Established in 1983, Saleen quickly became one of America’s most renowned Ford Mustang tuners. Already a highly praised company in the 1990s, Saleen became a full-fledged automaker by launching the S7 in 2000. One of the first hand-built American supercars, the S7 went on to become a legend and survived for no fewer than nine years on the market. Once it discontinued the S7, Saleen went back to modifying muscle cars, providing upgrades not only for the Mustang but for the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger (and even the Tesla Model S) too. But it seems that Saleen is now ready to launch its second original design. It’s called the S1, and it was introduced at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show.
The small sports car is a surprising appearance. Not only it came out of nowhere, but it also arrived at a time when Saleen barely emerged from years of struggling with financial difficulties. And the California-based firm has big plans with the S1, hoping to sell more than 1,500 units a year in the U.S. alone. The two-door is also built from scratch by the American company, which is a big feat given that Saleen was almost bankrupt a few years ago. But it’s worth mentioning that Saleen isn’t alone in this project. The S1 is actually made by Jiangsu Saleen Automotive Technologies Group, a company based in China that is building a billion-dollar manufacturing facility in the country.
Saleen also revealed that the S1 project began a few years ago when the firm purchased the tooling for the Artega GT, a German sports car designed by Henrik Fisker in the late 2000s. Launched in 2009, the GT was short-lived, being discontinued when Artega went bankrupt in 2012. However, the S1 isn’t based on the GT. Saleen found that an update wasn’t feasible and designed a new coupe from scratch.
The S1 was designed to correspond to modern sports car standard. It’s compact, it has short overhangs, a low-slung stance, and flowing, organic lines. It has loads of design features that make it look unique and I must say it’s a fresh take on the sports car concept. The front fascia is clean and simple, but the triangular headlamps with the C-shaped daytime running lights and the stacked, rectangular LED units give it an exotic look. The big vent in the hood and the smaller cooling outlets mounted atop the wheel arches add more race-specific character to the design. The bumper is not overly aggressive and doesn’t include the usual large splitter, but the wide intakes with three fins toward the sides look very cool.
"The rear reminds me of the early 1990s Porsche 911, but the S1 is decidedly more modern to look at"
Onto the sides, we can see more of those traditional compact sports car features, such as the short front hood, the short overhangs, and the sloping roof. Interestingly enough, the S1 is similar to the Artega GT in the middle section. The door and quarter window have a similar shape, as does the outlet on the rear fender. They’re far from identical, but when these details stand out when compared side-to-side. The rear haunches are also somewhat similar. But that’s not a bad thing, as these seemingly borrowed cues work well with Saleen’s new design.
The rear end is fresh and unique. The fascia itself is very narrow, as is the red stripe that incorporates the taillights. Above there’s a large spoiler, while the bumper below has a massive grille in the middle, a race-inspired diffuser, and a couple of center-mounted tailpipes. It reminds me a bit of the early 1990s Porsche 911, but the S1 is decidedly more modern to look at. Another interesting feature is the wide recess that runs across the center section of the roof, giving the car a bubble-top-like design.
- Simple, clean layout
- Clutter-free center stack
- Digital instrument cluster
- Two-tone upholstery
- Sporty seats
"Everything looks crisp and simple as Saleen aimed for a clutter-free layout"
The interior mirrors the outer shell in terms of design. Everything looks crisp and simple and it’s pretty obvious that Saleen aimed for a clutter-free layout. The instrument cluster has a sporty hood with angular lines onto the sides and it appears to include a larger digital display. The steering wheel in front of it looks simple too, with no buttons and switches whatsoever. It might be just a prototype though, as it doesn’t even include the usual badge at the center. The center stack is made of a thin and sleek A/C vent and an equally narrow control unit with four knobs. There’s no infotainment screen in sight, but it could be hidden behind that lid in the lower center stack.
The door panels are simple but elegant, with the white center sections making it seem as if the dashboard extends onto the sides. The seats aren’t as aggressive as in a race car, but they do have firm side bolsters and should provide plenty of lateral support for spirited driving. The headrests are integrated into the seat design, providing a motorsport-inspired look. The black-and-white upholstery is a nice touch, but Saleen should provide more color options. Unfortunately there isn’t much information available right now about the technology and options that will be offered.
- Mid-mounted engine
- Twin-turbo, 2.5-liter four-cylinder
- 450 horsepower
- 360 pound-feet of torque
- 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds
- Top speed at 180 mph
- Rear-biased weight distribution
- Six-speed manual transmission
- Continental tires
- Quarter mile in 11.3 seconds
- 2,685-pound curb weight
"Saleen went with a six-speed manual transmission in a market that turned almost entirely to automatics"
The Saleen S1 is powered by a mid-mounted, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The twin-turbo cranks out an impressive 450 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque and Saleen claims it was built in-house. Surprisingly enough, Saleen went with a six-speed manual transmission in a market that turned almost entirely to automatics.
