San Francisco: The usual comment when most people see Saturn's new three-door coupe,
touted as a world's first is, "Why didn't they do that before?" The idea is
really an application of the third, and now the fourth doors, that have been available on
extended cab pickup trucks for a couple of years.
Like on pickups, the third
door is hinged at the rear so it swings open suicide-style to a nearly 90-degree angle
allowing easier access to the backseat. You do have to open the driver's side door to get
to the handle for the third door. Saturn says the new door does not decrease the vehicle's
Once open, it is easy to
load in bags of groceries, throw in a gym bag or strap in the grand- children's car seats.
And while it makes for easier passenger entrance and exit, it does not increase the rear
passenger seat accommodations. This is still a coupe, and the rear seat is best suited for
smallish passengers on short trips. The back seat is prefect for carrying
The set up is great for
drivers who use a wheelchair since there is no center post to interfere with access to the
rear seat. Like the rest of GM products, Saturn's Mobility Program reimburses owners for
the cost of aftermarket driver or passenger mobility equipment up to $1,000.
The 1999 Saturn coupe comes
in two versions, the base SC1 and the upscale SC2. Both feature the third door as standard
equipment. The SC1 has a 1.9-liter SOHC (single overhead camshaft) 4-cylinder engine that
is rated at 100 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and has 114 ft-lbs. of torque at 2,400 rpm. The
SC2 features the same basic 1.9-liter 4-cylinder engine, but with a DOHC (dual overhead
camshaft). This boosts output to 124 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 122 ft-lb. at 4,800 rpm.
Both engines are offered with a five-speed manual or a four-speed electronically
controlled automatic transmission.
The 1999 Saturns are
quieter than their predecessors, which were often faulted for their somewhat noisy
interiors. This comes from a quieter engine and exhaust system. Saturn has been working on
reducing noise, vibration and harshness for years, but finally accomplished this in 1999
While not exactly a sports
car, the Saturn SC2 with the five-speed I tested was fun to drive. The SC2 does come with
handling enhancements like quicker ratio, variable effort power steering and
performance-oriented tires. Ride quality is not comprised for good handling a tribute to
the all-independent suspension system and the relatively long 102.4-inch wheelbase. In
what might considered a step backwards, drum brakes have replaced disc brakes in the rear.
My test car had plenty of zip even at altitudes of 9500 feet when I took a trip into the
nearby mountains. However, I have heard reports that the SC1 with the automatic might be a
bit under powered, so drive before you buy.
Prices for the SC1 and SC2
start at $12,445 and $15,005, respectively. However, both of these are pretty bare-bones
vehicles. For example, an automatic costs an additional $860 and air conditioning on the
SC1 is a $695 option though it is standard on the SC2. Other items like power locks and
windows, cruise control and anti-lock braking which includes traction control are all
optional. Saturns are also available in four-door sedan (SL, SL1 and SL2) and four-door
station wagon (SW1 and SW2) forms.
The Saturn's interior while
not spectacular is very functional. Controls are convenient and easy to use. The trunk is
quite large and the lift-over is quite low. The rear seats fold down for more capacity,
but do not fold down completely flat.
While Saturns have a very
loyal following of owners, Saturn sales been sagging in the past few years. This is not
because it is not a good car with an excellent repair record, but because it has so many
great competitors. Innovations such as three-door plus Saturn's undentable and no-rust
body panels are good selling points, but what Saturn needs is a new car. That will come
with all-new year 2000 models that will include a larger L series alone with a redone S
series. By Bill Siuru © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Byline: By Bill Siuru © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name: World's First 3-Door Coupe
Topic: '99 Saturn SC Sport Coupe
Word Count: 700
Photo Caption: '99 Saturn SC
Photo Credits: Saturn PR
Series #: 1999 - 18