The Saturn ION is all new for 2003 and has one of the biggest and most powerful engines in its class; nonetheless, its performance is extremely disappointing. The engine size does not translate to good track numbers, reaching 60 mph in a disappointing 9.9 to 10.2 seconds. The exterior design is uninspired at best and jarring in places, and the interior design doesn't get better. The front seats are extremely uncomfortable, particularly with its lack of lumbar support. Unfortunately, in spite of a few good features, the new ION is not shaping up to be a worthy addition to Saturn’s line up.
Body Styles: four-door sedan
Engines: 2.2-liter four-cylinder
Transmissions: five-speed manual transmission, five speed automatic
Models: Saturn ION 1, Saturn ION 2, Saturn ION 3
The 2003 Saturn ION is brand new for this year. Compared to the car it replaces, the S-Class, the ION has a much bigger engine and other unusual options including the OnStar system.
The 2003 Saturn ION gets uninspired styling, while the front fender comes to a point that is disconcerting. The trim comes in different colors but regardless it looks tacked on and does not meld well with the rest of the design. The trunk hinges are enormous, a design flaw that actually harms performance. The car does have some unusual features for its class like speed sensitive wipers.
The 2003 Saturn ION 1 has a front center console with storage and two cup holders. It has an adjustable steering column and a center mounted gauge cluster that can be seen no matter what position the steering wheel is in, even though it can still be distracting. The vehicle has reclining cloth front bucket seats that are nonetheless very uncomfortable. It has two power outlets and a lit cargo area with a stereo that is AM/FM only. The 2 adds power door locks with an anti-lockout feature. It has adjustable seat height for the front seats, but that does not make them more comfortable. The 2 model adds a CD player to the stereo system, while the 3 adds cruise control and power windows. Its stereo has a CD and cassette player. All models are fair in terms of general comfort, but the front seats are downright uncomfortable as it has no lumbar support. The steering wheel is too close to the door handles for comfort, and there is far too much plastic trim inside. Other elements are adequate but not outstanding.
Performance & Handling
The 2003 Saturn ION is equipped with a 2.2-liter DOHC SFI 16-valve I4-ecotec engine. In addition, it has a five-speed automatic or manual transmission, meaning one more gear than most. It puts out impressive numbers with peak output of 140 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. Despite the larger engine, it does not perform well, accelerating zero to 80 mph in a disappointing 17.9 seconds. It has front and rear independent suspensions and anti-roll bars resulting in a suspension that is adequate but not stellar. Large potholes can cause a major shock, but more disturbingly, the lack of insulation allows each bump to be heard even if it isn’t felt, giving the car a less than solid feeling.
The 2003 Saturn ION provide two types of transmission available, a five-speed manual and a five-speed automatic with CVT or continuously variable automatic transmission. The manual transmission generally performs adequately, but the Saturn gear labeling can be confusing. The automatic transmission uses a new technology called Continuously Variable Automatic Transmission (CVT). This technology is designed to improve the smoothness of shifting, which it seems to do, but it also results in diminished performance. Particularly problematic, the car shifts out of most gears at 6000 rpms, and there is no way to override this. Some models have a variable electric power steering that often provides too much assist, which seriously mars the handling.
The 2003 Saturn ION puts safety as a priority with dual stage airbags that adjust depending upon the severity of the crash. The seat belts are advanced with load limiters and pre-tensioners. Braking distance is impressive at 183 feet from 70 mph, and the optional OnStar system adds to the overall safety.
EPA Fuel Economy
Saturn ION: 22/30 mpg city/highway
- Engine size
- Unusual features
You Won't Like
- Exterior styling
- Power and handling
Just plain disappointing.
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