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Sport Compact Car Magazine
By Scott Oldham

....The rest of the car, however, while not without many positive attributes, has a list of problems that keeps us from fighting for the keys. These problems range from the truly unfixable, like the car's huge 185-inch length, to the fixable, like a tachometer that's always 800 rpm behind the motor.

In defense of the capable team of engineers that make up the recently formed GM Performance Division, most of the Red Line's flaws are not their fault. They're the fault of the boneheads who designed the Saturn ION in the first place.

The ION, in its non-Red Line garb, is simply one of the most disappointing cars we've ever driven. It's slow and crude, with the worst steering since the 1903 Curved Dash Oldsmobile, which was steered by a tiller. So if you consider what they had to start with, the engineers in the GM Performance Division should all be commended for a job well done.

That job was to transform that hemorrhoid of a car into a more refined machine that performs as good as or better than the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, Acura RSX Type-S, SVT Focus and MINI Cooper S. They did this by supercharging the Red Line's engine, and tuning its chassis on the famed Nuerburgring circuit in Germany. They even managed to radically improve the car's electrically assisted steering and keep the price just under $20,000 in the process.

That supercharged engine is a 2.0-liter version of the Ecotec four-cylinder, which is now powering all of GM's small cars in normally aspirated 2.2-liter form. The Performance Division destroked the engine, lowered its compression ratio from 10:1 to 9.5:1, bolted on a Roots-type supercharger (making 12.5 pounds of boost), stuffed in a Laminova air-to-water intercooler, and underrated it at 200 hp and 149 lb-ft of torque. That's right, they underrated it. Our Dynojet revealed the truth, which is an impressive 197 hp at the wheels at 6450 rpm and 169 lb-ft at 5250 rpm.

And it would be more if GM's engineers had more time. Check out the dyno chart. The engine crashes into its rev limiter at 6450 rpm while it's still building power. Rick Kewley, vehicle performance manager, high-performance vehicle operation, GM Performance Division (holy titles, Batman!), says this is because the engine hasn't been durability tested above that engine speed. Which is another problem Rick inherited from the original ION boneheads. He gives the same excuse for reducing boost slightly at high rpm. The supercharger is actually spinning fast enough to produce more boost, but the ECU opens the bypass valve slightly to keep peak cylinder pressures down at levels GM has already proven it can handle.

That limiter combines with a too-tall second gear and that lethargic tach needle to sabotage what could be a fun engine. It certainly makes good power, but as it's set up, it's nearly impossible to drive hard without running into the limiter. We're told the limiter will be softened after the car's first year, but it will remain at 6450 rpm.

What the engine really needs is another 500 to 700 rpm. It would increase its overall output, and keep the engine from falling below 4000 rpm on the 1-2 shift, which is where it really starts making grunt. As it is now, it does fall below 4000 rpm on that gear change due to the gearing in the Red Line's transmission, and gear spacing that's mismatched to the blown Ecotec's power curve.


According to Mark Reuss, the man in charge of the GM Performance Division, the five-speed is based on a Saab transmission from GM's global powertrain parts bin and has tall gears in Europe to be able to tow with a turbo engine. The problem is, of course, that this isn't Europe, nobody is going to tow with a Red Line, and the car is not turbocharged. Besides that, it's ideal for the application.

At the dragstrip, the tall gearing really hurts the car's performance. It's a heavy car at 2,960 pounds, but with nearly 200 hp at the wheels, it should be quicker than it is. We managed 0-to-60 mph in 7.1 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.3 at 94.5 mph. And we know the gearing is at fault, because the car runs through the traps in third gear. A limited-slip differential would also help. Kewley says his team is working on one.

Under the Red Line, there are front struts, a beam rear suspension, front and rear anti-roll bars, polished 17x7 wheels and Dunlop SP9000 tires. It's a combination Ruess says the team tuned conservatively. Drive the car hard and it just feels bigger than every other car in its class, which it is--11.6-inches longer than a Subaru WRX.

Still, on fast, wide-open canyon roads, you can drive the Red Line faster than we originally gave it credit for, that is as long as you left-foot brake to control the front suspension. If you do, the Red Line is easy to place where you want. If you don't, it unloads the front tires and pushes like a tugboat. The brakes are good. Four-wheel discs. ABS. Sixty-to-zero mph in 121 feet with very little fade.

Bottom line, the ION Red Line is not our favorite, but it's not the worst, either. We'd rather drive it any day over a Honda Civic Si. Maybe our hopes were set too high. After all, last year Dodge gave us the SRT-4 and built the quickest car in the market for the money.

Full Uncut Article Here

 

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I can't really disagree. Nice Try GM, but they should have tried harder. I understand limited budgets and time, but if they just spend the money upfront, the engineering/knowledge gained could be applied to future models.
 

