When Saturn debuted more than 15 years ago, the company quickly built a reputation for solid, reliable small cars and a no-hassle purchase and service policy. Since then, one could get the impression that it's the brand General Motors forgot. Car quality and innovation stagnated. There was hope that the Ion economy car, which replaced the S-Series just four years ago, would bring some fresh air to the brand, but so far that hasn't happened.
At its release, the Ion was soundly criticized for a noisy engine, uncomfortable seating, an abundance of hard plastic in the cabin and an electric power steering setup that had all the road feel of an old arcade game. The company addressed those problems two years ago, making improvements in the areas of seating, cabin noise isolation and steering calibration. This year, both of the Ion's standard engines (a 2.2-liter four and a 2.4-liter four) get a 5-hp bump in output. The Ion Red Line returns this year as well, with a supercharged 2.0-liter four that cranks out 205 hp -- good enough to hit 60 mph in under 7 seconds. Sadly, all these upgrades, while making the 2007 Saturn Ion a noticeably better car than it was at first, still don't bring it up to the performance and refinement levels of more polished competitors such as the Honda Civic, Mazda 3 and Nissan Sentra.
Although Saturn's no-hassle sales/service policy has engendered a lot of repeat business, anybody who bothers to cross-shop the 2007 Saturn Ion against its superior rivals will quickly realize there's not enough to sustain it the in this ever-improving segment. Furthermore, this looks to be the last year for the Ion as we know it -- it's said that Saturn will replace it by year's end with the Astra, a more modern small car from Opel, GM's European division.
The 2007 Saturn Ion lineup includes two body styles and three trim levels -- Ion 2, Ion 3 and Red Line. (There is no "Ion 1.") In addition to the standard small sedan, there is the "quad coupe" body style. The latter gets its name from its coupe body, which features a pair of reverse-opening access doors that make loading passengers or cargo into the backseat a lot easier. The Ion 2 is a stripper, save for power locks, OnStar and a CD player. The Preferred Package for the Ion 2 adds power windows and mirrors, cruise control, a driver-seat height adjuster and keyless entry. The Ion 3 features all the preceding, plus 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning and an anti-theft system. Adding a bit of sporty flavor to the Ion 3 is the available Enhanced Performance Package that includes a more powerful engine, sport-tuned suspension, antilock brakes and traction control.
Available as a quad coupe only, the high-performance Ion Red Line features 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/45ZR17 performance tires, a lowered sport-tuned suspension, leather sport seats and much of the Ion 3's equipment. Red Line-specific options include a choice of rear spoilers and the Red Line Competition Package that adds a limited-slip front differential, painted alloy wheels, a boost gauge and a programmable "ladder" tach that lights up when certain rpm levels are reached.
Both the sedan and coupe offer spacious cabins and one of the largest trunks in the class at 14.7 cubic feet. Unfortunately, as roomy as the cabin feels in front, legroom is pretty tight in the backseat. The center-mounted instruments give the interior a unique look and allow more room to adjust the steering wheel without blocking the driver's sight lines to the gauges. The pair of rear access doors in the Quad coupe open nearly 90 degrees, making it much easier to load passengers and/or cargo in the backseat. A pair of comfortable, aggressively bolstered sport seats and a thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel highlight the Red Line's cockpit.
Standard Ions are powered by a 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 145 hp and 150 pound-feet of torque. Opt for the Enhanced Performance package on the Ion 3 and you'll get a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 175 hp and 164 lb-ft. In both cases, a five-speed manual transmission is standard and a four-speed automatic is optional.
The Ion Red Line coupe features a supercharged 2.0-liter four that pumps out 205 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. A heavy-duty Getrag five-speed manual transmission with a short-throw shifter is standard; an automatic is not available. The Redline is quite quick and is capable of zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds.
The standard engine provides adequate, if not entirely refined, power throughout the rev range. The optional 2.4-liter is not the pinnacle of smoothness either, but provides gutsy performance for a car in this class. The four-speed automatic transmission is responsive, and the best choice for most buyers. The manual box gives the car a sportier feel, but it's a little rough through the gates. The ride is soft enough to soak up rough roads, yet the 2007 Saturn Ion still handles itself well in tight turns and on freeway off-ramps.
Although the Ion Red Line doesn't boast a fully independent suspension like some more expensive rivals, it's a well-sorted setup that provides rock-solid handling, plenty of grip and fine balance when zinging the car through a set of S curves. The electric power steering has more heft in the wheel than the standard Ion and braking is impressive, with a stop from 60 mph taking just 121 feet.
Antilock brakes with traction control are optional on the Ion 2 and 3 and standard on the Red Line. Full-length side curtain airbags are optional, while the OnStar communications system is standard. In NHTSA frontal crash tests, both the coupe and sedan earned a perfect five stars for driver and front-passenger protection. Government side-impact testing for an Ion sedan (without the side curtain bags) yielded three stars for the protection of front occupants and four stars for the rear; the coupe received four stars across the board. In IIHS testing, the Saturn Ion earned an "Acceptable" rating (second highest) for frontal-offset crash safety and a "Poor" rating (the lowest) for side-impact protection, even with the optional airbags.
For 2007, the Saturn Ion gets more power, as output on both the 2.2- and 2.4-liter engines goes up by 5 horsepower. The powertrain warranty coverage is extended (as on all GM products) to five years/100,000 miles.