Beefed up Saturn Ion delivers more performance


June 18, 2004|by KEN CHESTER, JR./Motor News Media Corporation

One year after the debut of the all-new Saturn ION quad coupe, the "different" automaker turns up the heat with a new performance-tuned series based on the current vehicle lineup. Vehicles marketed under the Red Line designation will be marked by some combination of increased horsepower, performance-tuned suspension and styling cues.

A specially modified Ion quad coupe is one of two Red Line vehicles introduced into the Saturn lineup for 2004. Based on GM's global Delta platform, the Ion Red Line quad coupe is built at Saturn's home plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. With assistance from the GM Performance Division, Saturn engineers are quick to point out that the Red Line coupe is much more than merely a quicker, more-precise Ion model, but a coupe that delivers superior all-around performance with a feel that is all its own.

An "exploded" diagram of the Saturn Ion Red Line quad coupe found in the retail brochure quickly shows just how much has changed. External changes include new facias, spoiler and rocker panels. Many drivetrain components were changed, upgraded or modified for the new coupe. Suspension and braking hardware were modified to handle the higher demands and inputs of the aggressive driver. Revised pedals, short-throw shifter and larger tires are a small sample of the changes.


The Ion Red Line quad coupe is propelled by a supercharged version of GM's Ecotec 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Torque is communicated to the road quickly through a wonderfully precise Getrag close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox. Equal length half-shafts effectively eliminate the torque steer that often is a result of more power delivered through a front-drive configuration.

On the road, the modern supercharged Ecotec engine is quick off the mark, strong and manageable. Highway cruising speed is the engine's sweet spot! Folks, this coupe delivers honest-to-goodness performance. Comfortable, smooth and sophisticated, the Saturn Ion Red Line upgrades and enhancements add to the inherent goodness already in the car's DNA. The platform is low and wide - resulting in flat cornering at speed with no body roll.

The Delta architecture serves as a solid foundation for the suspension hardware. The Red Line setup is a beefed-up version of the existing configuration. Spring rates and damping have been increased to inspire confidence at speed in the twisties. A new rear axle supports large disc brakes (as opposed to drum brakes in the regular Ion coupe).

Inside, the passenger cabin is large and airy - with an instrument cluster positioned in the center of the dashboard as opposed to directly in front of the driver. According to the folks at Saturn, this styling cue is designed to actually enhance the driving experience by helping keep the eyes (of the driver, anyway) closer to the horizon. This also allows the driver to comfortably position the steering wheel, without the need to adjust it to read the instrument gauges.

Another benefit of the center-cluster design is to give the sedan a unique, smaller diameter steering wheel that enhances the sporty, fun-to-drive feel. Recaro seats fit snugly like a glove to keep driver and front passenger in place during spirited driving. Saturn has responded admirably to early complaints about the quality of materials and fabrics used in the interior.

To nitpick just a bit - the inability to adjust the height of the front of the driver's seat cushion will tend to cut off the circulation of shorter drivers. It is tipped a bit too high. The current manual seat height adjustment does not address that problem.

Rear-seat passengers enjoy ample room. Wide-opening access doors facilitate easy entry and exit. The 60/40 split rear seat is operated from release levers located in the trunk.


Wheelbase: 103.5; overall length: 185.0; width 67.9: height: 55.8 - measurements in inches.

Engine: 2.0-liter Ecotec supercharged/intercooled DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder - 205 hp at 5,600 rpm and 200 lbs/ft of torque at 4,400 rpm.

Transmission: Getrag F25 five-speed manual.

EPA fuel economy: 23 city/29 highway using premium unleaded gasoline.

Cargo capacity: 14.2 cubic feet.


Dual front air bags, engine immobilizer, side-impact protection, remote keyless entry, four-wheel disc brakes, automatic power door locks and daytime running lamps. Optional safety equipment includes head curtain side air bags.


Basic: 3 year/36,000 miles, bumper-to-bumper

Roadside assistance: 3 year/36,000 miles, 24-hour


The base Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the 2004 Saturn Ion Red Line quad coupe starts at $20,385 with destination charges adding $565.


2004 Saturn Ion Red Line quad coupe

Exterior color: Silver Nickel

Interior color: Black

Tire brand: Dunlop SP Sport 9000

Tire size: P215/45ZR17

Base price: $20,385

Destination charge: $565

Floor mats front/rear: $80

Total as tested: $21,030

Copyright 2004, Motor News Media Corporation

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