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The Ion replaces the Saturn S Series models for 2003.

2003 Saturn Ion Road Test
Dentproof body panels ideal for parking lot battles

By Bill Roebuck

The Saturn Ion, an all-new model for 2003, replaces the old S Series models. Novel features in the Ion include rustproof, dent-resistant vertical body panels; interior trim kits to change the colour of the instrument panel, shifter and heater control panel; and owner changeable roof rails that are color-coordinated with the interior trim kits.

A new engine lies under the hood -- GM's Ecotec 2.2 L, which produces 140 hp. It's both quiet and smooth-running, and has good fuel economy -- the second best in this group. Probably because the Ion is the only model in our test group not equipped with ABS brakes, it had the poorest braking performance, stopping over eight meters further than the Suzuki Aerio from 100 km/h.

On the road, I found the Ion's steering wheel to be uncomfortably small. The instrument panel design is quite modern, with the gauges mounted in the centre, above the radio. There is a large space between the driver and the windshield and it wasn't possible to see the front of the car from the driver's seat because of the height of the dashboard.

There's lots of cargo capacity in the Ion -- 416 L -- more than any other model in this class except for the PT Cruiser. However, the decklid hinges fold into the trunk, reducing its full load capacity.

The front seats are comfortable, and headroom is very good fore and aft, but the rear seats are limited in legroom. The rear seatback also is quite upright, making it somewhat uncomfortable for longer rides.

The Ion certainly has a leading edge design and several innovative features that should attract the attention of its target audience of youthful drivers.

* Price as tested: $21,650.

© Copyright Bill Roebuck, 2002.

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