The day before I bought a Saturn I knew nothing about them. I do recall a few months before seeing an ad in a magazine showing a cop next to one saying he liked his Saturn cruiser and put a lot of miles on his with no problems. I only remembered that after deciding to get one. I did no in-depth pre-research of any cars, so have no ego trip wrapped up in the thing.
Anyway, I have owned all makes of American cars, and many foreign ones, driven well over a million miles in them, and had reasonably good luck with all but one.
For the last several years I've had VW Rabbits and Jettas for my long distance driving and have been very happy with them. I had over 245,000 miles on my Jetta Turbo-Diesel and decided it was time to get another one. Stopped at the VW dealer in Bow, New Hampshire and asked if there were any new TDIs available yet. He said no, perhaps in November. This was in late March, 1997. Drat!
As I left the VW dealership, I happened to look up and saw a Saturn sign, the dealership was in back of the VW one. I decided to go back there and see what they had. There was a pleasant salesman at a desk by the door to answer my questions.
Since I drive a lot and keep my cars many years the first question was rust protection. He proceeded to kick a door panel, and replied that they were plastic and wouldn't rust. The same for fenders, rocker panels and rear of the trunk lid. I was happy with that, but now was led to the next question, what about safety?
He led me to a Saturn in the back of the show room with fenders and door panels removed from one side. What I saw amazed me. Finally a car manufacturer had gotten it right!
The car has about as close to a roll cage as you can get on anything off the race track. The panels remove easily for replacement or maintenance. Here are some pictures I took:
The front door.
They use Thinsulite insulation for sound deadening and temperature control, so the air conditioner and heater have an easier job.
One of the speakers in a door behind the protective bars.
Detail of the front of the passenger side front door.
Detail of the rear of the passenger side front door.
The impact absorbing front bumper. The rear is similar.
The body above the bumper. Plastic, won't rust, even from rock hits.
This guy fell asleep at 65 MPH, hit a guard rail head on at over 50 MPH and walked away unharmed.
One that rolled over, they had no info, but it looks like the passenger compartment in intact and that if the folks had their belts on they would be ok.
Another thing that impressed me was the front suspension. They really got smart here! Why waste metal and increase weight by having separate stabilizers and tension or compression rods or massive A frames? They simply use a massive stabilizer bar that serves as both connected to a forged steel arm. Simple, light, and probably more responsive.
They had several pictures of Saturns with high miles on them.
Most things are easy to access for maintenance, here's the air cleaner.
There are two fuse boxes, one under the hood and the other in the passenger compartment. Both are easy to access and include fuse pullers. The one under the hood contains 4 spare fuses!
After looking at all this stuff, asking more questions and reading a brochure, I bought a 1997 SL1 about a half an hour after entering the dealership. I told him the options I wanted, he found one in the lot that had them, He asked me if I wanted to test drive it, I said, no, you'll take it back within 30 days if I don't like it, so why bother?