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Edmunds Reviews ION Red Line

25 posts in this topic

Negative to Positive
By John DiPietro
Date posted: 10-10-2005

Back in 2003, we tested a Saturn Ion coupe, but didn't like it much. The rear access doors struck us as functional cool, but the mediocre seats, no-feel-in-the-wheel steering and unexciting handling left us cold. We closed that road test by saying optimistically, "The forthcoming Ion Red Line series coupe, with its promise of around 200 horsepower, supportive sport seats and a tightened-up suspension…could pump a lot of life into the nearly flat-lined Ion."

So here we are, two years later with a snazzy Pacific Blue 2005 Saturn Ion Red Line with 205 horsepower, a five-speed manual, Recaro sport seats and a tweaked suspension.

But is this jockish brother to the couch-potato Ion coupe as good as we thought it could be? We had a week of daily commuting, a session at the test track and a flog down seriously twisty Angeles Crest Highway north of L.A. to find out.

Takes a Licking
"No spoiler?" a colleague asked in mock amazement upon checking out this quasi-tuner sport coupe. That's right, no gaudy rear wing stuck on the trunk lid, a rare sight in this youth-driven segment, and a detail that appealed to the umm, more "senior" members of our staffers.

But there's still enough eye candy here to show the masses you're not driving a base Ion coupe. A larger air intake in the front fascia, simulated brake cooling scoops in the front fenders, handsome 17-inch wheels, slightly flared rockers and a discreet "Red Line" badge on the rear add the requisite attitude. And if you really need it, an extroverted "aero-wing" spoiler is optional at $380.

A unique feature of the Ion, and most other Saturns, are its flexible body panels. Yes, they result in larger body panel gaps (to allow expansion and contraction), but the first time you witness them saving your door from a nasty dent you'll be glad the Ion has them.

Functionally Fine, Aesthetically Not Exactly Aces
In the past, the Ion's cabin has taken well-deserved knocks for its abundance of hard plastic trim that comprises most of the dash and door panels. And although Saturn has given it a different texture and dressed up the center stack with faux metal trim, it's still not going to be confused with an Acura RSX. But look at those seats! Genuine Recaros, with all the support and comfort that their racy design promises. And they're nicely complemented by a meaty, leather-wrapped steering wheel that feels great in your hands.

White-faced gauges add to the sporty feel, though most editors still don't like the odd location atop the center of the dash, claiming the dials are hard to read at a glance.

Saturn must be aware of the problem. For 2006 it has added a combination boost gauge and "ladder tach" on top of the steering column to the $1,500 Competition Package. Three pairs of lights, two yellow and one red, flank the boost gauge and indicate certain rpm, ostensibly so one can check their revs without looking over at the tachometer itself. At the factory settings, the first pair of yellows light up at 4,400 rpm (where peak torque occurs), the second pair at 5,600 rpm (at peak horsepower) and the last pair (the red lights) at 6,200 rpm (300 rpm shy of redline). You can shut them off or change the settings to your preference.

The Ion's rear access doors prove useful, making it easy to chuck a gym bag or sports equipment into the backseat. Of course, it also eases ingress and egress for rear passengers, who will find a pair of nicely contoured buckets back there. What's not useful are the cupholders, they're so shallow that a bottle of water does the Weeble's thing until it ultimately falls out.

Supercharged Sprinter
With 205 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, the front-wheel-drive Red Line's supercharged 2.0-liter "Ecotec" four (shared with cousin Chevy's Cobalt SS) certainly qualifies as a muscle-bound mill. Coupled to the blown engine is a five-speed manual, no automatic is available. Running through the gears, the stick is smooth gate-to-gate, if a bit rubbery in feel. Although the clutch stroke is sportingly short, it still manages to be linear, making smooth takeoffs and gear changes a snap.

We did notice that the engine tends to hold onto revs a bit when you back off the gas while changing up. It wasn't a problem, as in some other vehicles where it makes for somewhat slurred upshifts, but something we noted. Still, this is the best four-cylinder to ever roll out of a GM plant. Smooth (thanks to balance shafts) and eager (thanks to 12 pounds of boost) right to redline, it doesn't give away much to the Japanese.

