Want to make a car enthusiast freeze up for a good 20-30 seconds? Ask them to picture a Saturn L-Series. Most gearheads will cock their heads up and to the side, narrowing their eyes as they try to call the image into their minds. If you look carefully, you can sometimes see rainbow spinning beach balls where their irises were. Then, they’ll give up, because nobody gives a brace of BMs about the Saturn L-Series.
The L-Series was Saturn’s attempt at a more upscale, mid-sized family car, and what they came up with is possibly the greatest example of the concept of ‘phoning it in’ ever recorded in human industry. I thought I had a dead spot in my retina as I was looking for pictures of these things, but no, it’s just that sometimes your eye can’t be bothered to resolve an image that boring. If it happens to you, don’t be alarmed; look at a picture of a Delahaye or something to snap your vision back into functioning.
The L-Series came out in 2000, and lumbered on until 2005. The initial names for the cars in the series were LS, LS1, and LS2 for the three sedans, and LW1 and LW2 for the wagons.
GM’s Department of Tedium decided those names weren’t needlessly obtuse enough, so the next year they were all changed to LS100, LS200, and LS300, and the wagons LW200 and LW300. After this process of renaming, it’s said that the executive in charge of the decision then laid his head down on his desk and began to sob until the sweet blanket of undreaming sleep took him, forever.
The L-Series was based on the same mid-sized GM2900 platform that GM would use to murder the soul of Saab with in the 9-3 and 9-5, and you could get the L-Series with one of two engines: a 135 horsepower (in 2004 up to 140!) Ecotec 2.2-liter engine that ran on the Soporific Cycle, and a 3-liter V6 making around 180 hp that you select if you wanted to move your slab of enuui around a little faster.
The only transmission available was a four-speed auto, because of course it was.
Styling was a careful blend of anonymous early-2000s motor-carriage and a healthy dash of that feeling you get walking into a job you hate but need on a Monday morning with no clear plan about how you’ll change your life.
A major styling facelift happened in 2003, when the slit-like headlights of the original design were replaced with much larger light units and a more prominent grille, but the car-buying peoples of Earth stuck to the same don’t-give-a-shit plan that had served them so well in dealing with the Saturn L-Series.
Advertising of the L-Series was as uninspired and half-assed as you’d expect. Here’s a thrilling ad about a guy who just became a “regional manager” in an “office” where they do “business!” Please note that “headroom” is one of the key features noted. Maybe it was mentioned for comic effect, but who cares:
Oh boy. Incredibly, that’s one of the more exciting ads for the car. Get a load of this uppercut of snoozery:
Oh boy, you can get one for some money!
This ad mentions, sacrilegiously, the ‘car gods.’ Look:
Seriously, if there were Car Gods, and you showed up to the Pearly Garage Door driving a Saturn LS200, I’m all but positive you would get sent straight to Car Hell, where the Car Devil would make you fumble around in the crack of a popped hood for an hood opening latch you can never quite find, outside, in the cold, for eternity.
The only real notoriety the L-Series got was a notice from the North Carolina Consumer’s Council suggesting that nobody buy one of these. The actual headline of the NCCS reads:
“Avoid 2.2L Saturn L-Series Vehicles Recommends NC Consumers Council”
Its use of both “avoid” and “recommends” in the same headline suggests how loath this organization was to badmouth anything. This was the first time since 1968 that the group has issued such a statement.
Timing chain issues and taillight problems were cited as the main reason, and nobody rose up in anger at the warning because absolutely nobody gave a shit about these cars. Or ever will.
Nobody wanted anything to do with the Saturn L-Series, because its cynical bloodlessness and callous disregard to the fact that humans are beings that need stimuli of some kind left nobody with a desire to buy one.
Saturn pulled the plug on the L-Series in 2005 due to very justifiably poor sales, and I bet the article in the company newsletter ended in the middle of a sentence and nobody noticed.