Are Saturn cars any good?
August 3, 2005 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I want to buy a used station wagon in Los Angeles, California. I'm a Japanese car guy through and through but I can't seem to find anything that's not too old. There are a few Saturns, though. I heard they're alright. Are Saturn cars actually any good?

I'm going to take a look at a 2000 Saturn LW1 wagon (automatic). Anyone have any experience with this car? Are Saturns good at all? Seriously, buying a non-Japanese car scares the hell out of me. Am I doing the wrong thing here? Is this car going to explode into a million pieces at 100,000 miles? Feel free to recommend alternatives, as well. I'm definitely going for a station wagon.
posted by redteam to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (33 answers total)
I have a 2004 Saturn Ion and I love it. Most Saturn owners love their cars and are repeat buyers.
posted by chicken nuglet at 11:12 AM on August 3, 2005

Subaru's made wagon versions of the Impreza and Legacy (some are labeled as "Outback") pretty much continually, while other makers have stopped and started in recent years. There are wagon versions of the Accord and Camry, but they are quite rare. The Toyota Matrix is pretty wagon-y, and you should be able to find one used.

No real comment or idea on the Saturn thing. All I've ever really heard is that they're supposed to be better than the rest of the GM line.
posted by zsazsa at 11:14 AM on August 3, 2005

Every Saturn I've been in was garbage. Slow, poor-handling, lousy interior, etc. I would recommend that you look at a Subaru, or even an older (they stopped making them in '97) Honda Accord wagon. A '97 Subaru Impreza L wagon goes for not much more than the '00 Saturn. ( gives about $8.5-9k for my area. An Outback wagon would be a little more expensive as well as roomier. On preview, I'm with zsazsa. I love Subaru.
posted by wzcx at 11:17 AM on August 3, 2005

I bought my 1998 Saturn wagon new and I still have it and love it - 130,000 miles worth. So far in these 7 years it has needed ONE major repair: a new clutch this spring. Other than that it has never broken down & never needed anything but routine maintenance. And, I drove 1100 miles in it last month for about $45 worth of gas. So yes, I love my Saturn.

However, the new Saturn magazine I got in the mail yesterday was seriously lame. Ah well. Also they don't make wagons anymore and I find that disappointing. But if you can find an older wagon, jump on it.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:18 AM on August 3, 2005

Saturns generally get average-to-worse-but-not-awful reliability ratings in Consumer Reports. From memory, anyhow, I don't have that in front of me, but you can go to your friendly neighborhood bookstore or library and read it yourself.

Personally, I would ignore positive or negative anecdotes or personal stories about reliability, since they're just that: anecdotes. Find the data, the hard aggregate numbers, and trust that.

The Matrix (and Pontiac Vibe, same car) is basically a Corolla wagon.

A lot of what had been wagon versions of cars have been morphed into, in theory at least, small SUVs, though really they're basically wagons that are raised up a little bit and had their bodies styled a bit more like a truck. These include the Honda CR-V, which I *think* is based off the Accord but don't quote me on it, and the Toyota RAV-4, and the Subaru Forester. Of the 3, the Subie seems the most like a plain-old wagon that's been jacked up by miscreants.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:26 AM on August 3, 2005

My 2-door Saturn (not a wagon) handles beautifully. I bought it used in 2001 (it's a '97) and have not had a lick of trouble with it.
posted by scratch at 11:26 AM on August 3, 2005

Also either the Hyundai Tucson or Santa Fe is basically an Elantra wagon.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:27 AM on August 3, 2005

What's wrong with the Honda Accord wagon?
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:33 AM on August 3, 2005

Also either the Hyundai Tucson or Santa Fe is basically an Elantra wagon.

It's the Tucson. They also have a 5-door (hatchback) version of the Elantra which isn't quite a wagon but is darn close.
posted by kindall at 11:49 AM on August 3, 2005

For what it's worth, the car guys claimed in their worksheet about the cost of owning a car that a 3 year old car was the best value out of a new, 3yr and 7yr old car purchase.
posted by phearlez at 11:50 AM on August 3, 2005

Test drove some Saturns about 3 years ago. My opinion: crappy interior, VERY road noisy, cramped and uncomfortable. Wife hated the handling.