With all that torque on tap, feathering the throttle off the line is necessary to avoid sending the front Dunlops up in smoke. Once rolling, jumping into the throttle yields a 0-to-60-mph time of 6.7 seconds. A blast down the quarter-mile takes just 14.6 seconds, a quicker time than we recorded in the '06 BMW 330i we tested recently and faster than most cars in this class. A free-flow exhaust adds to the fun with its slightly aggressive and snarly tone.

Against EPA ratings of 23 city/29 highway, we averaged 23.1 mpg. Not bad at all considering we had our foot in the boost at every opportunity.

Fleet of Foot
Along with the power upgrade, the Red Line receives a sport-tuned suspension (independent up front, semi-independent torsion beam setup out back) that's lowered 10mm and features firmer spring, damper and bushing rates as well as larger stabilizer bars. Mounted on those alloys are 215/45ZR17 Dunlop performance tires.

Although it doesn't boast a fully independent suspension like some more expensive rivals, it's a well-sorted setup that provides rock-solid handling, plenty of grip and fine balance when zinging the car through a set of S curves. In the slalom, the Red Line ran through the cones at 61.1 mph, certainly respectable, though that performance still trails the Cobalt SS (64.9 mph) which runs 18-inch Pirelli P Zero Rossos and weighs about 100 pounds less. When you're not playing Speed Racer, the Ion provides a supple ride that won't beat you up on broken pavement.

The limited-slip differential which is also part of the Competition Package is appreciated when powering out of low-speed corners, though it was still possible and fun on really tight corner exits to light 'em up at times due to the healthy dose of torque on tap. Heavy-duty, equal-length halfshafts do their best to mitigate torque steer. Under hard acceleration in a straight line the car pulls straight, but when blasting out of those tight corners some torque steer does surface.

We're happy to report that the electric-power steering has been recalibrated for the Red Line and the result is a pleasing heft in the wheel and a precise on-center feel. With this Ion, you feel connected to the front wheels. Still, the steering felt unnaturally heavy at times, such as in slow, tight corners, but overall it's much improved over Saturn's other setups.

Disc brakes all around aided by standard ABS are up to the task of quickly reining in the Red Line. Stopping from 60 mph consumed only 121 feet of pavement, and whether on the track or during the daily grind, the brakes are strong and easy to modulate.

Pocket Change Pocket Rocket
All told, the Red Line is a well-rounded, if not very refined package — ripping performance, confidence-inspiring handling, a decent ride and great seats make it a choice for enthusiasts on a budget. And for 2006, the price has been lowered about $1,500, making the '06 version of our test car listing out at $21,770.

If you're looking for a cabin with Audi-like craftsmanship, then let's be honest, this just ain't your ride. But if a grin-inducing driving experience is what you're after for around $20K, then there's a good chance the Saturn Ion Red Line will get you all charged up.

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Personally, I think it looks great, *inside* and out. I'd consider buying one if its safety improved.
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it's still not going to be confused with an Acura RSX.


I don't understand why the RSX is the standard... It's interior is god-awful with that gawdy dishwasher looking center stack.

Oh wait, it's an Acura... Sorry, I slipped out of the hypnotism there for a second.

White-faced gauges add to the sporty feel, though most editors still don't like the odd location atop the center of the dash, claiming the dials are hard to read at a glance.


Okay in a Toyota, okay in a $80,000+ BMW.... Not in a $10,000 Ion.

A good article that destroys the car "just because" of "subjectively" in the conclusion.
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Oh wait, it's an Acura... Sorry, I slipped out of the hypnotism there for a second.

