AT A GLANCE:
2007 SATURN SKY
ON SALE: Now
BASE PRICE: $23,690
POWERTRAIN: 2.4-liter, 177-hp, 166-lb-ft I4; rwd, five-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 2892 lbs
0 TO 60 mpH: 7.2 seconds (est.)
That high-powered turbocharged Saturn Sky Red Line shown at New York (“Big Time in the Big Apple,” April 17) sounds mighty promising, with 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Problem is it doesn’t come out until this fall and we haven’t driven it yet. But don’t let that stop you from reaching for the base Sky, which we drove just a few days ago. It shares a basic chassis and powertrain with its Pontiac Solstice fraternal twin but has more standard features as well as slightly softer shocks.
Now hang on, slightly softer can be good. In fact, it had us asking ourselves a very interesting question: Is the more comfortable Sky a better handler, or are we just getting soft ourselves?
After much consideration and lots of driving, we say yes to both. The purpose of a sports car suspension is to keep as much tire on the ground for as long as possible, something the Sky may do better than the Solstice. We have no empirical data to back that up, only a week of driving it around Los Angeles, seeking out empty, twisty roads.
To find empty, twisty roads in Los Angeles meant lots of time late at night on Mulholland Drive. We had to time it so we would be up there after the retired Hollywood moguls had already walked their poodles and gone in to watch Jake and the Fat Man, but not so late that the most recent 14th runner-up on American Idol would wipe us out on his or her way to a newly bought mcmansion.
It was at these times that we were surprised—pleasantly and thoroughly so—by how well the Sky tracks through Mulholland’s third-gear sweepers. Pick a line, ease the wheel over and the Sky sets to it—no undulatory shenanigans as the uneven pavement rolls past underneath.
The main difference in the Solstice/Sky suspensions is the Sky has shorter jounce bumpers, which allow for more uninterrupted wheel travel. The actual wheel travel itself is the same, but on the Saturn it is not interrupted as soon by the jounce bumper and can therefore progress more softly and smoothly than it does on the Pontiac. The springs and sway bars are the same.
“It takes the edge out of the ride,” said engineer and Sky product manager Steve Mertes. “But it doesn’t give anything up in handling.”
In our DoubleTake between the Mazda Miata and Solstice (“Roadster Rage,” Nov. 28, 2005), we found the Mazda much harsher than the Pontiac. Based on that comparison, we would say the Sky is noticeably less harsh than the Solstice.
However, there is not as much feedback as we would like through the Sky’s power rack-and-pinion steering. While there is no bump-steer from the Sky, which is good, the Miata does a better job of telling you what is happening at the front wheels.
As you might assume, the Sky ride is nicer, too. Though we drove over some bad pavement, we never hit anything that took the rig all the way down to its bump stops, so we can’t say how much of a shock that suspension collision would be. Nor did we take the car to a racetrack and wail on it. But through the Hollywood Hills the Sky offered continuous fun.
The Sky’s interior is different from the Solstice, too. In general it is nicer and more upscale, with a higher grade of plastic trim, for instance, and what they call piano-black accents that look like lacquer boxes. The latter is too reflective and quick to gather fingerprints. Just as in the Solstice, there is still nowhere to put anything inside the Sky; both lack storage space.
Outside the Saturn is just barely longer and wider than the Pontiac, with unique hood, decklid, fascias, taillights, backup lamp and polished exhaust tip. Saturn officials hammer home that most body and interior parts are not shared with the Solstice. The windshield and the convertible top are shared, as is the powertrain, along with the side lamps in front. All other Sky body pieces, as well as the wheels, are unique.
We like both the Solstice and the Sky exteriors, but might give a nod to the Sky’s crisper lines.
The powertrain is the same 2.4-liter normally aspirated four-cylinder, with 177 hp and 166 lb-ft, but the Sky gets a slightly quieter exhaust. If that’s not enough, you can wait for that Sky Red Line. Along with 260 hp, it will get better brake cooling, stiffer suspension, traction control, twin exhaust tips, unique instrument cluster and Red Line trim.
Skys (or are they Skies?) are in dealerships now, with a base price of $23,690. That’s quite a jump from the Solstice’s $19,995 base price, but the Sky’s more standard features account for that: four-wheel ABS, cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls, fog lamps, a year of OnStar, insulated headliner, air conditioning, driver information center, and power mirrors, windows and locks.
A fully loaded Sky, with automatic transmission, audio upgrades, premium trim and a limited-slip differential, will hit no higher than $27,000. Saturn refuses to give a volume estimate, but Pontiac plans to sell 20,000 to 30,000 Solstices.
If, as GM product guru Bob Lutz has said, “Saturn will be like Vauxhall,” that could be a good thing for those of us who like more sporty European cars, even the basic sedans necessary for car companies to make a profit. But selling European sedans in this country has been tried before with limited success. Remember when Buick sold Opels and Ford sold Merkurs?
One huge difference this time around is Saturn’s superb customer service. Customers like Saturn dealers.
The other big difference could be product. We saw the Aura at the Detroit show and the PreVue and Outlook at the New York show and liked them all. So it is entirely possible that it could all be different this time around.