Mid-size, mainstream station wagons like Saturn's LW are overshadowed these days as newer, sportier wagons grab headlines.
But the 2002 LW made some headlines of its own this year, becoming the first in the segment with an integrated DVD video entertainment system.
Offered in a limited-edition LW300 that was the test car, as well as in some L300 sedans, the system includes crisp colors on a pull-down-from-the-ceiling display, premium sound and cordless headphones for back-seat riders.
Just 1,000 of these limited-edition Saturns -- with black exterior paint and dressy, 16-inch, chrome-clad wheels -- were built for 2002.
JUST THE FACTS 2002
BASE PRICE: $22,350.
AS TESTED: $26,200.
TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, mid-size station wagon.
ENGINE: 3-liter, double overhead cam V6.
MILEAGE: 21 mpg (city), 29 mpg (highway).
TOP SPEED: NA.
LENGTH: 190.4 inches.
WHEELBASE: 106.5 inches.
CURB WT.: 3,272 pounds.
BUILT AT: Wilmington, Del.
OPTIONS: Special edition DVD entertainment package (includes DVD viewing system, leather interior, power driver seat, 16-inch, chrome-clad wheels, advanced audio system and AM/FM, six-disc CD and cassette players) $3,350.
DESTINATION CHARGE: $500.
But plans are under way to add the DVD entertainment system as a stand-alone option on Saturn's upcoming 2003 L-Series wagon and L300 sedan as well, an official said.
This is the third model year for Saturn's mid-size station wagon, which was introduced as a 2000 model.
A worked-over Opel Vectra design, the LW is a five-seat car with cargo space of up to 79 cubic feet if the rear seats are folded down. This is more space than you find in some sport utilities like the Ford Escape.
But the LW appeals to folks who are more comfortable with a traditional car. The ride is lower to the ground, with less body tilt than in many SUVs. The LW300 test car soaked up bumps nicely but didn't feel overly cushioned or overly firm on the road.
True, you don't sit high enough to see over and around trucks and SUVs in traffic. But you don't have to climb up to get inside the LW300, and you don't have to hoist heavy items very high to get them inside the back cargo area.
I sort of dropped down, just a bit, to settle into the LW300 seats -- they were gray leather, part of the special edition package, and a bit mushy feeling.
At the back of the car, the LW300 tailgate lifted up nicely, exposing a flat, well-carpeted floor. Note that the cargo space is bigger than that of the Volkswagen Passat mid-size wagon but not as big as in the Ford Taurus station wagon.
Because the test LW300 arrived with a remote entry fob that didn't work, I had to open the car's liftgate manually, pushing in the lock button on the tailgate and getting my hand dirty in the process. I would much prefer a more ergonomic opener, such as a pull handle available on many other wagons.
The LW300's power-assist, rack-and-pinion steering responded well to commands -- neither too quick nor too slow.
But the ride was noisy. I kept checking the front-passenger power window because I heard wind noise. I heard plenty of pavement sounds from the tires, too. Engine noise would join in when I accelerated, so I kept adjusting the radio volume to compensate.
The LW300 comes with the uplevel, 3-liter, double overhead cam V6, though a 135-horsepower four-cylinder also is offered for the LW.
The V6 continues to generate 182 horsepower, the same as the 2000 model year. Torque is 190 foot-pounds at 3,600 rpm.
The only transmission for the V6-powered LW300 is a four-speed automatic, and estimated fuel economy is a mainstream 21 miles a gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.
This engine provides decent power, both for city traffic and highway travel, and it comes on with ease.
In the LW300, I didn't fear that the engine would let me down when I pulled out in traffic.
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