The Ion Redline: Saturn's Sleeper Sports Car

Silver ion redline

The Saturn Ion Redline is one of the most forgotten cars of all time. It was caught up in the GM reorganization shuffle and ultimate demise of the Saturn nameplate, but it's worth noting. For anyone looking for a decently priced used car with some killer sleeper potential, the Saturn Ion Redline might be the car of your dreams.

What Was the Saturn Ion Redline?

Blue saturn redline

GM had a purpose for the Saturn Ion Redline; it was to act as Saturn’s version of the Cobalt SS. While the Redline isn’t exactly a well-known performance car, its cousin, the Cobalt SS, still has a very respectable following thanks to how easy it is to modify and the relatively low dollar price tag. Curiously, the performance of the Redline was about equal to that of the Cobalt SS but not the sales.

However, the Saturn Ion Redline was largely overlooked and has basically been forgotten. The Redline is often overlooked because the Saturn Ion was a little lackluster, so the Redline didn’t get much notoriety. Ion issues aside, the Redline was a different story.

Powering the fairly compact car was an LSJ engine, which was a heavily modified version of the GM Ecotec power train. This engine has a reduced stroke from 94.6 to 88mm to make a square 86mm x 86 mm bore and stroke — yielding a 2.0L displacement. The rotating assembly was beefed up, and most importantly, it got an Eaton M62 supercharger with integrated air-to-water intercooler. The transmission mated behind the engine was a borrowed turbo Saab trans. The end result? 205bhp and 200 lbs-ft of torque.

It wasn’t all about the engine though. The Redline had a nicely tuned suspension with stiffer springs, bushings, retuned dampers, and thick sway bars. Not to mention the Recaro bucket seats, upgraded disc brakes on all four wheels, and a body kit (that someone could take or leave). The Redline competition package added a ladder tach on the steering column, limited slip, and fog lights. Finally, it sported a 2-1/2: exhaust system for a pretty aggressive - but not overpowering - exhaust note. GM also introduced a few options to upgrade, like the Stage 2 package.

What this all added up to was:

  • 6.0 second 0-60 mph
  • 14.1 second 1/4 mile (keep in mind that a 1998 Corvette ran 13.5 in the quarter)
  • 164 foot braking distance from 70 mph

Is It a ‘Real’ Go-Fast Car?

Red ion redline

The Saturn Ion Redline had a lot of the markers of a sports coupe when it left the factory, but what really make a sleeper, in the minds of many, is how easy it is to upgrade. Since a true sleeper doesn't make what's under the hood obvious, you would have to modify it to achieve the mystery needed for a good sleeper. So is the Ion Redline worth modding? Yes, and it's a lot simpler than you'd think.

Since it used a Roots style supercharger, delivery of power was very linear and it responded extremely well to modification. To make this case, Hot Rod Magazine got 372whp and 291wtq out of their Redline. This build was done using a Magnuson TVS 1900 supercharger, Comp Cams cam, 64 lb/hr fuel injectors, a header, and exhaust work.

That kind of increase was on quite a budget, considering the mods, but you can still go fast for cheap as an Eaton M90 blower off the GM 3.8L engines can get the car up around 330 horsepower.

The final piece of the puzzle is the weight. This Ion with an attitude weighed in well under 3,000 pounds, making the horsepower to weight ratio pretty high once you start modifying it. If it ran a low 14 second 1/4 mile stock, it will definitely have some get up and go when you start tuning it. But then again, 14.1 in 1/4 mile is faster than many cars on the road today anyways.

The moral of the story is the Saturn Ion Redline is a car no one will expect to win. Due to the lack of brand and model recognition, people aren’t going to think it will put up much of a fight. However, even in stock form, it’s a fierce car on the inside, regardless of its mild mannered looks. So if you’re looking for a sleeper build, we definitely recommend considering the Saturn Ion Redline.