Need a new commuter radio

My son has inherited our 2001 Saturn SL1 (> 140,000 miles) and I would like to get him a good commuter radio for Xmas (yes, I have waited too long but an IOU would work for under the tree as long as it’s specific). He has an iPhone and I would like to include HD radio if possible. Price range is around $200 not counting installation. If there’s nothing in that price range I can settle for “HD ready” rather than HD installed. I’m also looking for a good installer in the Baltimore/Annapolis/DC area. Any suggestions?



Take your pick. is my go-to place for car audio. Fill in your model, etc, and you’ll get a list of radios that fit. You’ll also get complete instructions and the adapters needed to make it work. It would be a good project for him, no need to find an installer.

edit - I just clicked Shadowfax’s link - so I second his suggestion!

edit2 - and just tell him he has $200 to spend on it, let him pick the one he wants - with so many choices, he’ll know bettern than any of us. He might choose to pick a cheaper one and replace some speakers, I bet it would sound better that way. Or he may want to add some of his money.

Installing an aftermarket radio involves dash plates and other items to make the “generic” radio fit into the space where the factory radio came from. There are also specific connectors for each manufacturer. A good audio shop has the “Kits” to make a decent looking unit that should sound as good or better than the factory radio. Some radios work better in some cars and others aren’t compatible at all.

Look for a stand alone car audio shop, or a large electronics retailer with its own car audio installation center on site. It might costs a bit more, but the results are worth it IMO. This might be a good “gift card” where your son gets to make final choices and get what he wants.

Very true, Uncle T, and Crutchfield has all the needed adapters. My son and I just did this on his Forester, worked great.

The only place I’ve bought a car radio from in the past 15 years is Crutchfield. Prices are competitive. Especially since at Crutchfield the instructions and installation kit (bracket and wiring) comes with it FREE. And they have technical support only a phone call away.

I just bought a HD radio from them for $159…EXCELLENT sound.

How about satellite radio?? 100 commercial-free digital music channels plus traffic conditions for all the big cities…

For $200. I would recommend a $100 radio that has iPod capability built in. That will probably be more important than HD as he can store his favorite music on his iPhone and listen to it while commuting. You will need the rest for the adapters, both the faceplate and the wiring harness.

If you use an adapter harness, then the installation will be easy. Be careful not to get a high powered radio as the Saturn speakers can’t handle much power, I learned that the hard way, and replacement aftermarket quality speakers that fit the Saturn are rare, however Crutchfield carries an exclusive adapter that can put a 6.5" speaker in the Saturn.

I like the Polk Audio speaker as a replacement, but if I had to do it again, I would go with a lower priced speaker like a Rockford or Kenwood. The acoustical environment inside the Saturn just doesn’t justify really expensive speakers.

How about satellite radio?? 100 commercial-free digital music channels plus traffic conditions for all the big cities…

PLUS $15/mo.

Some people think it’s worth it…I surely don’t. Maybe if I was a long-haul trucker.

If your son is a teenage driver, I am going to ask you to do the world a favor and let him drive with no radio. A teenage driver doesn’t need any distractions.

I’d decide what to get first–I’d probably get one with .mp3 playback, a USB port, iPod compatibility (if he has an iPod), and HD and/or XM radio. Some of the newer ones will also interface with a smart phone and control Pandora internet radio, which is nice. I’d then go to one of the ‘big box’ electronics stores and take a listen of the units that have the features you want and speakers they have. Features are nice but don’t mean much if the stereo sounds like crap. Once you’ve narrowed it down, it may be worth looking at reviews to see what people thought of the units you’re considering. I’ve personally found Sony and Kenwood to offer a lot of bang for the buck with decent sound. Normally I’d recommend, but if this is to be a gift, and you’re not planning on installing it yourself, I’d buy it from a store that offers installation as part of the deal. Most people don’t like a ‘some assembly required’ gift.

Whitey, I agree with your comment about distractions, but if he doesn’t have a stereo in the car, he’ll probably decide to drive with headphones on, which is far worse.

Wow! These comments are great and give me a lot of good ideas. Thanks everyone.

BTW: He’s 23 and an excellent driver but the point about distractions are well taken.

Just thought I’d let everyone know how this little drama worked out. We wound up getting a Kenwood KDC-X695 and had House of Dubs ( install it. They did a great job. It sounds great and my son hasn’t blown out the speakers yet … yea!!!

However, it turned out to be more expensive then I planned on since I got my picture took twice (coming and going) by this nifty little speed camera. I don’t mind speed camera’s at all but in this case the county had set the speed limit at 35 on a 6 lane divided highway and I think the speed limit was set just a tad low (and no … it was not during school hours or in a construction zone). So from now on when I have to travel anywhere in that area (and I will try not to) it’s interstates and beltways for me, thank you very much. Hmm, how did this get to be all about me??

At any rate, thank you all for your great suggestions and I hope everyone had a great holiday!!


I’ve often wondered about them. I pass by them almost every week. Do you recommend them?

They did a great job. It was cold when my son went there and the waiting area … well there really isn’t one and they didn’t have the heat turned on in the show room area so there was a lot of shivering going on. On the other hand, when my son showed up they remembered me and that this was a Christmas present. My son is very satisfied with the installation too. They were a little expensive but I know how endless an installation like this can be in the wrong hands and I was willing to pay extra to get it right the first time and it appears my money was well spent.