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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Sep 19, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

© All photos by Harvey Schwartz


Saturn, known for its economically priced compact cars, joins the growing list of manufacturers offering high-performance oriented vehicles to enthusiasts. The Red Line label first appeared in the Saturn Vue sport utility that came with a 250 horsepower V6 engine, a lowered and tuned suspension, and a unique lower body kit. The Redline label is a welcome relief from the standard 2.2-liter Ecotec inline four-cylinder engine that makes just 140 horsepower and 145 pounds feet of torque in the standard ION quad coupe. With the Red Line's 200-horsepower turbo-charged and intercooled inline four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual, the plastic-bodied Redline ION quad coupe model weighs just 2,590lbs. giving it a very good horsepower-to-weight ratio. New from the ground up, the ION quad coupe - so named because of its industry-first dual rear access doors that debuted in the 2003 model year. The ION Red Line's higher level of sophistication, content, fun and functionality are designed to appeal to young customers and is targeted at groups of young compact-car enthusiasts.

Interior changes in 2004 improve overall harmony among material, colors, grains and gloss. The interior now includes a monochromic ebony instrument panel, including the tilting, leather wrapped, four-spoke steering wheel that feels great in your hands and has buttons for the audio system and cruise control. A new, more refined Saturn Advanced Audio System consists of six speakers, a 160-watt amplifier and a six-disc CD changer with MP3. One of the innovative aspects of the ION quad coupe is its center-mounted instrument cluster. The center-mounted cluster is on the same horizontal sight line as the side-view mirrors. This design also allows you to set the steering wheel in the most comfortable position without needing to adjust it in order to see the cluster. The interior cabin is quieter than before with the addition of sound-deadening material forward of the instrument panel. The silver center stack is easy to reach with large buttons and dials. The quad coupe's dual rear-access doors-combined with a front passenger fold-flat seat and the lack of a B-pillar-help to fully utilize the interior space by making it easy to load and unload passengers and cargo, including larger objects that typically wouldn't fit in a traditional compact car.

Inspired by the tuner cars popularized in Southern California, the ION Red Line is a powerful new entry with a high output DOHC version of the 2.2-liter Ecotec engine, and was developed with the assistance from the GM Performance Division. This higher-revving engine features a cast aluminum block with cast iron cylinder liners, a cast aluminum cylinder head, and a lower, 9.5:1 compression ratio. The engine is mated to a heavy-duty Getrag five-speed manual front-wheel-drive transaxle with a short-throw shifter. A beefier drive axle and equal-length drive shafts put the new found power down on the road. At launch, I felt a strong torque-steer that would be taken care of if the ION quad coupe Red Line came with a torque sensing limited-slip differential, and or, traction control, that could always be turned off when you want. The high-flow, performance-tuned exhaust system gives out a sweet growling sound when you put the pedal down on the metal. A two-inch polished stainless steel exhaust tip is found peering out from the bottom of the left side of the car. The ride height has been lowered 10 mm, with the racetrack-bred suspension tuning that includes revised springs, gas-charged shocks, bushings and stabilizer bars. The ION Red line rides on 17X7 six-spoke forged alloy wheels that are wrapped around Continental 215/45/R17 performance tires. The electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering is performance-tuned. It has excellent on-center feel, with quick response and feel for the road. I was surprised that I liked it given the mixed reviews that I had read about this new steering system.

More power means stronger brakes to quickly and safely slow the new ION Red Line down from high speeds. Standard brakes are power-assisted four-wheel disc with standard Bosch 8.0 four-channel Bosch ABS. Up front are 11.6-inch vented rotors with a dual piston caliper and 10.6-inch solid discs in the rear with a single piston caliper. Even before getting into the ION Red Line you know something's up by gazing at the aggressive new exterior styling, with it's unique front and rear fascias, rocker panels and a choice of three available rear wings. Inside, you are snug behind the wheel during your spirited driving benefiting from the standard Recaro racecar styled bucket seats. They are so comfortable and supportive. The clutch, brake and throttle pedals are specially placed for quicker footwork during spirited driving and the stick shifter is perfectly placed for easy precise throws. The ION Red Line is designed to carry on the Saturn tradition of being at the top of the class when it comes to safety and security. The world-class structural design provides the foundation for this focus on safety. The steel space frame's front and rear crush zones help absorb the energy of a crash while protecting the integrity of the safety cage. Dual-stage driver and front passenger airbags are standard as are the front three-point safety belts and rear three-point safety belts. A head curtain side airbag system is optional.

A factory installed anti-theft system with remote keyless entry, and an engine immobilizer, which prevents car theft by shutting off fuel to the engine if the correct ignition key isn't used, is standard on the ION Red Line. The new Red Line is a great start for Saturn automobiles. It's 200-horsepower engine pulls strong, but can always use more power. Torque steer is in evidence every time you seriously launch the car from a standstill, but can be overcome with either a limited-slip differential or traction control. The shifter is smooth and easy to use; the sport-tuned suspension is stiff, giving excellent response to your input when turning. The brakes work very well and the tires keep the car well planted. On the inside the Recaro seats are the best, but I'd like to see aluminum-faced pedals to match. You might need some time to adjust to the center mounted instrument cluster but it does open up your straight-line vision somewhat. Priced at just $20,385.00, the new Saturn ION Red Line quad coupe has proved to be very competitive to the Dodge Neon SRT-4, which is priced slightly higher at $21,690.00.

© All text and photos by Harvey Schwartz

For more information on Saturn products, go to More photos from Harvey Schwartz can be found at SPECIFICATIONS Name of Vehicle: Saturn ION Red Line quad coupe Price of vehicle: $21,690.00 Engine type: 2.2-liter supercharged and inter-cooled inline four-cylinder, aluminum block/aluminum head Horsepower: 200 at 5,800 rpm Torque: 200 lbs. ft. at 4,400 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine/front-wheel-drive Transmission type: Getrag five-speed manual Front suspension: Strut-type independent with stabilizer bar, performance tuned Rear suspension: Semi-independent torsion beam with stabilizer bar, performance tuned Wheels/tires: 17X7 six-spoke forged alloy / P215/45R17 Continental W-rated performance tires Brakes: Front: 11.6 in. vented discs, dual piston calipers Rear: 10.6 in solid discs, single piston caliper, Bosch 8.0 4-channel ABS Overall length: 185 in. Overall width: 67.9 in. Overall height: 55.8 in. Curb weight: 2,590 lbs. EPA Mileage: 23 mpg/city, 29 mpg/highway 0-60 mph: 6.8 seconds

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