The cars we loved.
The Saturn SL1 and SL2 were the first models offered by this innovative division of GM. All Saturns featured space-frame construction with dent resistant plastic polymer panels. This made for light weight and better fuel economy. It did not hurt performance either. When the first SL sedans were rolled out of the Spring Hill, Tennessee plant in the Fall of 1990, there was nothing in GM’s line quite like them.
It’s been said that designers and engineers from GM’s other divisions were offered the chance to work at Saturn and many headed the call. At first glance it looks like former Oldsmobile designers were responsible for the look of the SL sedans. Although there may have been some resemblance to Oldsmobile, there were very few parts shared with other GM divisions.
All Saturn development was done in-house. This independence resulted in a car that was noticeably better engineered than GM’s other small cars: the Cavalier/Sunfire twins. On many levels, the SL seemed more on par with Colloras and Civics, cars that were no strangers to DOHC engines. To emphisise how different Saturn cars were from the rest of GM, it had an innovative marketing campaign centered around it’s no haggle pricing policy and simplistic service arrangements.
The cars themselves stood out amongst domestic small cars. The SL1 featured a SOHC 1.9l in-line 4 with 85 (and later 100hp). The up-level SL2’s DOHC 1.9 l produced 124hp. It was further distinguished from the SL1 by the addition of body coloured bumpers and 15 in alloy wheels. Both cars were offered with a 5 speed manual or 4 speed automatic transmission. The performance was considered good for it’s class with 0 to 60 times in the upper 8 second range for the SL2, all while delivering close to 35 mpg on the highway. Mechanically similar coupe versions were offered called SC1/SC2 with the same engine/transmission options.
Sales were good and continued into it’s second generation in 1996. Currently the well engineered buy uninspiring Opel sourced Astra fills the entry level gap in Saturn’s line.