[post="28397"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


*hands you some of the "special" KoolAid*

There ya go.... drink up.
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This is currently the only Saturn on sale that I'd want to own. Even then there are so many problems with it. Looks jacked up, has weird mismatched body lines, unpainted mirrors, center-mounted gauge cluster, crappy dash overall, and it's just a little bit too weird. I like the idea of it though... SCed compact coupe with two extra doors, great recaro seats, sporty yet understated look, etc... It's cool. It's weird. It's both. :P

I don't understand why the RSX is the standard... It's interior is god-awful with that gawdy dishwasher looking center stack.

Oh wait, it's an Acura... Sorry, I slipped out of the hypnotism there for a second.

I generally agree with everything you say, but come on... The RSX's dash is much better than this Ion's. There's not really a comparison between the two. IMO.

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I don't understand why the RSX is the standard... It's interior is god-awful with that gawdy dishwasher looking center stack.

Oh wait, it's an Acura... Sorry, I slipped out of the hypnotism there for a second.
Okay in a Toyota, okay in a $80,000+ BMW.... Not in a $10,000 Ion.

A good article that destroys the car "just because" of "subjectively" in the conclusion.

[post="28397"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


Just a clarification, the "Personally, I think it looks great, *inside* and out. I'd consider buying one if its safety improved" was a comment from me; it wasn't part of the review. Overall, it seemed very positive.
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I absolutely hate the RSX dash design and layout, maybe it's just me, I dunno.

I do agree with the Ion comment though, I don't like it's dash either. I didn't remember anyone complaining about that layout in the BMW or Echo and that's what makes me angry.

Come to think of it.... Doesn't the xTOASTER or xBLOB have the same layout? (Center gauges) I'm sure they didn't get ragged on.. Or maybe I'm wrong, maybe they have the traditional layout. Oh well, I guess I'm just rambling and complicating the matter.

(empowah @ Oct 13 2005, 04:50 PM)
Just a clarification, the "Personally, I think it looks great, *inside* and out. I'd consider buying one if its safety improved" was a comment from me; it wasn't part of the review. Overall, it seemed very positive.



Oh I know.

I was refering to:


if not very refined package...


and

a decent ride...



They just spent the whole article praising the dynamics of the car and actuallysaying some VERY nice things about it's performance but then they kill the optimism with these off the wall comments.
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From Edmunds...

Once seated, the driver must cock her head to the right to view the center-mounted gauge pod. It's a different design from the one in the xB, such that the gauges are closer to the exact center of the dash. Although we easily adjusted to this arrangement, we're still not convinced that putting the gauges in the center provides an ergonomic advantage, especially when the speedometer digits are as small as they are in the xA (the Mini Cooper's pie-plate-sized speedo gets much closer to the ideal). On the plus side, the xA has a bigger tachometer than the xB.

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I do agree with the Ion comment though, I don't like it's dash either. I didn't remember anyone complaining about that layout in the BMW or Echo and that's what makes me angry.


I've never heard of a center-mount gauge cluster in any BMW..which model has it? I've heard some complaints about the Echo's dash, but not as consistently as I have for the Saturn.

Personally, I hate the Saturn's dash layout. The kitchen timer stuck on top of the steering column is cheesy even by GM standards.
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The BMW Z8 had center-mounted gauges. The supercharged engine is not enough to save the ION. The car completely lacks refinement.
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Well, at least it has character, which is missing in many new cars. I forgot to mention that it's also rather expensive for what it is; a MINI Cooper S or the new Civic Si cost about the same, but are better built and more thoughtfully designed.
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I tested a redline Ion awhile ago and it was an absolute hoot. the interior felt junky, but it had power and handling that will make you smile wide. If the cabin were larger I would buy one. Its too tight for the kid, much less adults, in back, although the rear doors are handy in that aspect. Honestly, if you want a fun car with balls and handling...cheap, you can't go wrong on this one. Get over the dash, you'll adjust. The seats are killer, the shifter is sweet.
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I absolutely hate the RSX dash design and layout, maybe it's just me, I dunno.


Nope...I hate it too. It doesn't have an attractive design, the materials aren't very good and they color scheme just makes it look ugly.

Not that the ION is anything that good...but anything is better than the RSX interior...except maybe the new Civic.
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but anything is better than the RSX interior...except maybe the new Civic.


