What Is the Difference Between a Saturn SL1 and a Saturn SL2 ?

by Michael G. Sanchez
itstillruns article image
Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Launched in 1990, Saturn was GM's attempt to, as their promotional materials put it, build "a new kind of car company." Affordable, fuel-efficient, and boasting dent-resistant body panels, Saturns were designed to appeal to younger buyers and those on a tight budget. A "friendlier" dealership experience with a no-haggle pricing policy was also a big part of Saturn's plan for success.

The S-Series was Saturn's original compact sedan. Although it saw two significant revision during the 1990s, it was still the same basic car Saturn debuted with when it was finally retired following the 2002 model year. In its final year of production, the SL1 was the mid-range version, while the SL2 was the top-of-the-line S-Series model.

Exterior & Interior Dimensions

The SL1 and SL2 were identical in size, both inside and out. They measured 178.1 inches in length, 66.4 inches in width and 66.4 inches in height, and rode on a 102.4-inch wheelbase.

The driver and front passenger got 39.3 inches of headroom, 53.9 inches of shoulder room, 49.2 inches of hip room and 32.8 inches of legroom. Backseat riders got 38 inches of headroom, 53.1 inches of shoulder room, 50.2 inches of hip room and 32.8 inches of legroom.

Both sedans had space for 12.1 cubic feet of cargo in their trunks.


The SL1 was powered by a 1.9-liter, single-overhead-cam, inline-four. It produced an even 100 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 114 foot-pounds of torque 2,400 rpm. The SL2 featured an upgraded, dual-overhead-cam version of the same four-cylinder engine. It generated a relatively robust 124 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 122 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm. Both cars came with a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission.

The SL1 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds, while the more-muscular SL2 could manage the same task in 8.5 seconds. Though neither figure was particularly impressive, both sedans performed within the normal range for their class.

Features & Options

The SL1 came standard with 14-inch steel wheels, power steering, cloth upholstery, a split-folding rear seatback, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, intermittent wipers, a rear defroster and a four-speaker AM-FM stereo.

The SL2 added 15-inch steel wheels, a lumbar-support feature for the driver's seat, and air conditioning.


In terms of saftey features, the SL1 and SL2 were evenly matched. Both models came standard with dual front airbags, while ABS, side-curtain airbags and traction control were available as options.

Consumer Data

Good fuel economy was one of the main positive characteristics Saturns were known for. The SL1 and SL2 were, indeed, quite frugal at the gas pump. The 2002 SL1 received an EPA mpg rating of 25 in the city and 36 on the highway with the manual transmission, and 24-34 with the automatic. The more powerful SL2 was rated at 32-34 with the manual and 22-32 with the automatic.

While many drivers felt the Saturn S-Series cars lacked the polish and sophistication of some of their competitors -- such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla -- they appealed to folks looking to get a lot for their money. When new, the SL1 had a base price of just $12,030, while the SL2 started at $13,515. As of 2014, a well-taken-care-of used example can be had for a very small price. Kelley Blue Book reports that a 2002 SL1 is worth about $1,425 and an SL2 should set you back approximately $1,675.

More Articles

article divider