The Honda CR-V is basically a Civic hatchback made comfortable to sit in, with a simple 4WD mechanism tacked on.
posted by majick at 11:51 AM on August 3, 2005

Response by poster: Smart Dalek - for one, I don't want to own a 10 year old car.

Another thing is that I'd be willing to make an exception for that Honda wagon, if I could only find one. It's such a good car that no one wants to sell theirs. I've been looking for weeks and haven't found one that I wanted. People really, really hang on to those.
posted by redteam at 11:59 AM on August 3, 2005

A fellow Japanese car enthusiast here, I think Saturns are pretty crappy cars. There isn't a lot of build quality there. You will definitely miss the attention to detail and reliability that comes with even the cheapest Japanese car.
posted by knave at 12:04 PM on August 3, 2005

Just talked with a Saturn owner on Sunday. When I asked him how he liked it I got a 5 minute stream of Nixonian expletive deleteds.

Stick with the Japanese makes. From my experience, Saturns are more marketing on the same old Detroit product.

I drive a Lexus RX 330 and an nuts about it and the service, but I had to go through years of minivans first!
posted by cptnrandy at 12:12 PM on August 3, 2005

people seem to either love saturns or hate them. you could try test-driving one of them to see if you have an immediate reaction in either direction.
posted by clarahamster at 12:20 PM on August 3, 2005

To offer a datapoint, my 96 Saturn has held together pretty well for 125k miles. It's only needed two repairs over $300 (although one of them, replacing the head gasket, was a pretty big deal). It's actually shown better longevity than a bunch of Japanese cars that friends of mine have owned, but rust-resistant plastic siding has been a big factor in that.
posted by COBRA! at 12:29 PM on August 3, 2005

'98 Saturn with over 100k miles on it. Never had a problem with it, and the plastic body panels are a godsend in the salt-laden roads of the northeast (it won't stop the car from rusting out underneath you like every other one does up here, but it WILL look nice as it does so).

We bought it used, and we love it - the first thing we did after we bought it (and this was stupid) was drive it from Seattle to Boston in three days. Two complaints: no arm rests, and no cruise control option since it was used.

Be very, very careful when you do your research - Saturns have very hit or miss years, really. I spent about four days researching all kinds of two-door coupes and I learned in the process that the 95, 97, and 99 versions of our Saturn were awful in terms of reliability, but the 96 and 98 were wonderful. Other people I've talked to have indicated that Saturns will either fall apart on you, or hold up forever. YMMV, but I love 'em and I'll be going back for seconds.
posted by Ryvar at 12:40 PM on August 3, 2005

I drove a 94 saturn manual transmission for a few years, and I really think their clutch is awful. I could just feel it getting stiffer and harder to shift over the short while I drove it. Now it is still running but is a bear to drive.

Maybe all those people who love Saturn drive automatic?
posted by intoxicate at 12:42 PM on August 3, 2005

The Honda CR-V is basically a Civic hatchback made comfortable to sit in, with a simple 4WD mechanism tacked on.

You can get front-wheel-drive CR-V's. They get marginally better mileage than the 4WD ones.

If what you want is a Honda wagon, I'd look hard at CR-Vs and be willing to live with the minor embarrassment of being in something SUV-ish.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:45 PM on August 3, 2005

If you can't find the wagon you want, you might consider a Honda minivan. They're nice, safe, efficient, run forever and very common.

I just lost my beloved Accord wagon in an accident. They are very hard to find. Japan apparently quit making wagons in the US for several years because they didn't see a market. That's changing now, I think.

I am sold on Japansese cars, too. That Honda saved my ass in the accident. That's why I bought another Honda the next day.
posted by wsg at 12:46 PM on August 3, 2005

Curvball here:

What about a Volvo? They're kind of known for their Wagons.
posted by delmoi at 1:18 PM on August 3, 2005

Also, the Subaru Outback is a real "wagon" as opposed to an SUV like the forester.
posted by delmoi at 1:18 PM on August 3, 2005

Mazda 6, it's Japanese and close to the Saturn in size and not far off in price.