NO DOUBT!!!!

Honda is SERIOUSLY going down hill, first with the Ridgeline and now with the Civic..

I'm sure every journalist will love it though (Unless it were in a domestic)
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I ABSOLUTELY HATE THE ACURA RSX! The interior is horrible and the material quality poor. The door panels feel like cardboard. I have no idea why my friend bought one. He is such Honda humper. So get this guys: My first car was a 1986 Pontiac Parisienne, bought brand new by my dad in 1986 and I bought it off him when it had about 90,000 miles on it around the year 2000. We kept it pretty low mileage for a 20 year old car. I had to sell the beauty unfortunately though because I couldn't afford the gas anymore as a college student. My friend's first car was a 1991 Honda Accord Coupe. We raced against each other. I smoked him. Boy was he pissed. My 2nd and current car is a 1998 Olds Intrigue and my friend's car is now a 2002 Acura RSX. My friend was sure he now had the faster car. But he was so diluted, he thought he could out accelerate my other friend's C5. This is his ricer mentality. We raced against each other. Once again, I smoked him with a much heavier car "family sedan." He had a six speed-manual and 70,000 less miles. Once again, he was super pissed. He'll never beat me with his Honda's. The so called "top-of-the-line" Honda felt cheap on the inside, was slow, had road noise and rode rough with hardly anymore cornering and handling edge over my older Intrigue. Not to mention, his hood wouldn't even shut properly because it was misaligned and his stereo sound had half the quality sound as my Bose. This brings me to my point. Why do people praise the Acura so much? It's junk for being supposedly being the best Honda has to offer. Edited by KillFort
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All opinions... :P I had to bring attention to this post, though. Something isn't right.

My 2nd and current car is a 1998 Olds Intrigue and my friend's car is now a 2002 Acura RSX. My friend was sure he now had the faster car. But he was so diluted, he thought he could out accelerate my other friend's C5. This is his ricer mentality.

We raced against each other. Once again, I smoked him with a much heavier car "family sedan." He had a six speed-manual and 70,000 less miles.

Either you he doesn't have the Type-S or he can't drive worth shit. 0-60 times for each were... 6.7 for the RSX and 7.7 for the Intrigue. 1/4 mile times were... 15.1 for the RSX and 15.8 for the Intrigue. Again, either he doesn't have a Type-S (which was the only one to come with a 6-spd) or he completely sucks at driving. So, which is it?

Once again, he was super pissed. He'll never beat me with his Honda's. The so called "top-of-the-line" Honda felt cheap on the inside, was slow, had road noise and rode rough with hardly anymore cornering and handling edge over my older Intrigue. Not to mention, his hood wouldn't even shut properly because it was misaligned and his stereo sound had half the quality sound as my Bose.

Now... Either he doesn't have a Type-S or he can't drive or his RSX was fucked up by the previous owner. It should out handle the Intrique by quite a bit if it is indeed a Type-S (which doesn't seem likely at the moment). It is a great handling car...

As for the rough ride, well, it isn't a luxury car. It's a sport compact. It's not going to have a softer ride than your Intrigue. And I think that's a very good thing.

And the road noise, again, it's a sport compact, not a luxury car. It's going to have more road noise. That and I feel being able to hear what's going on beneath you is a good thing... especially in a car meant to be sporty. But besides... if hate road noise, you don't want to ride in my GA.

About the hood... you can't blame that on the car. Something had to happen to it. Either owner abuse or some kind of accident.

Finally the stereo... If it's a Type-S, I'm pretty sure it should have a Bose stereo system. Although it may not have come until a few years into production. I don't know...

This brings me to my point. Why do people praise the Acura so much? It's junk for being supposedly being the best Honda has to offer.

Because, it really is a good car. I wouldn't say it's the best Honda has to offer, though...
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i don't like the RSX interior myself. A cobalt coupe interior is awesome in black cloth and honestly off hand the only other small car I can think of in that price class that has a nicer interior is maybe a MAzda3. The Civic's new interior is ok but really offbeat and ricerish and doesn't do anything 4 me.
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Because they're snowed...

