Plastic, but not fantastic, Saturn's big wagon leaves a lot to be desired.
Saturn's recent television ad for the L-seriesthe one with all the people driving cardboard boxes casting longing stares at the beaming couple in the Saturnwas achingly short-sighted. As a colleague put it: "If you've been driving a cardboard box, the L-series is a step up. Otherwise, well..." Seems unlikely that anyone in a Volkswagen Passat or a Subaru Legacy is mooning over the big wagon from Saturn. It's easily the blandest, crudest, clumsiest car in its class (apart from the geriatric Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable)despite last year's moderately successful front-end restyle and extensive NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) work.
Our car's sticker price was a fairly staggering $27,980, a sum boosted by the $4280 DVD Entertainment Package, which, in addition to a rear-seat entertainment system with a fold-down display and wireless headphones, includes a premium audio system with six-disc in-dash CD changer, OnStar, leather seats (heated in the front and power adjustable on the driver's side), and chrome wheels. Anti-lock brakes with traction control will cost you another $400. XM Satellite Radio, now available on even the lowly Chevy Cavalier, is conspicuous in its absence from the L-series' options list. Otherwise, however, our car left little to be desired, feature-wise. Otherwise-wise, however, we desired a lot.
The interior plastics are, by and large, of the hard-and-shiny variety: Although hardly GM's crappiest effort, they are laughably out of the league of those in the Honda Accord or the Passat. Even Chevrolet's new, 2004 Malibu offers a far more appealing passenger environment than the Saturn. The ergonomics are okay, but we walked away from the car seething over seemingly minor bungles, like uncomfortably short seat bottoms and the befuddling placement of the rear-seat entertainment system's DVD player (on the armrest between the front seats). There is nothing about the interior of the LW300even our loaded-to-the-gills examplethat tells the world you spent close to 30,000 of your hard-earned dollars.
The cabin of our LW300 seemed notably quieter than the last L-series car we tested, but, although high-frequency road and wind noise have been subdued, low-frequency boom is still problematic. Highway ride is pleasant and stable, but the car lacks the around-town poise of its rivals. The LW300's 182-horsepower 3.0-liter DOHC V-6 and standard four-speed automatic gearbox make an utterly unremarkable match. The six hugely outgunned by the Accord's 240-horsepower sweetheart, and it's not much juicier than Volkswagen's 1.8-liter turbo four or Subaru's 2.5-liter flat four. (Saturn does offer a 140-horsepower 2.2-liter four in the L-series wagon, if you're really in no hurry to get home.)
In the end, while we're all for Saturn's earnest portrayal of the L-series as the car of choice for young, patriotic, "outside the box" thinkers, the painful truth is that there are smarter choices around every corner. We haven't been driving cardboard boxes, and we suspect you haven't, either.