rob_lewis New Reader
7/3/08 9:20 p.m.

Wife and I are looking for her a daily driver that gets better than the 15 mpg she gets now.

Before the board lays into me:

A) Her DD is a nice car. No way will she get rid of it (likes it too much, as do I)

B) We're too upside down to even think about selling it

C) A $2000 car would pay for itself in less than a year

D) Changing her driving habits will net an extra 1 mpg, maybe....

So, we're budgeting about $2500. It must be a 4-door (sorry, Miata is not the answer...). We've been looking for a 5-speed first generation Neon for about a month and have found nada. Lots of automatics and a couple of 5-speed coupes, but nothing else. (I've emailed, several times, the ones on Craigslist in Austin). Just found a 2000 Saturn SL for $2K. In the price range, but I know nothing about Saturns. We had a Neon coupe a few years ago and really liked it (quick, fun to drive, etc). Hence our search for another.

The question is, oh great board of knowledge:

Should we hold out for a Neon (we're in no rush and can wait for the right one) or start opening our search? How does a Saturn stack up to a Neon for general driving fun? Our old was was fun to just drive the snot out of it, would we find the same fun in a Saturn? (Yeah, it'll be a DD, but no reason for it to be boring....) My DD is an '03 MINI Cooper (non-S). I'm not expecting that much fun, but closer to it than to, say, a Camry.


Duke Dork
7/3/08 9:32 p.m.

I've never owned a Saturn, but they've got plenty of adherents. A friend bought one about the same time as I bought my first Neon, and I drove it a few times, but I didn't like it as much as the Neon. No particluar reason - it just lacked that cheerful "c'mon, let's GO!" attitude of the Neon. Also, if you've previously owned a Neon, you're already aware of the trouble spots... whereas a Saturn will have a new learning curve.

Hold out - 5 speeds are out there.

MCarp22 New Reader
7/3/08 9:56 p.m.

I've been looking for a neon for 4 months now and can't seem to buy one at any price.

neon4891 HalfDork
7/3/08 10:23 p.m.

All i have to say on saturns is that the few times i have driven one(an older one), it was the most cramped thing I have ever been in, including riding in the back of my sister's mustang II. I don't know about you, but if given the chance, I would take an escort over a saturn.

I would offer you my 4 door R/T, except i would have to sell it for $3500 to break even on the work I had done to get it on the road, and I dont think you want to come up to new york to buy it either.

good luck on the search

Travis_K New Reader
7/4/08 7:34 p.m.

Neons are getting hard to find in good shape for cheap. Id recomend one over a saturn though. I tried to find a driveable 5 speed neon for under $2k and I ended up giving up and buying something else after looking for months.

rob_lewis New Reader
7/4/08 7:38 p.m.

You guys aren't making me feel any better!!!

I'll stick to my guns on the Neon. Again, I'm not in a rush, so I can wait. I've found a couple on CL on occasion, but nobody ever returns emails. (I guess they don't really want to sell them.....)


Travis_K New Reader
7/4/08 8:16 p.m.

I went though the same thing looking for a neon, for under $2k they were either complete crap, automatic ones that they didnt mention in the add that they wernt manual, or they were already sold. If you buy one unless you can be sure it has been done, plan on replacing the timing belt and water pump. Most sellers dont have the slightest idea when it was done last, or they are selling them becasue they dont want to spend the money to have it done. I actually ended up buying an alfa milano becasue it was the only car in the price range I was interested in that was useable.

psteav GRM+ Memberand New Reader
7/4/08 8:45 p.m.

"Learning curve"?

It pains me to say this as a Mopar adherent, but Saturns don't have a "learning curve". They burn oil. The alternators fail. THAT'S IT for reliability issues. The Neons are generally pretty reliable as well if they've been taken care of, but they do have their issues, and clean, well-cared for ones are hard to find.

Ergonomics/fun-to-drive are a whole nother story. Saturns are fun to drive, but they don't beg to be beaten like a rented mule like a Neon. OTOH, this means that fewer Saturns than Neons have, in fact, been beaten like a rented mule. See above.

I never found my Saturn cramped (in the front seat-6'1" and long of leg). The backseats in the coupes are absolutely miserable (sedans are much better).

SOHC neon and a DOHC Saturn are neck-and-neck in a drag race. DOHC Neon is faster in a straight line than just about any economy car out there save for stuff like a B13 SE-R. Stay away from SOHC Saturns, they are dog slow and really not noticeably better on fuel.

Fuel economy will be high 30's on the highway for both. I averaged 42 mpg hypermiling my SC2 on the highway.

rob_lewis New Reader
7/4/08 10:16 p.m.

