2006 ION New Car Test Drive
Saturn's strength has always been its dealers. It's Saturn's car that haven't always measured up, particularly in comfort and refinement. GM's youngest car division is working to remedy this, so while the Saturn dealership experience remains as good as it ever was, Saturn's cars are now better than they ever have been.
The Saturn Ion is a good example of that. When it appeared in 2003, the Ion represented a major improvement over the old Saturn S-series. Yet our impressions of it were negative. We found the seats uncomfortable and its levels of refinement were average at best. However, Saturn has continued to update and refine the Ion over the past three model years, and we came away with positive impressions of the current models. Most of the things we complained about have been changed and refinement has been improved overall.
The most substantial changes came for 2005: Larger and more supportive seats have replaced the barstools used previously, and a larger steering wheel provides a more comfortable grip. Suspension tweaks have resulted in a smoother and quieter car that's more pleasant in everyday use. At the same time, the handling is sharper, making it more fun to drive. A new four-speed automatic built by GM replaces outsourced transmissions that proved problematic. And the appearance of the sedan was greatly improved with a new grille.
The improvements continued for 2006: Saturn has reconfigured the center dash to provide more room for storage and to enhance legroom. OnStar is now standard on all Ions. A larger, more powerful engine is available. Saturn has dropped the base-level sedan with its narrow seats, and a new Enhanced Performance Package has been added to bridge the gap between the base-engine/base suspension models and the Ion Red Line sport compact. Prices have been reduced, especially at the lower end of the line, where an 2006 Ion 2 sedan lists for $2,455 less than a comparable '05 model.
Meanwhile, all of the Ion's best features remain unchanged. The sedan offers plenty of interior and luggage room for a reasonable price. The Quad Coupe features innovative dual rear-access doors, like those on an extended-cab pickup, that make it easy to load and unload cargo. We found we could stuff large objects into the back seat of a Saturn that would not go into a traditional two-door coupe.
The Red Line coupe features a 205-horsepower supercharged engine good for 0-60 mph in about 6.3 seconds. We found it fun to drive, with strong throttle response and a sporty exhaust note. It comes with Recaro seats that provide comfortable support in corners.
And then, of course, there's that Saturn dealership experience. Surveys show that Saturn buyers tend to be more satisfied with their dealers in terms of the sales and service experience than buyers of other brands. Saturn tends to be the top-scoring non-luxury brand in these types of surveys.
The 2006 Saturn Ion is available as a four-door sedan or an innovative coupe, which Saturn calls a Quad Coupe for its unusual reverse-opening rear doors. Picture the door arrangement on an extended-cab pickup, but with more style.
The base engine for the Ion is a 2.2-liter four-cylinder rated at 140 horsepower. New for 2006 is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated 170 horsepower. The top-performing Red Line model comes with a supercharged 2.0-liter four rated 205 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and an automatic transmission is optional ($900).
For 2006, the sedan is offered in two trim levels, called Ion 2 and Ion 3. Quad Coupes come in Ion 2, Ion 3, and Red Line trim.
The Ion 2 sedan ($11,925) and Quad Coupe ($12,925) come with four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, tilt steering, height-adjustable driver's seat, an immobilizing anti-theft system, and 195/60 tires on 15-inch steel wheels. OnStar, previously a $695 option, is now standard as well. A Preferred Package ($875) adds cruise control, power windows, mirrors and locks. Aluminum wheels are also available ($440).
The Ion 3 sedan ($14,325) and coupe ($15,625) add an MP3 player and better speakers, air conditioning, cruise control, programmable power locks with remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, and other niceties, plus 205/55 tires on 16-inch aluminum wheels. Leather upholstery ($700) is optional. The new Enhanced Performance Package ($995) combines the new 2.4-liter engine with stiffer shocks and anti-roll bars.
Ion Red Line Quad Coupe ($19,425) boasts 205 horsepower from a supercharged and intercooled 2.0-liter engine mated to a heavy-duty Getrag five-speed manual gearbox. The Red Line comes with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, a recalibrated suspension with a lowered ride height (by 10mm), and 215/45R17 tires on 17-inch cast aluminum wheels. The Ion Red Line is distinguished by unique front and rear fascias, side sills, a rear wing, a four-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel and Recaro sport seats. A Competition Package ($1,375) adds a Quaife limited-slip differential, 17-inch forged wheels, a boost gauge and a programmable tachometer.
Stereo upgrades include a CD changer, CD/MP3 systems, and XM Satellite Radio ($325). A Travel Package ($200) includes a map light, outside temperature gauge, compass, and auto-dimming inside mirror. A power sunroof ($725) is available for all models.
Safety features include dual-stage driver and front-passenger frontal airbags. New for 2006 is a Passenger Sensing System that switches off the right front airbag if the right front seat is unoccupied, or occupied by a small adult or child who could be injured by the airbag; it's standard in all Ions except the Red Line. (Saturn still strongly recommends restraining children in the back seat in appropriate child seats.) Optional side-curtain airbags ($395) are designed to improve head protection for front- and rear-seat passengers in the event of a side impact or rollover. The Ion has received five-star/five-star ratings, the highest attainable, in the federal government's crash tests. We recommend the optional ABS and traction control ($400) as it can help the driver avoid a crash. Always wear your seatbelts as they are your first line of defense in an accident.