Road Test: 1992 Saarland Kosmos SR Hatchback
(Example Review #1)
Masterful handling; Intuitive interior; Fresh design
Jarring ride; Rough, unrefined engine; Inadequate power
A warm hatch/hot hatch identity crisis. Shell out on ES instead
From Issue #4 of 1992
Europeans do compacts better than we do. This piece of gospel truth has held true 40 years ago, when there was no need for small cars in America, through the 1970, where there was plenty need but no means, and to today, when the means are there but the effort isn’t. So when an American brand wheels out a brand-new model name for the foreigners to flatten, it’s no big deal. Maybe they make this one in Korea now, or maybe that one is supposed to be trendy. Whatever. With the Germans at Saarland, however, it’s different. The Adjunkt, their previous front-drive compact, had been in production since the 1960s, with numerous generations and refreshes in that time period. This new-for-1992 model could have just as well been another Adjunkt - but it isn’t. It’s a Kosmos. Cue a collective eye quirk at the Open Road office.
To be precise, it’s a Kosmos hot hatchback - despite this being the new compact’s first model year, it’s already had its trunk hacked off, turbine wheels bolted on, and an SR badge parked on the tailgate. And while it’s as rounded off and aerodynamic as most new models, this Saarland is surprisingly mean-looking. This impression is helped by the brilliantly shiny obsidian-black paintjob; we wouldn’t be surprised if you could fry an egg on it. And whereas most Kosmos trims are powered by engines in the 1-liter range, this one has a 2-liter mill, making it much more versatile and less likely to run out of steam on the highway. There is actually an even hotter version of the Kosmos, called the ES - but that car is more expensive and premium, with a price tag outside typical compact hatch figures - so we decided to test this trim first to see if you can get away with less.
We were surprised that for all its visual bark, the Kosmos was quite sane and rational on the inside: comfortable front seats, a rear bench that’s perfectly suitable for non-amputees, adequate storage space and proper climate control - though the sliders have a pretty long travel. The gauge cluster is clear and sufficient - there are no oil gauges, but you do get a coolant temperature and voltage gauge. Minor gripes we do have are manual windows despite the near-top trim and the position of the central cubby hole: behind the manual shifter.
So far, then, the Kosmos SR is a mean-looking hatchback with a clean-feeling interior. That felt confusing, so we went for a spin in the sleek new compact to clear everything up. Sure enough, right off the bat, the Saarland rode quite harshly and unevenly, with a reasonable front suspension response followed by a jarring bounce from the rear whenever we hit a bump. The overdamped rear’s effect was exacerbated by the low-profile sports tires, making the Kosmos uncomfortable on bumpy roads. The noise level was also above average even with this sort of vehicle, with the 2.0 engine being loud and rattly above 65 miles an hour - that’s the point at which you need to lay into the throttle in fifth gear. The drone is neither pleasant nor welcome, and the ‘sporty’ gearing attached to the vehicle gets much of the blame. On the plus side, even with this sort of gearing, the Kosmos SR hits its EPA-rated high of 37 to the gallon on highways.
So, a rowdy car that’d be at home on the track? We took it to ours, and it started making sense. The rear suspension, so merciless on a bumpy road, becomes magical in high-speed cornering, producing skidpad numbers rivaling serious sportscars. You can’t tune a twist-beam rear suspension to be both sporty and smooth, so that explains the rough ride. The low-pro sports rubber did its part, too, so road noise can be forgiven as well. The brakes are extremely powerful - if underventilated - and can terminate a 60-mph sprint in a mere 118 ft. And in spite of said brakes’ slight fade, the gas shocks and generally improved components means the car has a lot of staying power at the circuit. In fact, with the way the Kosmos tracks a perfect line, and the way it almost automatically recovers from powerslides with no snap, we would be tempted to call it ‘world-class’. Would be, however, is the key phrase here. To see why, let’s take a more detailed view at the iron-block, aluminum-head mill under the hood.
The 2.0 liter dual-cam Saarland straight-4, while a good highway performer, is a severely flawed engine even after 4 years in production. It does not use any balance shafts, making it rougher than it ought to be; the pistons are cheaply made and generate more friction and noise than is necessary; in fact, it feels like the twin camshafts and 16 valves are the only advanced thing about the engine at all. But this isn’t a performance engine, not like the superior mill in the ES trim: It has long, limiting intake runners, a lazy camshaft, and an ECU that knows the word ‘lean’ and little else. Yeah, the car sips gas and all, but is that the point of a hot or even warm hatch? but Worst of all, a conservative fuel cutoff system kills the engine’s revs immediately after its power peak, making our acceleration runs uneven and unsatisfying - so the prospect of the car being a fun, teenager-friendly power trip is ruined just the same. For all of the Kosmos SR’s immense handling prowess and chic styling, it is crippled by an engine in need of some serious troubleshooting.
So, there you have it. The Kosmos range is a practical, modern line of economical compacts, with a stylish look and everything you could ask for in a car of this size and expense. The Saarland Kosmos SR Hatchback, meanwhile, is little more an ES with most of the equipment, edge and expense, but without any significant display of the latter’s awesome twin-cam power. Retailing for AM$21000, it’s by no means a bad value, however it frustrated the better part of our staff by how much better it could have been if not for a couple of questionable design choices.
By The Numbers
Price as Tested:OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOI.OOOOOOOOOOOO
Body and Layout: OOOOOOI.OOOOO
3-door hatchback, transverse front-engine front-drive
Engine: OOOOOI122ci straight-4, 16-valve DOHC, iron block/alu head, electronic port injection
Power: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…OOOOO113 hp@5600
Torque: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.OOOOO139 ft-lb@2800
Transmission: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.O.OOOOO5-spd manual
Suspension(F/R): OOOOOOOOOOOOI.I.OOOOO MacPherson Struts/Twist Beam Axle
Brakes(F/R): OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOIOOOOO 11.2in steel disc/9.2in steel disc
Wheels: OOOOOOOOOOOOO.O.OOOOOOIOOOOO Alloy rim, 185/55ZR15 tire
Wheelbase: OOOOOOOOOOOOIOOO.OOOOOOOOOOOOOOI.OIO 97.6 in
Length: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOI.O.OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO 154.6 in
Width: OOOOOOOOOOOOO.O.OOOOOOIOOOOOOOOOOOOOI. 64.8 in
Footprint: OOOOOOOOOOOOO.O.OOOOOOIOOOOOOOOOO.O. 69.6 sq.ft
Curb weight: OOOOOOOOOOOOO.O.OOOOOOIOOOOOOOOOOO 2346 lb
Acceleration, 0-60 mph: OOOOOOOOOOOO.O.OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO 9.1 s
Best-fit Gear Passing, 50-75 mph: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOI.O.OOOOIOOOO 6.2 s
1/4 mile: OOOOOOOOOOOOO.O.OOOOOOOOOO.OOOOO.OOOO 16.9 s
Top Speed: OOOOOOOOOOOOO.O.OOOOOO.O.OOOOOOOOOO 133 mph
Braking Distance, 60-0 mph: OOOOOOOOOOOOO.O.OOOOOOIOOOOO 118 ft
Roadholding, 200-ft circle: OOOOOOOOOOOOO.O.OOOOOOIOOIOOO 0.96 g
EPA Fuel Economy (Combined/city/highway): OOOOOOOOOOOOO.O.O 32/29/37 mpg
Thanks to @Knugcab for the car. If you want your own car reviewed, please read the directions in the thread’s first post.