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.