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The ION would be a great car, if it had a better idea. I'm sure all of you are thinking the exact same thing... ;)
 

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Well... at least GM is trying. I'd bet that the ION Red Line will be a lot more dependable than the Neon SRT-4. Supercharging the engine was a good idea by GM. It's not that turbocharging is a bad thing, but instantaneous response by supercharging is hard to beat. If this engine is making 197hp at the wheels then it is REALLY making about 235hp under the hood. It is not unusual for GM to underrate their engines horsepower numbers(and example being the Buick Grand National...) I suppose it's for the car to have lower insurance premiums. Otherwise, with Saturn's reputation for reliable product and great dealership network, if you're in the market for a sporty compact... THIS IS IT!
 

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Im looking at this as a victory! These mags arent really open to domestic cars, even if they are of the sport compact kind. The SRT4 blew the doors off there little honda dream house, so they had to notice it and give it its due. The Ion is a lame car, but I think the Cobalt will be the answer to the "lazy" Ion. I think that this is just to get GM's foot in the sport compact door. That 2.0 Ecotec is from Saab, and its all forged. Im sure that the turbo 2.0 ecotec will make its way not only into the Ion, but Cobalt too. Im sure that the little turbo 2.0 could make as much power as the larger 2.4 in the neon.
What the Ion stumbled with, the Cobalt will fly through with flying colors. Id also like to see an LSD in the front end. Im glad that they liked that car for the most part. Yeah, its not a great review, but its not like they trashed the car either. They sound like they want this car to come through and put a stomping on the Import dominated world.
 

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Not very compact is it?

I really hope the Cobalt will blow the doors off of those Honda racers. It has to, or it simply isn't gonna fly.
 

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Originally posted by Ming@May 12 2004, 11:57 AM

That job was to transform that hemorrhoid of a car into a more refined machine that performs as good as or better than the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, Acura RSX Type-S, SVT Focus and MINI Cooper S.
Hemorrhoid of a car says it all. Trying to get it into the same class as the Acura RSX is a fantasy.
 

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That job was to transform that hemorrhoid of a car into a more refined machine that performs as good as or better than the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, Acura RSX Type-S, SVT Focus and MINI Cooper S. They did this by supercharging the Red Line's engine, and tuning its chassis on the famed Nuerburgring circuit in Germany.
Well, by saying that "they did this by..." implies that they succeeded in making it perform better than ...
 

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Originally posted by keyjack5024@May 12 2004, 01:38 PM
Well... at least GM is trying. I'd bet that the ION Red Line will be a lot more dependable than the Neon SRT-4.
I'd certainly hope so, since it's a new model almost into its second year of production, while the SRT-4 is on a lame-duck platform.
 

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I applaud GM for this "foot in the door" move.

Since when do 1st tries equal hits? Name any Sport compact on the market and I'd bet the engine went through several revisions before its current status.

Neon SR-T 4's turbo motor has been in the PT Cruiser turbo for a few years now, plenty of time to freshen and tighten any loose ends and from what I hear they didn't really differentiate its performance from the PT???

This is try (not strike) one... the initial phasing in or initiation if you will.

By the time the Cobalt SS hits the lots, this should be a much improved powertrain.
I mean just the fact that it won't be a sedan (= less weight, better handling) should tell you to get ready for something nice.

That along with a supposed LSD and gear tuning should make this the one to beat..
 

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The 2.4 Turbo in the SRT-4 has been in the Mexican Stratus since 1997. In 2001 they get a power-up to 215hp, and recently it has 225hp.
 

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In any case, you better HOPE the Cobalt SS has addressed the Redline Ion's "shortcomings". If not, GM could be considered the laughing stock of the sport compact market.
 

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the ion is already a joke in the sport compact car the redline didn't do much to deter that...i don't understand why the destroked the ecotec engine though when it really needs that stroke to make some torque that's really what makes the SRT-4 such a real strong performer

i think theres a lot of untapped potential in the ecotec engine but it's gona take some finagling to get it out wouldn't surprise me to see some 300hp cobalts and redline ions out there in the future
 

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I wouldn't expect too much from the Cobalt. That thing is very heavy and just under 3000lbs. I would hope that the transmission gearing issue gets taken care of. I would be very suprised if the Cobalt/Pursuit get any great reviews - there is alot of bias going against them.

I for one like the redline but I would not pay the price they're asking. For under 5K(CAN) I can add a T3 turbo setup to my 11K(CAN) '03 sunfire and crush almost anything on the road - including a stock C5. GM needs to push the 2.0 eco harder. If a 2.2l can get close to 400HP I'm sure a well designed 2.0l can push 300 - I think GM is scared to offer that kind of power, Dodge however is not.
 
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