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2006 Saturn ION Red Line review

November 18, 2005 06:28 PM EST | Coupes , Saturn | Email to Friend | Comments (0)

View large imageA solid all-around performer, the Ion Red Line's fun-loving personality and affordability make the interior's abundance of hard plastic a forgivable sin.

Pros
Sharp handling, lots of performance for the price, supportive Recaro front seats, customer-focused dealers.

Cons
Too much hard plastic interior trim, tight rear legroom, awkward center-mounted gauges.

What's New for 2006
A new Red Line Competition Package includes a limited-slip front differential, painted alloy wheels and a boost gauge. OnStar is now standard.

Introduction:
Everyone wants in on the emerging "tuner" market. You may think you don't know what a tuner car is, but actually you do. Every time you see a lowered Honda Civic or Mitsubishi Eclipse with huge wheels and a coffee can-sized exhaust pipe, you're seeing what the industry now calls a "tuner" car. For years, younger auto enthusiasts have been on the cutting edge of what's new in the car world. Current features such as aftermarket-looking alloy wheels and body-colored bumpers and mirrors clearly got their start on lowered pickups and Civics. Like the generation that preceded them, today's trends are being fashioned in Mom and Dad's garage and after-hours trips to the local body shop. But there are a few differences between today's street rods and those of yesteryear. The most obvious difference is the cars themselves; previous generations spent their time slaving over a worked V8 that most likely came in a car double the size of a Civic. The second and more important difference lies in the fact that new carmakers are courting and copying today's street designers and marketing the results to more mainstream buyers. Think of Honda's Civic Si, Nissan's Sentra SE-R and Subaru's WRX, along with the various iterations of the Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Saturn is in a good position for import and tuner market infiltration, and the Ion quad coupe already enjoys a bit of a following among young import enthusiasts. Enter the Red Line series. Covering two models, the Ion and the Vue, the Red Line models are performance versions of otherwise normal cars -- the same formula used by its various competitors. Take an unassuming economy car, add more horsepower, bigger wheels and tires, a lowered suspension and sport seats, and you've created an instant hot rod on a budget. Rejecting the all-too-common strategy of slapping on a body kit or appearance package, Saturn has assured that the Ion Red Line is serious about performance. Witness the supercharger (which increases output to 205 horsepower), the Getrag five-speed manual transmission, the high-flow exhaust, the four-wheel antilock disc brakes and the 17-inch wheels wrapped in 215/45R17 performance tires. For 2006, you can also get a limited-slip front differential, which helps standing start acceleration and power delivery when cornering.

The interior features leather/cloth Recaro sport seats that really do provide all the support and comfort that their racy design promises. Unique front and rear fascias and a variety of rear spoiler options further distinguish the Red Line from the ordinary Ion quad coupe. If you're shopping for a high-performance coupe for around $20,000, the Ion Red Line is worth considering.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
A performance version of the Ion, the Red Line is offered in quad coupe form in a single trim level. Standard features include 17-inch forged alloy wheels with 45-series performance tires, a lowered track-tuned suspension, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, air conditioning, leather and cloth Recaro seats, an MP3-compatible CD player, OnStar and power door locks and windows. All Red Lines have black interiors. Buyers can choose from a variety of rear spoiler options. The optional Red Line Competition Package includes a limited-slip differential, painted alloy wheels and a boost gauge. Other options include a sunroof, an upgraded audio system and satellite radio.

Powertrains and Performance:
Under the hood is a supercharged and intercooled 2.0-liter version of GM's inline four-cylinder engine. Output is rated at 205 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. A heavy-duty Getrag five-speed manual transmission with a short-throw shifter is standard; an automatic is not available. Expect a 0-to-60 time of about 6.7 seconds. The Red Line's suspension, which is 10mm lower than the setup on the standard Ion, incorporates firmer spring and bushing rates, and larger stabilizer bars and rear shocks. Additionally, the electric power steering has been reprogrammed to provide increased driver feedback and better feel.

Safety:
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard on the Ion Red Line. On the options list, you'll find head curtains for front and rear outboard occupants. In government crash testing, the Ion earned a perfect five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts. In side-impact testing, an Ion coupe without head curtain airbags earned four stars front and rear. In IIHS testing, the Ion earned an "Acceptable" rating (second-highest) for frontal-offset crash safety and a "Poor" rating for side-impact protection, even with the optional airbags.

Interior Design and Special Features:
The Red Line retains the standard Ion's center-mounted instrument pod but gains a sportier cockpit ensemble with a black color scheme, a unique shift knob and bolstered Recaro seats, with all the support and comfort that their racy design promises. Additionally, the steering wheel has thick grip that feels just right in your hands. As in other Ions, though, the quality of the interior plastics is below average. Saturn's performance coupe has two additional rear-access doors (RADs) that make it easier to get people and cargo in and out of the backseat. However, as in most coupes, rear legroom is tight.

Driving Impressions:
While the standard Ion offers little to get excited about, the Red Line presents a high level of performance for the price. With 205 horsepower and plenty of torque, this coupe is able to run with just about anything in its price range. The performance-tuned suspension delivers a comfortable ride, while also providing excellent dynamic ability during more spirited driving. The steering, in particular, is impressive in its just-right firmness and solid feel at speed. Strong and easily modulated brakes are capable of stopping the coupe in 121 feet.

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