Review: 2005 Saturn L300
Low price, easy to handle dealers, standard V6, standard side and head curtain airbags.
Build quality not up to segment standards, less power than the competition, soft handling around corners.
The L-Series was introduced in 2000 as the second model in Saturn's fledgling lineup, and indeed, it was a long wait: The S-Series had already been on sale for almost 10 years. Now, however, the car is the eldest member of Saturn's stable, which also includes the Ion, an economy sedan and coupe, and the Vue, a small SUV. Last year the L-Series name was dropped in favor of the name L300, which previously designated only top-rung V6 models. As in the past, though, Saturn still offered both four- and six-cylinder versions. For 2005, the four-cylinder has been dropped, along with the wagon and all lower-line trim levels. Sized to compete in the midsize category alongside the Accords and Camrys of the world, the L300 stakes its claim by offering a budget price and Saturn's reputation for no-hassle customer service. Annual sales peaked at just under 100,000 in 2001, but the L300 has never really enjoyed the success that Saturn had hoped for. Nondescript styling and poor build and materials quality are the most often cited factors in its inability to challenge the class leaders. In an effort to prop up the car's image, Saturn gave it a midcycle facelift both inside and out in 2003. For 2004, Saturn equipped the car with a longer list of standard equipment, including head curtain airbags, antilock brakes and a six-speaker stereo with a CD player, in an effort to make the car more attractive to bargain-hunting buyers. For its final production year, Saturn has equipped the L300 with nearly all of its past options as standard equipment. While a low out-the-door price and a low-pressure dealer experience are indeed compelling reasons to consider the Saturn, in our view, they're not enough to overcome the L300's sizable weaknesses in the face of import competition, the biggest of these being its consistently substandard fit and finish.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The L300 is available as a sedan only, and in one well-equipped trim level. All L300s come equipped with air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, mirrors and door locks; remote keyless entry; a 60/40-split-folding rear seat; and foglights. A premium audio system with a cassette and CD player is also standard. A six-way power driver seat and 16-inch chrome alloy wheels are no-cost options. The only other option available is a power sunroof.
Powertrains and Performance:
The L300 comes standard with a 3.0-liter V6 engine that produces 182 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission is also standard. EPA fuel economy estimates are a respectable 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
Antilock brakes are standard, with discs all around. Traction control is standard, but stability control is not offered. A head curtain airbag system that protects both front and rear passengers is standard, along with front side-impact airbags. In government crash testing, the L300 earned four stars (out of five) for driver protection in frontal impacts and five stars for the front passenger. For side impacts, an L300 received three stars for front-occupant protection and five stars for the rear. The IIHS rated the Saturn "Acceptable" (the second highest) in frontal offset crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features:
Inside, the L300 features a spacious interior with logical, easy-to-use controls. The seats offer little in the way of side bolstering but they are relatively comfortable. Sedans offer 17.5 cubic feet of trunk space, which is about 3.5 cubic feet more than you'll find in an Accord.
The L300's automatic transmission provides quick, responsive shifts. Combined with the healthy V6, the L300 is quick on its feet, with plenty of power for merging and passing, but don't expect the same level of acceleration provided by its competitors. Saturn wanted the L300 to provide a balance between a smooth ride and European handling. Ultimately, though, this car is biased toward comfort. Undemanding buyers will find the driving experience acceptable, but those who like to drive will wish for a sportier setup.
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