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'99 Saturn SC 3-Door Coupe

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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 original crash-worthiness.

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 grandchildren.

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 models.

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

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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

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