Saturn Ion - The Power of General Motors
The Saturn Ion was the brand's entry-level car from 2003-'07. Aimed at younger buyers, the Ion got what Saturn considered unique styling and design features, and a strong 2.2-liter engine. We never thought very highly of it, however, and took issue with its poor interior quality, unimpressive driving dynamics and bizarre styling inside and out. The Ion gave way to the vastly superior Astra hatchback. The Ion launched in 2003 as a replacement for the now-defunct S-Series. Throughout its lifespan, Saturn was vigilant about making minor improvements (particularly for 2005) to the quality of the ride, interior and overall refinement, so we suggest more recent model years if you've really got your heart set on a used Ion (although we hope you don't).
The front-wheel-drive Saturn Ion always came in two body styles: a four-door sedan and the "Quad Coupe." The Quad Coupe was styled like a two-door coupe but actually had two rearward-opening doors similar in style to an extended-cab pickup. For each body style, there were three primary trim levels: a base 1 (dropped for '06), 2 and 3. The 2003 ION came standard with a 140 hp (104 kW) DOHC Ecotec I4 engine. The ION's instrument panel is mounted on the top center of the dashboard, rather than behind the steering wheel. The ION is available in sedan and coupe forms; the coupe is called a "quad coupe" due to the two smaller rear-opening "suicide doors" behind the front doors.
A Getrag F23 5-speed manual or an Aisin AF33 5-speed automatic transmission are available. The 2003 and 2004 IONs were available with the VTi continuously variable transmission. In 2004, Saturn introduced the high-performance Redline variant of the ION, featuring a supercharged engine. In 2006, the ION received exterior facelift to give it more of a family resemblance to the 2007 Saturn Aura and Saturn Sky roadster. Under the hood, the long-rumored 170 hp 2.4 L I4 engine with variable valve timing became available for the ION3. There was an additional performance trim for the Quad Coupe called the Saturn Ion Red Line. It was powered by a supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which bumped power up to 205 hp. The Ion Red Line came exclusively with a close-ratio five-speed manual transmission, 17-inch wheels, upgraded disc brakes and a track-tuned suspension package.
All trims came standard with a 145-horsepower 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine. For '06 and later, the Ion 3 sedan gained an optional 2.4-liter four-cylinder with variable valve timing, which was good for 175 hp. It was part of an Enhanced Performance Package -- only available with the Ion 3 -- that also included antilock brakes, traction control and a sport-tuned suspension. A five-speed manual transmission came standard on these main trims, but most used Ions you'll come across will come with the optional four-speed automatic or an earlier continuously variable automatic transmission.
One of the Ion's few strong points was its amount of cargo room in all trims. The front passenger seat folded flat, and trunk space was among the largest in the segment. The base Ions came pretty bare-bones, without standard Saturn Ion Accessories like air-conditioning or power mirrors and windows. You had to step up to the Ion 3 for these features, as well as 16-inch wheels and tires, cruise control and an upgraded CD/MP3 audio system. Given the Ion's significant depreciation, we suggest keeping your search to the Ion 3.
In road tests and comparison tests, our reviewers found the Saturn Ion to be among the lower performers in the entry-level sedan and coupe classes. Despite the strong engine, the Ion lacked liveliness, and overall performance was conservative at best. The steering was overly heavy. Even with the continuous interior improvements made throughout its lifespan, the seats were uncomfortable and offered little support. Overall, we suggest looking elsewhere for an economy car.