On top of being powerful, the S1 is light too. While the tub is made from aluminum, the body panels are carbon-fiber, which results in a curb weight of only 2,685 pounds. As a result, it needs only 3.5 seconds to hit 60 mph and 11.3 seconds to cover the quarter mile. The top speed is rated at 180 mph.
"The coupe tips the scales at only 2,685 pounds"
Weight distribution is biased toward the back, with 58 percent carried by the rear axle. This gives the rear-wheel-drive sports car more traction and more assistance to the front when braking. Speaking of which, the wheels are wrapped in Continental ExtremeContact Sport tires for optimum grip.
Although all these facts and figures have yet to be proven in real life, the S1 sounds promising. And if the production model meets all these performance claims, the S1 will become one of the best sports cars in this niche. The fact that a little company that was broke a few years ago built everything from scratch makes it that much more impressive.
Saleen estimates that the S1 will cost $100,000 before options. That’s a pretty penny for a car that doesn’t have a mainstream badge on its nose, but it’s a good deal given the performance. Assuming that the S1 will live up to the company’s claims that is. Saleen is already taking preorders for the sports car, which requires a $1,000 deposit. Surprisingly low for a brand that needs a bit of cash to get things moving.
Deliveries are scheduled to begin in mid-2018. The American brand hopes to sell at least 1,500 units a year in the U.S., a similar amount in Europe, and significantly more in China. That’s at least 5,000 examples a year globally, which is quite a big goal for a company like Saleen.
Porsche purists may be offended by this comparison, but if we ignore the 911’s rear-engined layout and the Porsche heritage, the two cars have a lot in common. And they deliver the same amount of power. Motivated by a twin-turbo, 3.0-liter flat-six engine, the Carrera GTS comes with 450 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque on tap. It’s also equipped with a seven-speed manual transmission as standard, but unlike the Saleen S1, it’s also offered with a seven-speed, dual-clutch PDK. Performance figures aren’t yet available, but the 911 Carrera GTS should be able to hit 60 mph from a standing start in less than 3.7 seconds with the quick-shifting PDK. Top speed is likely to be slightly superior to Saleen’s 180-mph rating. Pricing starts from $120,700, which makes the German sports car a bit more expensive.
Read our full review of the 2017 Porsche 911.
The Alpine A110 is less powerful, slower, and isn’t available in the United States, but it’s one of the best affordable sports cars that Saleen will have to go against in Europe. Unveiled in 2017 as a tribute to the iconic A110 of the 1960s and 1970s, Alpine first production model in decades has plenty to brag about. First up, it’s design is based on the classic model, making it appealing to neo-retro enthusiasts. The interior is packed with both premium features and modern technology and you can add many options due to the car’s more affordable sticker. Under the hood, it hides a turbocharged, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine develop with input from Renault’s R.S. division. Although rated at "only" 252 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, the unit is powerful enough to push the French car from 0 to 60 mph in around 4.4 seconds. Granted, that’s almost a second slower than the Saleen, but the A110 is some 300 pounds lighter, which translates into better dynamics and a more exciting experience at the race track. Unfortunately, it’s missing a manual transmission, with the seven-speed dual-clutch being the only option. Pricing starts from nearly €60,000 in Europe, significantly more affordable than what the S1 is expected to cost.
Read our full story on the 2017 Alpine A110.
Needless to say, the Saleen looks great on paper performance-wise and its simple yet modern design inside and out turn it into a proper competitor for the Porsche 911 GTS. It’s quite potent too and the small-displacement, turbocharged engine should make it fuel efficient as well. It looks like a winner in just about every department, but I don’t want to get too excited until I see the first car roll off the assembly line. Saleen has been struggling to survive for quite a few years now and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the S1 become a flop in a few years. Granted, its new joint-venture with the Chinese should bring the necessary funds to the table, but putting a car like the S1 in production is far from easy. I’ve seen bigger automakers struggle with vehicle built from scratch and I’m not yet convinced that Saleen has the means to build one . And even if it does, we won’t know if the S1 will deliver as promised without proper testing. Hopefully we’ll see that Saleen S1 vs. Porsche 911 GTS video soon!
- Unique, fresh exterior design
- Simple, sporty interior
- Powerful drivetrain
- Quicker than a Porsche 911 GTS?
- Not much is known about the technology behind it
- Will it make into production?
Read our full review on the 2001 Saleen S7.
Read more 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show news.