leg and trunk volume to be more than gracious, you may notice some interior details that don't seem up to Saturn standards. The plastics on the dash and center console seem rather thin and we found that some pieces were not securely held in place. You may also see a noticeable gap between the seat bottom and the center console that puts the seat track and its mechanism in clear view of the front passengers. These observations aside, we found many appealing aspects to the Ion's interior, such as its long list of standard and optional equipment.

The Ion is offered in three trims: Ion 1, Ion 2 and Ion 3. The base Ion comes standard with power front disc brakes, a 5-speed manual transmission, dual remote control mirrors, tilt steering wheel, fold flat rear seat and tachometer. The Ion 2 adds air conditioning, power door locks, rear window defroster and an AM/FM stereo with CD. The Ion 3 gives you the most for your money with all the features of the 1 and 2 plus an alarm system, fog lights, auto headlamp control, premium stereo with CD and cassette, cruise control, power windows and alloy wheels.

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