Too bad brains didn't arrive with this beauty. Based as it is on the same platform as the gorgeous but dynamically stunted Pontiac Solstice, the Saturn Sky is all looks, no action. Roadsters demand to be driven rapidly on beautiful roads, allowing occupants to revel in speed and scenery. In the Saturn Sky, however, a priority on form over function and an obvious emphasis on cost reduction results in an ultimately dissatisfying wind-in-the-hair experience. And though it suffers many of the same problems as the standard model, the turbocharged Sky Red Line variant's extra power goes a long way toward making the Sky a worthy competitor against the likes of the Honda S2000 and Mazda MX-5 Miata. In standard format, however, the Sky amounts to little more than a terrific styling exercise that sticks in a turn. Nevertheless, Saturn needs something approximating an image vehicle upon which to build its renaissance as an alternative to the Honda, Nissan, and Toyota status quo, and the flashy Sky should do the trick, which is to drive traffic to dealer showrooms.
Under the Sky's lovely body work is a fundamentally sound foundation. The chassis is stiff, lending the roadster a solid, planted feel on the road. Equipped with 18-inch wheels wearing 45-series rubber mounted to a four-wheel-independent, double-wishbone suspension with Bilstein shocks, the Sky manages to couple a compliant ride with capable grip. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing works up a sweat moving the Sky's near 3,000-pound curb weight despite Saturn's claim of 7.2 seconds to 60 mph, and though the manual transmission is massaged to add refinement and isolation from the mechanicals this powertrain is about as graceful as Homer Simpson. Power is driven to the rear wheels, and a five-speed automatic is optional. Brake pedal feel could be improved, allowing the driver to take better advantage of the four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, and though the steering is a hydraulically-assisted rack-and-pinion system with quick response, it filters too much road feel.
If you're still falling in love at first sight, take comfort in the fact that the Saturn Sky we drove stickered for less than $25,000 (prices have been jacked a grand and a half since our test car was built), and that the powertrain is covered by GM's new five-year/100,000-mile warranty program. And here's a little known fact: Saturn offers a 30-day/1,500-mile exchange program, so if the Sky doesn't work for you just swap it for a new Aura sedan. Additionally, the Saturn comes better equipped than its sibling, the Solstice, right out of the box. Standard features include air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, and a stereo with six speakers and a CD player. The Sky has no spare tire; instead, there's a sealant kit and an inflator, so try not to slice the sidewalls open. Other goodies include dual-stage front airbags, projector beam headlights and fog lights, and a cloth top with a glass rear window and defogger. Stability control is available only on the Saturn Sky Red Line.
Key options include an automatic transmission ($850), leather upholstery ($750), a Monsoon audio system with a six-disc CD changer and MP3 player ($890), chrome wheels ($795), a limited-slip rear differential ($195), and XM satellite radio ($199). You can also plop a spoiler on the back ($275), but it ruins the Sky's lines. Saturn dealers can also add overpriced items like unique chrome wheels ($2,027), an unnecessary performance suspension kit ($1,584), and a presumably different rear spoiler ($314). Our Chili Pepper Red test car included Monsoon speakers without the CD changer ($590) and XM satellite radio for an as-tested price of $24,605 including the $575 destination charge ($25,984 with recent price hikes).
After spending a week driving under Southern California's perpetually hazy skies, we've got mixed feelings about the Saturn Sky. Considering that it emerged from General Motors, it's a miracle the car even exists. However, without added attention to detail and an understanding that design can't always trump functionality, we fear that once the initial hullabaloo over this hot-looking new Saturn subsides, the Sky's future could be cloudy.
Fun to Drive
Price of Test Vehicle: $24,605 (including the $575 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder with variable valve timing
Engine Horsepower: 177 at 6,600 rpm
Engine Torque: 166 at 4,800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Curb weight, lbs.: 2,933
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 20/28 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 20.3 mpg
Length: 161.1 inches
Width: 71.4 inches
Wheelbase: 95.1 inches
Height: 50.1 inches
Leg room: 42.7 inches
Head room: 38.4 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Two
Max. Cargo Volume: 5.4 cu.-ft. (top up); 2.0 cu.-ft. (top down)
Competitors: Chrysler Crossfire, Honda S2000, Mazda MX-5 Miata, MINI Cooper Convertible, Nissan 350Z
Having just gotten out of the Pontiac Solstice and into the Saturn Sky, the difference between the two is amazing. Simple touches that designers put into the Sky's interior really give the Saturn an upscale feel compared to the Pontiac, such as the painted surface around the shifter, the pod over the gauges and the glossy black plastic accents used throughout the interior. It isn't perfect though. The fake embossed stitching on the rubber gauge pod looks really bad and some quality issues remain like the loose fitting console plastic and wiggling parts such as the emergency brake's black plastic end cap surround that slid off into my hand. Also, the radio display washes out in sunlight, creating a safety hazard due to the difficulty of finding the presets or stations. The Sky also lacks a vanity mirror for the passenger for primping after a ride with the top down.
The Saturn Sky is a fun car to throw around but keeping the revs high is the secret to making the car peppy. The engine runs out of steam quickly, but then again, performance is what the turbocharged Sky Red Line is for. Another observation: the top's pillars clip down better than they did on the Solstice and actually look like they fit correctly. The Sky's design differences from the Solstice add greater appeal and give the Saturn a more serious yet upscale look. It's really great to see Saturn turn out a car with so much appeal.
Photos by Ron Perry