My friend Evangelo Gerontinos asked me to check out a car for him.
He's a widower, a retired senior, and doesn't want to get involved with those big SUVs. He wants a nice, medium-sized family car to tool around and occasionally take along a friend.
After checking out several cars, he liked the warm-blanket marketing policy Saturn employs with its no haggling over the sticker price. What you see is what you get.
The 2000 line of Saturn cars have been out for more than nine months and one model, the LS series, is an excellent medium-sized car. It's competition is the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and the Volkswagen Passat wagon.
The car I took out for a drive was the LS2 with a manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) of $20,135. I asked the sales manager what was unusual about the Saturn and he said the polymer doors and front fender panels are made of plastic and he took his hand and hit the door panel hard.
"Any other car would leave a dent in the door. You can't ding these doors," he said. "They don't rust or corrode either, and you can keep them neat-looking."
The quarter panels are still made from steel to preserve the platform's integrity. The exterior design's clean conservatism is also reflected inside. The only negative thought I had was the phony wood they use on the dash and the console. It's another form of plastic veneer, but a person could live with it over time.
Comparing the Saturn to the Accord and the Camry, the Saturn is a little longer than either, but not quite as wide. The weight is about the same, but the Saturn is 100 pounds lighter.
The Honda and the Camry offer more rear-seat leg room than the Saturn, and I would think rear-seat space is more important than trunk volume in a family car.
The L-series uses a small, four-cylinder engine in the cheap models and a 3 liter V-6 in the larger models. The 182-horsepower six is a tone-downed version of the 200 horse engine used in the Cadillac Catera.
I drove the car on El Camino Real in Mountain View, and anyone who has traveled that route recently can vouch for the rugged road bed and the durability of any car that travels over it.
Taking the LS2 for a spin is fun. It has extremely responsive steering, good cornering and the car's strong structure provides a solid feel and a quiet cabin. Acceleration was a bit weak, though, and I question the acceleration available with four adults in the car.
Crash avoidance features on the LS series include available anti-lock brakes with full function traction control. The brakes are discs in front and drums in the rear in the basic cars, and disc/disc in the LS2 models. For a car with the safety features Saturn claims, the brakes are not the latest style. However, there seems to be enough of a brake to meet any crisis the mild horsepower can get into.
A glance at the pricing of the Saturn is easier on the pocketbook than some of its foreign competitors. The base sedan, the four-cylinder LS model, starts, at $15,010. The upscale V-6 powered LS2 is priced at $20,135. The LS2 I drove was listed at $23,860 and included dealer accessories that bring up the price.
All the models boost good EPA mileage ratings. The four-cylinder gets 24 miles per gallon city and 32 highway with the manual transmission, and 23 and 32 with the automatic. Listed on the window of the LS2 I drove was 20 city and 26 highway
The Saturn is a friendly car that is simple and safe with a low-purchase cost. I didn't get the driving jollies I experience with some cars, but that's not the car's problem, it's the problem of this reviewer. There is still nothing distinctive that would urge me to own a Saturn, but for my friend, I suggested he go drive it on El Camino Real and find out how friendly it really is.