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2004 Saturn Ion 3 Quad Coupe

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San Francisco: If this were 1994, the Saturn Ion 3 Quad Coupe would be praised as a fabulous new car with an advanced suspension, innovative styling, and refined interior. Too bad it's 2004.

Saturn's Ion Quad Coupe hides two small rear-swinging doors behind the normal front doors, giving it the athletic look of a coupe with the easy rear-seat access of a sedan. The feature is innovative, but the Ion's driving experience is lackluster.

While it's far from awful, the latest Ion seems to lack the quality, refinement, and precision found in its Japanese rivals - and even a few Korean ones. Sure, it has some one-of-a-kind features and a dent-resistant plastic body, but it still feels like a cheap rental car.

What's wrong with it? Start with the itty-bitty steering wheel that could have been ripped right off a bumper car, or the skittish, jittery feeling as it cuts through corners. Plus, its trunk lid rubs against the top of the rear bumper to leave an ugly scratch mark that's visible every time you open the trunk, and it has an aging engine that's starting to feel sluggish in comparison to other compact cars.

Despite its drawbacks, there are several things we really like about the new Ion. First on the list is a special version called the Quad Coupe that has two stubby, rear-swinging doors in addition to the normal front doors, which gives it the sporty look of a two-door coupe and the practicality of a four-door sedan. Very nice.

Second is an optional CD player that can play MP3 files from a computer. Where a normal CD may hold 20 songs or so, an MP3 CD recorded at home can hold several hours of music with only slightly lower sound quality. That feature is hard to find even in luxury cars.

It's wonderful to see easy-to-use controls in the Saturn Ion's freshened cabin for 2004. While other new cars seem to add unnecessary complexity to do simple tasks, the Ion has controls that are intuitive and straightforward Finally, there's the Ion's simple practicality. There are no complicated controls or vast arrays of buttons to understand, something becoming scarcer with each year's crop of new cars. Saturn's easy-to-understand controls and gauges are refreshing at a time when some interiors look like they were designed on the set of "The Matrix."

Speaking of interiors, Saturn revamped the Ion's cabin for 2004 with higher quality materials that don't feel as cheap and clunky as last year's model. It's a huge improvement, but still not quite up to par with Volkswagen, Honda, or Toyota.

Thankfully, Saturn kept the central instrument pod that puts gauges in the middle of the dash, not in front of the driver like normal. It seems awkward at first, but once you get used to the central location it provides better forward visibility when you glance down at the gauges. It also looks pretty cool. Other new features for 2004 include additional sound-deadening material to reduce cabin noise, optional XM Satellite Radio, and better looking fabrics inside.

Unchanged from last year is a four-cylinder engine that makes 140 horsepower. While it's much better than some of Saturn's previous four-cylinder engines, the standard 2.2-liter Ecotec design doesn't feel as smooth or quiet as those in the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Also, while it provides plenty of oomph when you first step on the gas, power seems to taper off quickly as the engine revs faster, almost giving the driving impression of a small diesel.

Finally, the Ion's handling is mediocre. It's not uncomfortable around town, but it doesn't provide the kind of sporty, precise driving feel that makes small cars really fun to drive. If General Motors would spend a little more time tuning the Ion for better handling, it could make a huge difference in improving the car's likeability.

Overall, the Ion has some nice features offered by no other car in its class, and we're especially impressed with the Quad Coupe's stylish practicality. Nonetheless, it feels like it's trying to play catch-up with the Japanese rather than truly leading the pack.

Why buy it? With a dent-resistant plastic body, no-haggle pricing, available MP3 CD player, and an innovative Quad Coupe design, the Ion is quite unique among compact cars.  By Derek Price AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  Saturn's Quad Coupe is quite unique
Topic:  2004 Saturn Ion 3 Quad Coupe
Word Count:   785
Photo Caption:  2004 Saturn Ion 3 Quad Coupe
Photo Credits:  Saturn Internet Media
Series #:   2004 - 05

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