I've heard that the SOHC and the DOHC aren't that big of a difference in power, so, either would be fine with us, as ours was a SOHC and was still fun to drive.

I'm expecting a timing belt, water pump, new tensioner and headgasket at the minimum (besides normal maintenance). Probably some A/C work, too. Since it won't be her only source of transportation, we can spend the time up front to get things ready to go.

I'll just keep plugging at it. The only place, however, I've been able to look is CL, Greensheet and our local paper (which the classifieds section is abysmal). There's no longer a Thrifty Nickel around here....


neon4891 HalfDork
7/5/08 12:02 a.m.

I was lucky on my water pump/ t. belt combo, it had just been done when I bought mine, along with bits like seals and cylinder honing

As for a saturn being a tight fit, it was a '93 sedan, if that makes a difference.

still, what I wouldn't give for another late 80's accord, but with a stronger engine. 99hp just didn't cut it.

Per Schroeder
Per Schroeder Technical Editor/Advertising Director
7/5/08 8:00 a.m.

I've been looking for a better Neon (read: dohc/mtx/cleaner) than our NYG car for the past 2 months and haven't found ANYTHING that's decent for under $1500. However, have found a few second gen cars that are pretty nice for 2k..

rob_lewis New Reader
7/5/08 8:44 a.m.

I know I'll find one, eventually. There's a perfect candidate on Craigslist, but it's in Little Rock (about 500 miles away) and we're not that desperate for one.


I've found one or two 2nd gens, but the gas mileage actually drops quite a bit from the 1st gens.


daytonaer New Reader
7/5/08 8:45 a.m.
rob_lewis wrote: You guys aren't making me feel any better!!! I'll stick to my guns on the Neon. Again, I'm not in a rush, so I can wait. I've found a couple on CL on occasion, but nobody ever returns emails. (I guess they don't really want to sell them.....) -Rob

Are you offering to pay with a certified check for $5,000 and have it put in storage for your uncle?

We just had a little toyota totaled by our friends at the insurance company following a small collision and are finding the market for little cars is dry right now. Maybe try big auction sites and neon enthusiast boards and wait for the greedy people holding compact cars hostage to get desperate?

belteshazzar Dork
7/5/08 10:11 a.m.

I prefer the saturn.

no headgasket problems no timing belt A '00 SL as you've found was epa rated at the time to recieve 29 city 40 hwy.
They don't rust(visibly) They insure for peanuts For 11 years it was basically the same car, that plenty of development time even for GM and there where millions sold.

A twin cam has 24 more horsepower and is geared shorter than a single cam. When not being beaten the sohc Saturns felt no less peppy to me than a dohc one. They also tend to be lighter because they commonly didn't have as much equipment. I would buy that '00 in a heartbeat.

neon4891 HalfDork
7/5/08 10:55 p.m.

Neons are disapearing. first gen production ended 8 years ago, most were beaten on, and build quality wasnt world best. Add in curent gas prices and the fact that small cars are a hot item. I am finding fewer and fewer neons at the local pick-n-pull, less than half of what was there 2-3 years ago.

Travis_K New Reader
7/6/08 5:57 p.m.

Yea, for actually the past several years, most neons that get scrapped are automatic ones in terrible shape with under 120k miles on them. Only about 1 out of 20 is a 5 speed that looks like it was mantained at all. I think they are starting to move into the cartagory of E30s and MK2 VWs and other such things, where all but the nicest examples are past the point of being a daily driver without extensive maintance done immedaitly after purchase. Where you can buy something like this for about the same price as a decent neon, which would you rather have? lol

neon4891 HalfDork
7/6/08 8:32 p.m.

almost makes me want to get a beater and remove my R/T from DD service.

FunkyStickman New Reader
7/8/08 12:49 p.m.

I owned a SOHC saturn for over 10 years, put 205K miles on it. I raced it in H-Stock, and when I sold it, it still had the factory clutch in it, and drove fine. They do burn oil, and eat alternators. Most of them eventually develop cracks in the radiator, just below the driver's side hose. The 5-speeds work great and mine got close to 40 MPG. I think I replaced the water pump, heater core, A/C compressor, radiator, alternator, and I had to repair the shifter when a little bushing broke.

They hold their resale value better than Neons, and don't tend to have electrical problems like most other GM products. Cheap and fun.

Travis_K New Reader
7/9/08 9:03 a.m.

Im not sure if its important or not, but there arent really performance struts avaiable for saturns, and there are for neons.

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