The media says it's better, so it is.. Case closed.

[post="28863"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


GM fan or not, your statement was ignorant.

I'm sick of people trying to blame the media for GM's mediocricy....that's what GM itself has done for too many years.....and that's what helped them take their eyes of the target too many times.

Get real.......when GM offers products actually worthy of praise, the media will give it to them (...like they have the Corvette, CTS, and Suburban for example.)
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GM fan or not, your statement was ignorant.

I'm sick of people trying to blame the media for GM's mediocricy....that's what GM itself has done for too many years.....and that's what helped them take their eyes of the target too many times.


Why so deffensive O.C.?

I blame the media for the majority of problems at GM simply because of the thier continued bad impression of GM REGARDLESS of what GM does. Just look at the editorials that flat out slander and blatantly beat up on GM (or Ford) for no reason. The L.A. times editorial was a good example from your area. Edmunds article on Chevrolet getting no respect is a good example of them highlighting their own collective error. Articles by the Auto Extremist is another good example of ADMISSION of bias, or LACK of critique of the competition. It's all over the place, right in front of everyone's eyes yet some just refuse to see it either through spite or apathy.

Get real.......when GM offers products actually worthy of praise, the media will give it to them (...like they have the Corvette, CTS, and Suburban for example.)


:bs:

The Corvette has NO competition, therefore it receives praise (Except for the C4 which the media hated) It's also low volume. The CTS DID NOT receive positive media attention initially and still receives lukewarm reviews. The Suburban has no import competition, and if you think the constant barrage of "gas guzzler this" "dinosaur this" and "gas hog that" comments is positive, then I'd hate to hear your negative.

The CTS (V excluded) has claimed victory in 1 comparison in the rags (unless I'm seriously mistaken) throughout it's 4 year run, that being in Road and Track. The Suburban has always been loathed by media such as Consumer Reports and the Corvette was ridiculed until '97 when the C5 debuted.

I'm sick of people trying to blame the media for GM's mediocricy


The truth might get tiring, but it's still the truth.
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Why so deffensive O.C.?

I blame the media for the majority of problems at GM simply because of the thier continued bad impression of GM REGARDLESS of what GM does. Just look at the editorials that flat out slander and blatantly beat up on GM (or Ford) for no reason. The L.A. times editorial was a good example from your area. Edmunds article on Chevrolet getting no respect is a good example of them highlighting their own collective error. Articles by the Auto Extremist is another good example of ADMISSION of bias, or LACK of critique of the competition. It's all over the place, right in front of everyone's eyes yet some just refuse to see it either through spite or apathy.
:bs:

The Corvette has NO competition, therefore it receives praise (Except for the C4 which the media hated) It's also low volume. The CTS DID NOT receive positive media attention initially and still receives lukewarm reviews. The Suburban has no import competition, and if you think the constant barrage of "gas guzzler this" "dinosaur this" and "gas hog that" comments is positive, then I'd hate to hear your negative.

The CTS (V excluded) has claimed victory in 1 comparison in the rags (unless I'm seriously mistaken) throughout it's 4 year run, that being in Road and Track. The Suburban has always been loathed by media such as Consumer Reports and the Corvette was ridiculed until '97 when the C5 debuted.
The truth might get tiring, but it's still the truth.

[post="30259"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



I think the media bias thing is just another excuse...and, you know what, if it isn't an excuse then it just sounds like one, which is almost as bad, IMO.

There are many wonderful GM products and, by the same token, just as many that leave even the staunchest GM supporter scratching their heads.


Ex.

The GMT-800's were considered first class for many years...the Cavalier was a bottom feeder for the last 10 years of its existence. Ask yourself....do you want a young/poor/new buyer in your worst product as their first experience with the brand?

Vette C6, best performance bargain in the world....Camaro, mmm, dead last time I checked (BTW, Ford's doing OK w/the Mustang???).

