With the S-Series retired, Saturn’s L-Series lineup remains to continue the automaker’s towed vehicle legacy.
By Jim Brightly
Soon after the first S-Series automobile rolled off Saturn’s Spring Hill, Tennessee, assembly line in 1990, the name of General Motors’ newest company became quite familiar to motorhomers. Why? Because Saturn was the first manufacturer to specifically approve its automatic-transmission-equipped vehicles for flat towing. For RVers, this meant no longer settling for a towed car with a manual transmission, or making modifications to their vehicle equipped with an automatic transmission.
The original S-Series cars had many positive attributes. They were small; lightweight; relatively inexpensive; achieved excellent fuel mileage; and looked good. And when the company added the midsize L-Series in 2000, RVers had yet another level of towed vehicle options. Still, the one thing that made Saturn such a viable towed vehicle choice for motorhomers was the fact that the company gave the official “okay” to tow its automatics four wheels down behind a motorhome.
But all good things must come to an end. The S-Series was replaced in 2003 by the ION. Because this new vehicle uses Saturn’s VTi continuously variable transmission, automatic versions of the ION cannot be flat towed or even modified to be towed. Fortunately for Saturn enthusiasts, the L-Series remains, and its towability hasn’t changed. It’s still equipped with the reliable Hydra-Matic 4T40-E four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive that has made Saturn a popular towed vehicle choice for motorhomers.
During my test of the L300 sedan (the L-Series also includes the L200 sedan, and the LW200 and LW300 wagons), it didn’t take me long to discover some of the other reasons Saturn has such a good reputation among FMCA members. As I slid into the driver’s seat, I had the sensation that this vehicle was bigger on the inside than on the outside. It has plenty of headroom and legroom; seats that are both comfortable and firm; controls that are readily at hand; and an armrest that’s actually designed and built to rest your arm. Your passengers also will appreciate the surprising backseat comfort and roominess (albeit less legroom than the front seats) that’s available in a sedan of this size.
The L300 proved to be quick and peppy to drive, going from 0 to 60 mph in an average time of 10.3 seconds. The acceleration from the 3.0-liter V-6 engine provides drivers with a sense of confidence when approaching the traffic stream on a freeway on-ramp “” you know you’ll be able to merge with no stress. Its fully independent front and rear suspension systems give the driver full confidence when unexpected curves, objects on the road, or potholes present themselves. Just turn the wheel smartly to avoid the obstacle and do so with complete confidence in the car’s handling.
From the driver’s seat, my one small disappointment was finding gauges only for the tachometer, speedometer, fuel, and temperature. Indicator lights are used to display oil pressure and alternator current. Call me picky, but I prefer gauges rather than indicator lights. I’m sure other drivers like the lights, and one could always add gauges if desired.
Designers of the L-Series sedan gave this car a large trunk, with a release button on the key fob remote, a feature I really liked. If you keep the Saturn’s remote on your motorhome’s key ring, you can control the door locks and trunk lid without having to access the car. When towing, simply leave the key in the ignition and lock all the doors with the remote. With the remote trunk release, you can load groceries and souvenirs without having to use a key or open a door for access to the inside trunk release button.
The L300’s backseats fold down to provide 17.5 cubic feet of storage space for longer and more bulky items. Those who need even more room should consider the LW200 or LW300. With the rear seats dropped, these wagons offer 79 cubic feet of cargo room.
Passenger safety was not forgotten on the Saturn design table either. Dual front air bags and head-curtain side air bags will help to keep those in the front seats safe in the event of an accident. This air bag system is standard on all L-Series models.
It’s a pleasure to drive a modern car at highway speeds with the windows down “” either all four or just the front two “” and experience no wind noise or hair blowing around. This is possible in the L300. During one highway excursion I turned off the optional automatic climate control and let fresh air blow through the windows. Even with the windows open, I was able to enjoy music from the six-speaker CD system without objectionable wind noise. Speaking of on-the-road entertainment, rear-seat passengers can enjoy music or movies on the optional DVD player with a drop-down monitor and two cordless headphone sets.
During my weeklong test, the L300 averaged 24.8 miles per gallon. The EPA’s estimated mileage for this vehicle is 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Since I tested the Saturn about half the time in the city and half the time on the highways around Colorado Springs, Colorado, my average was right in the middle where it belongs. In fact, since the elevation in Colorado Springs is more than a mile high, mileage and performance may well improve when the L300 is driven in lower altitudes. With each full tank of gas (15.7-gallon capacity) capable of providing more than 350 comfortable miles, the Saturn L-Series is indeed a very capable towable vehicle.
Fast Facts: Saturn L300
Engine: 3.0-liter DOHC V-6
Horsepower: 182 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 190 lb.-ft. @ 3,600 rpm
0-60 mph: 10.3 seconds as tested
Transmission: Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic with overdrive
Wheelbase: 106.5 inches
Mileage: 24.8 mpg as tested; EPA average “” 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
Fuel capacity: 15.7 gallons
Weight: 3,260 pounds as tested (full fuel tank)
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Base MSRP: $20,645
MSRP as tested:$25,715