(My farsi father likes to call mine a Mazd'a after the Zoroastrian god)
posted by Pollomacho at 1:30 PM on August 3, 2005

Pollomacho, man, I totally forgot about the Mazda6. The wagon's pretty new, so it may be slim pickings on used models. Good suggestion, though (I'm partial to Mazda, I own a 3). (Aside: actually, Mazda is supposedly named after the god.)
posted by zsazsa at 1:57 PM on August 3, 2005

Volvo wagons and the Mazda6 get average to kinda-bad reliability ratings.

If you want a plain wagon from Subaru, you want a Legacy. The Outback is a Legacy that's raised up and comes standard with Legacy options, and costs more.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:19 PM on August 3, 2005

Maybe all those people who love Saturn drive automatic?

Yes, mine is automatic, but BE CAREFUL when buying Saturns with automatic transmission - as I noted above, Saturns vary each year, and while '98 was a good year for their automatic transmissions, '97 (if memory serves) was a very, very bad one.

Do a little research - they're great cars, don't rust, etc., but you need to check consumer reports, car magazines, etc.
posted by Ryvar at 3:36 PM on August 3, 2005

I'm happy with my '96 SL2, which I bought used. Over 100K miles, only major repair was a clutch replacement last year. When I was asking around, the only negative comments I heard about Saturns were the '94's; everyone I knew who had one hated it, otherwise I got positive feedback.

Before the Saturn I drove a low-end model Toyota for years, in my experience the reliability has been the same, and frankly the level of luxury has been about the same. But a car is just a tool for me, so I don't sweat the other stuff.
posted by vignettist at 5:34 PM on August 3, 2005

My 2003 Saturn Ion has been an okay car. Sure, it's had a few issues, but it's also a fairly inexpensive car.

Saturn service from the dealer, on the other hand, has been dismal. At this point, I wouldn't take another Saturn for free, even if it included a trunk full of $100 bills.
posted by Serena at 5:47 PM on August 3, 2005

Japanese + station wagon = Subaru
(to me, at least)
I've owned two and they are great.
posted by coolsara at 6:07 PM on August 3, 2005

My Saturn wagon is the best car I've ever owned. Better by far than my previous two Japanese vehicles.
posted by SPrintF at 8:03 PM on August 3, 2005

I've had really good luck with Saturns. My 94 SL2 had 170,000 miles on it when I traded it in for a 2005 ION. I think it had one major repair in the 10 years we owned it. I'm pretty happy with my ION as well. The manual transmission has definitely improved in the past 11 years.

I find the ION to be more comfortable as well. A friend of mine, who is 6'4", said it was the first Saturn he was actually comfortable in.

I've always been incredibly happy with the Saturn service as well. The service folks recognize me, they know my name, they know which car I drive, without looking up any of the information, and the service was always done quickly and correctly. I found that when I took it someplace other than the Saturn dealer to have it serviced, they didn't always know how to fix the car and I'd end up having to take it back into the dealer to have them fix whatever the non-dealer mechanic did. That was frustrating.

I've had good luck with my Saturns and I've always been happy with them.
posted by whatideserve at 8:10 PM on August 3, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you for all of your comments, folks. Looks like several of you have had really good Saturn experiences. I wonder if the 2000 station wagon, which looks very different than the ones before it, has the same build quality. It's tough to find reviews of it online.

For those of you who mentioned the Subarus: I'm really hoping to spend under $7000 so most Subarus that aren't too old for me are out of the question. One would be nice and everything, but I just can't. :(

Why, oh why, did the whole damn country have to go crazy for the SUV thing? Station wagons have the same amount of room, you can fit your friends, you can camp out in the damn thing, and you get good miles. I drive my 94 Nissan Pathfinder off road a fair amount, but very few others I know (that is, that don't go to Full Moon desert raves) who have SUV's do the same. Honda, you sons of bitches, why did you have to take your wonderful station wagons out of the American market? Why?

Please don't let this comment on the thread discourage you from posting. If you have any station wagon related things you want to say, please feel free. I'm going to go and cry.
posted by redteam at 8:49 PM on August 3, 2005

I've got to chalk up another 'awesome' for Subaru. I have a WRX wagon and love the hell out of it (a great combination of stupid and sensibility). I appreciate the quality so much that I'd honestly like for my next car to be a Legacy.
posted by kuperman at 5:15 AM on August 4, 2005

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