Meh Car Monday: The Saturn Ion Perfected The Chemistry Of Boring

I feel like I’ve been picking on Saturn pretty hard for these Meh cars—it was only a couple months ago we featured the deliriously bland Saturn L-Series—but I just can’t deny Saturn’s unnatural skills at making really, really boring-ass cars. Besides, what’s going to happen? Is Saturn’s PR department gonna call me and complain? Will they not give me any more press cars? Ah, it’s funny because they’re dead.


The Saturn Ion is not just a meh car, it’s an extremely potent meh car, because the Ion line actually had enough potentially interesting aspects that, by all rational thought, should have been able to help the Ion transcend the gloomy gray miasma of mehnitude. It didn’t.

For example, one thing that I absolutely know will happen will be that some commenter will bring up the Saturn Ion Red Line, which many people (well, probably not that many) consider to be a criminally overlooked GM performance car.

See? I’m not ignoring the Red Line

And, on paper, they’re not really wong— the Red Line edition cars, made from 2004 to 2007, were quite potent for their time. They made 205 horsepower from a supercharged two-liter Ecotec inline four, very respectable at the time, got to 60 mph in about six seconds, and had great four-wheel disc brakes.


The car offered the potential of real performance at a compelling price, something that should always be appealing to car buyers. And yet, despite the solid specs and the extra engineering work GM threw at the car, it was still, fundamentally, a Saturn Ion, and as such nobody gave a shit.


There’s a reason it’s considered an overlooked performance car: because people looked over it, to almost anything else. And this was even on the coupe-like body that had a pair of suicide doors at the rear!

I mean, normally, suicide doors are a get-out-of-meh-free card for any motorized contraption, but the soul-sucking meh-aegis surrounding the mainstream conventional four-door sedan version of the Ion was so potent, that it even negated such potent charms.


That’s pretty remarkable.

Like all meh cars, the Ion wasn’t awful—it generally did the job it was asked to do, as long as that job didn’t include any criteria that the car should occasionally remind the driver that life is, somehow, worth living.


The sedan Ion’s styling has a couple of novel elements that, really, should have helped it escape a meh-doom, but somehow didn’t.

The car had a strange design detail where the arc described by the A-pillar, the side roof rails, and the C-pillar would be one contiguous arc-shaped panel of plastic, and that panel could, on some versions, be specified to be a contrasting color from the rest of the car.


You’d think that’d be novel enough to make the car interesting, but no, you’d be wrong. It wasn’t. This is partially because most of the time that panel was gray or silver, and the rest of the car was an ever-so slightly different gray or silver, so it just looked like body panels of the car didn’t quite match other body panels in color. It didn’t come off so much as interesting but more as mildly puzzling.


For example, look at this 2007 Ion press photo:


Does that even count as a contrasting color? Is it some trick of the light? No, if you look at the base of the A-pillar, you can see it’s actually a slightly lighter gray. But it’s still just another anonymous-looking, mid-2000s suppository-shaped car, but the roof color doesn’t quite match. Why did they even bother?

The Ion was so meh, it couldn’t even really commit to the parts of it that were trying hard to make it less meh. It self-mehbotaged itself.


Other half-ass attempts to make the car interesting were equally tepid, like the central instrument binnacle. Was it different? A little, I guess. Was it better? No. Not at all. Was it interesting? Only if you had an erotic fetish for very slight motions of the head.


These phoned-in bits of trickery to try and make the car more interesting than it actually was only serve to highlight the innate tedium of the Ion. The Saturn brand as a whole suffered from this, having been born under this expectation that they were going to be doing revolutionary things, when in the end all they really did was sell more competent, unremarkable cars that didn’t dent when a shopping cart hit them, and that you had to pay sticker price for. That’s a pretty tame revolution.

Speaking of tame, the basic Ions four-banger only made between 140 and 145 hp, and had handling about as energetic as a late-night seminar on home WiFi router configuration in an overheated room after a meal of piping hot clam chowder in a big, crusty bread bowl.


The Ion’s ad campaigns mirrored the car’s characteristic blandness, but further impaired by misguided, half-realized attempts to make the thing into something more compelling. Look at this commercial:

Oh, jeezis. This commercial feels like some ad exec let his kid come up with the idea in their freshman-year creative writing class. It’s a clunky, ham-fisted metaphor that doesn’t even really make any sense when you think about it for even two seconds.


So, the car is driving through Childhood, which is portrayed as a mechanized, cookie-cutter experience, for some reason, and then the road of life there goes right from Childhood to Old Age?

There’s no middle part? You know, the part that most of us consider “life?” And when the Ion turns off to the right there, what’s that mean? Are they refusing to grow old? In a sensible, boring four-door silver sedan?


Who are you kidding, Saturn? This is stupid.

Let’s watch another one, because we deserve to hurt:

Okay, same basic idea, drive an Ion on a road with signs that mark life stages, or some shit, and everything else happens outside. Like here, there’s a big outdoor prom, the Ion drives through it and leaves ‘High School.’


The fuck?

The tagline doesn’t help:

“The Saturn Ion. Specifically designed and engineered for whatever’s next.”

You know what? Maybe I’ll give them some credit. Kill the last bit of the tagline and I think you’ll have something close to what the Ion is: specifically designed and engineered for whatever.


Because that’s as much as anyone ever really seemed to give a shit about this thing.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)