The S-series debuted with SC (“sports coupe”) and SL (“sedan level”) models in 1990 as 1991 models. The SW (“sedan wagon”) debuted at the 1992 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Taiwan and Japan were the only two foreign countries that imported Saturns. From 1992 to 1996, the first- and second-generation sedans plus the first-generation coupes were sold in Taiwan. From 1996 to 2003, the second-generation versions were sold in right-hand drive in Japan.
A change partway through the 1999 model year gave the SC a small suicide door on the driver's side. This type of door had previously been used in extended cab pickup trucks, but was an innovation in coupe design.
The S-series was replaced by the larger Saturn Ion in 2003, which was unable to match the S-series' success before the end of its own production at the end of 2007.
Coupes and sedans equipped with a manual transmission were among the most fuel-efficient cars available at the time, reaching 40miles per US gallon (5.9L/100km; 48mpg-imp) in EPA highway tests.
The first generation SL and SW were made from model year 1991 to 1995. The first Saturn to leave the assembly line in the Spring Hill, Tennessee factory was on July 30, 1990. It was maroon with a tan interior. Originally there were two available trim levels. The SL1 trim level featured a SOHC 1.9L I4 LK0 engine that was rated at 85hp (63kW), which was upgraded to the 100hp (70kW) L24 engine for the 1995 model year. The SL2 trim level featured a DOHC 1.9L I4 LL0 engine that was rated at 124hp (92kW). Both the SL1 and SL2 got 29miles per US gallon (8.1L/100km; 35mpg-imp) city, 35miles per US gallon (6.7L/100km; 42mpg-imp) Highway. The SL1 and SL2 had a 12USgallons (45L; 10imp gal) fuel tank, which means that both cars got around 384miles (618km) on a single tank (based on average of 32mpg-US (7.4L/100km; 38mpg-imp). Owners of the base model typical report real-world fuel mileage of about 38mpg-US (6.2L/100km; 46mpg-imp)-41mpg-US (5.7L/100km; 49mpg-imp) on the highway with the manual trans. 1991-1992 model year Saturns featured the base "SL" available with a manual transmission only, an "SL1", "SL2", and "SC". For model year 1993, the line expanded to include the SW1 and SW2 wagons, which were mechanically identical to their SL1 and SL2 counterparts. All models received an interior redesign for 1995.