Rejuvination of Cadillac- may not win comparos but it has become an arguable 'standard of the world'(who would have bet on that 5 yrs. ago?)....HHR--a PT response how many years late? (Oh, and its development budget probably pushed the Camaro off the table for a few more years.)

So the press is harsh...boo-fricken-hoo...GM OWNED this market not long ago. They lost their way. It's not just auto media, its academics and other business leaders who share that opinion.

So let's get on with helping GM with insight instead of cheerleading...
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I think the media bias thing is just another excuse...and, you know what, if it isn't an excuse then it just sounds like one, which is almost as bad, IMO.

There are many wonderful GM products and, by the same token, just as many that leave even the staunchest GM supporter scratching their heads.
Ex.

The GMT-800's were considered first class for many years...the Cavalier was a bottom feeder for the last 10 years of its existence. Ask yourself....do you want a young/poor/new buyer in your worst product as their first experience with the brand?

Vette C6, best performance bargain in the world....Camaro, mmm, dead last time I checked (BTW, Ford's doing OK w/the Mustang???).

Rejuvination of Cadillac- may not win comparos but it has become an arguable 'standard of the world'(who would have bet on that 5 yrs. ago?)....HHR--a PT response how many years late? (Oh, and its development budget probably pushed the Camaro off the table for a few more years.)

So the press is harsh...boo-fricken-hoo...GM OWNED this market not long ago. They lost their way.

So let's get on with helping GM with insight instead of cheerleading...

[post="30488"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


If you think I'm just a GM cheerleader then obviously you haven't read the majority of my posts. Furthermore, I couldn't care less what anyone here thinks of me. It's a blog based on opinion and this is my opinion. If you like my posts, GREAT! If not, great! THAT'S THE BEAUTY OF IT.

It's not just auto media, its academics and other business leaders who share that opinion.


I never singled out the automotive press.
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If you think I'm just a GM cheerleader then obviously you haven't read the majority of my posts. Furthermore, I couldn't care less what anyone here thinks of me. It's a blog based on opinion and this is my opinion. If you like my posts, GREAT! If not, great! THAT'S THE BEAUTY OF IT.
I never singled out the automotive press.

[post="30723"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



First, I stand corrected. You only blame the general media for a 'MAJORITY' of GM's problems....point taken.

I'm not being critical of opinions, or points of view, nor was I attacking you personally. I just think a little healthy discussion regarding the reality facing this once great coprporation would bring our a little more critical analysis, rather than incessant opinion pieces from positively biased individuals. If you're one of 'em, than so be it. I can only comment on the post above, since that's what my reply responded to. Perhaps a more careful reading of my comments will reveal my genuine passion for good product, whereever its from, as well as criticism when deserved.

I know that many pundits are using GM as a punching bag. Is that fair? No. But, you know what, its not just those people's words that are killing GM. It's bad business decisions & mediocre product in crucial areas & bad dealer relations &lots of other things that ALL conspire to place GM in the position that it's in.

If I were a GM exec, I'd be trolling these pages, and others like it for new info, creative ideas and intelligent analysis....that stuff would help. Blaming others for your own situation is exactly what got them here in the first place.

I'd like to see the slide stop for many reasons.

I would think you'd want to as well. Being the best musician on board the Titanic might have seemed like a great position to be in at some point in time.
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I hate the Acura's dash. It's like a pathetic 1980's refugee, with cheesy HVAC vents to boot. I can't understand why these auto magazines like the RSX's dash so much, regardless of its materials. Although I can appreciate soft and squishy dash materials with no sheen, I would rather have a nicely styled instrument panel with rock hard plastics with a low sheen and seemless integration over something ugly. Sorry Honda, but I like the GM Saturn ION's dash better than your tarted-up Civic's. Also, not that I give Motor Trend that much credit, but they complained of the Scion xA's centre mounted instrument cluster as well in that comparison that included the Chevrolet Aveo and Kia Rio Cinqo. And the media is just as responsible as GM is for its troubles with public perception. It's hard to fight to looming problems at once.
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