2004 ION New Car Test Drive
Saturn Ion is an inexpensive compact that emphasizes style and innovation as well as value. Ion was all-new in 2003, and significantly larger than the Saturn S-series model it replaced.
The 2004 Saturn Ion features some significant updates, including higher-grade interior fabrics and richer-looking interior trim in more harmonious colors. Additional sound-deadening material brings a quieter cabin. The stereo systems have been improved and is available with an MP3 player, XM Satellite Radio, and a six-CD changer.
Ion's steering has been re-calibrated for improved road feel at speed. Both of the available automatic transmissions have been refined as well. And Saturn has injected some real excitement into the Ion for 2004, with the uniquely trimmed Special Edition sedan, and the supercharged Red Line coupe.
Dent-deflecting and rust-resistant plastic body panels add to the Ion's appeal. Acceleration is good for its price class, ride and handling about average. In interior comfort and refinement, Saturn still has a way to go. But experience has shown that people choose Saturns as much for the hassle-free buying experience as the for car's actual character and performance. In fact, Saturn ranks at or near the top in J. D. Power and Associates Sales Satisfaction Index surveys, putting it in the same league as Lexus and Infiniti in terms of satisfaction with the sales experience.
The 2004 Saturn Ion is available as a four-door sedan, or as an innovative coupe with two reverse-opening auxiliary rear doors. Saturn calls the coupe a Quad Coupe. Picture the door arrangement on an extended-cab pickup, but with a lot more style.
The sedan is offered in three trim levels. The coupe is available in the upper two levels. Saturn does things a little differently from other car manufacturers, so instead of assigning arbitrary letter combinations to each trim level, Saturn calls them simply Ion 1, Ion 2, and Ion 3.
All Saturn Ion models (except the high-performance Red Line) are powered by the same 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, rated 140 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. Automatic transmissions are available ($900-$980), but Saturn installs different units in the sedan and the coupe. Sedans use a five-speed automatic, which is unusual in this price range. Coupes use a continuously variable transmission (VTi, Saturn calls it) that uses pulleys and belts instead of gears to maximize smoothness and efficiency.
Ion 1 sedan ($10,430) comes with a four-speaker AM/FM stereo, tilt steering, an immobilizing anti-theft system, 185/70 tires on 14-inch steel wheels, and not much else. The windows wind and the mirrors adjust manually. Air conditioning costs extra ($960).
Ion 2 sedan ($13,735) and coupe ($14,285) add air conditioning, a CD player, a more deluxe interior with a driver's seat that adjusts for height, and 195/60 tires on 15-inch aluminum wheels.
Ion 3 sedan ($15,260) and coupe ($15,785) add an MP3 player and better speakers, cruise control, power programmable door locks with remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, and other niceties, plus 205/55 tires on 16-inch aluminum wheels.
Two additional variations debut for 2004. The Special Edition sedan comes only in black, with machined 16-inch alloy wheels and a chrome exhaust tip. Inside, the Special Edition is trimmed in perforated neutral leather with ebony accents. Additional standard equipment includes an automatic-dimming mirror, compass, outside temperature gauge, map lights, and unique floor-mat embroidery.
The Red Line coupe, available late in the model year, boasts 200 horsepower from a supercharged and intercooled 2.0-liter engine. A heavy-duty five-speed manual gearbox from Getrag, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and a recalibrated suspension on 215/45 tires and 17-inch wheels are designed to manage the additional power. The Ion Red Line is distinguished by its lowered (by 10mm) ride height, unique front and rear fascias, side sills, rear wing, and sport seats.
Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with traction control ($400) are available on all other Saturns, and we recommend them highly for their ability to help you maintain control in a panic situation and avoid an accident. Head curtain air bags ($395) that protect both front and rear-seat passengers in a side impact are an unusual option in this price class, and we recommend them as well.
CD and CD/MP3 systems are available on Ion 1 and Ion 2. XM Satellite Radio and OnStar are offered at levels 2 and 3. A convenience package ($825) adds cruise control plus power locks, mirrors, and windows to Ion 2. A power sunroof ($725) is offered on all models except the Ion 1 sedan. Leather upholstery ($700) is available on Ion 3.