We think the Saturn Sky is well worth a look for anyone who wants a fun, two-seat cruiser that can drop the top and let the sun shine in. It doesn't have the agility of the Miata, but the Sky is a classic sports car with classic sports car running gear: rear-wheel drive, a fully independent suspension, powerful four-wheel disc brakes, high-performance tires, a double overhead-cam engine, and a manual gearbox.
Saturn's roadster is built on GM's worldwide Kappa platform, a rear-wheel-drive architecture shared with the Pontiac Solstice in the U.S. and the Opel GT in Europe. But while the Solstice is rounded and quietly muscular with relatively subtle surface decoration, the Sky is lean, sharp, aggressive and extroverted. Given their mechanical similarity, the two cars look remarkably different with dramatically different styling. The base Sky comes better equipped than the base-level Solstice.
The Sky comes with a choice of engines. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder is a sensible engine, while the Sky Red Line features a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder boasting 260 horsepower. The Red Line also comes with special front and rear styling, high-performance tires, and a sports suspension.
For 2008, the Saturn Sky comes better equipped. All 2008 models come with StabiliTrak electronic stability control, a limited-slip differential, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a power height adjuster for the driver's seat. The standard audio system has been upgraded and includes XM Satellite Radio. Customers can choose top and interior leather colors independent of paint color, instead of having to accept a prescribed factory combination (for an extra cost, of course).
New for 2008 is a torque beam added to manual-transmission models to isolate noise associated with abrupt torque transfer away from the passenger compartment. The system was originally developed specifically for the added power and torque of the Red Line, but was then extended to all models with manual gearboxes late in the 2007 model year.
Another benefit the Sky offers is Saturn's one-price, no-haggle car shopping and one of the best dealer networks in the country.
Saturn Sky ($25,855); Sky Red Line ($30,115)
The Sky nose looks like a boxer leading with his chin, but the overall effect is sporty, with sharp peaks on the tops of the front fenders and big forward-raked air outlets just behind the front wheels. Horizontal creases extend from the top and bottom of those outlets into the doors, the top crease lining up neatly with the cut line for the engine hood opening. We think it is these lines, combined with the way that the Sky's grille splits horizontally (rather than vertically, as on the Solstice) that make the Saturn look longer and flatter than the Solstice, more complex against the Pontiac's simple, more pressed-and-pleated rather than curvy and voluptuous.
The Sky's front lower fascia has unique styling elements, including functional brake cooling inlets and a mesh pattern in the lower grille that's said to improve air flow. Twin headrest nacelles just behind the cockpit (like the Solstice's) lead to a short rear end with small, tasty corner-mounted taillamps.
Given the restrictions imposed by sharing the GM Kappa platform, we think it's a pretty successful execution of a new Saturn design, with only a few niggles, like the tiny Sky badge hung out there in left field instead of centered under the Saturn logo on the decklid where we think it belongs.
The Red Line is in some ways more understated than the base model. It forgoes the horizontal strakes that divide the brake scoops on the base version, and substitutes black headlight bezels for the base model's bright finish. Then it adds some flash back into the mix with polished wheels and bright twin exhaust tips.
The Sky looks pretty cool with the top down, not so cool with the flying-buttress top up. Stowing the top requires popping the decklid with the key fob, which also unlocks the pins that hold down the two fabric extensions that attempt to smooth out the top's visual profile behind the rear window. Then you have to get out of the car, fold the top down into the cargo bay, push it down a couple of times until it is fully nested, then walk around to the back of the car and slam the decklid down with a good amount of force from the center of the lid so that both sides will lock down. This is in contrast to the simplicity of the Miata's top. The Saturn top features an insulating inner layer, but air leaks in between window glass and top seals on both sides of the car.
GM did a masterful job of designing the Sky to take advantage of parts and pieces from GM products around the world, including a set of bucket seats from a Mexican Chevrolet model, driveshaft and differential from the Cadillac CTS, a manual transmission from the Chevrolet Colorado, inner door panels from the Pontiac Solstice, and a glovebox door from the Chevy Cobalt, none of which should be of consequence to a prospective buyer because the designers and engineers have done such a good job of turning all those parts, with appropriate tweaks, into a Saturn Sky.
In short, the Saturn Sky is a very attractive sports car. Like many traditional roadsters before it, the Sky calls for some sympathy and understanding on the part of its owner.
Storage inside the cabin is limited. The glovebox is small, and there are no door pockets. The storage bin between the seats has an awkward push/twist lock instead of a simple pushbutton, and that bin doesn't hold much either. There are storage pockets on the back side of the seat backs and storage nets on the rear wall, but the seatback latch is buried in the darkness and it's hard to use. In a new twist on cupholders, they are mounted between the seatbacks below the storage bin, which forces you to use your outside hand to set down or retrieve your drink, reaching across your body. Weird, but it works. Better yet, do all your drinking before or after the drive.
The bucket seats are comfortable enough for short runs, and offer good lateral support, but little thigh support for the long haul, and they don't have enough built-in adjustability for tall folks, limited by the short length of the cockpit. The seatback rake adjuster is a wheel, not a lever, and it is in a very tight space between the side of the seat and the door, nearly impossible to use with the doors closed.
Cargo room in the Sky is barely adequate for a single person's weekend getaway, let alone a couple's. There's only 5.4 cubic feet of space under the decklid with the top up, only 2.0 cubic feet with the top stowed, and the shape of the space is interrupted by a huge domed area in the center to accommodate the rear axle assembly, so the space isn't conducive to anything but soft, pliable luggage that can be squished around to fit.
The Ecotec engine that comes standard gets the job done but it isn't particularly sporting. The 2.4-liter Ecotec is undersquare (a bigger stroke than bore), with a very high power peak. That means you have to wind it up through the gears to have any fun with the car, and that produces loud, thrashy noises under the hood which we find not much fun to listen to shift after shift. Nor are we particularly fond of the low, blatty exhaust note. The engine, mounted longitudinally in the chassis and leaned over at a 10-degree angle, has electronic throttle control, variable valve timing and most of the other modern conveniences, but it just doesn't make enough power or torque down low where you need it. The clutch actuation was fine, and the fat little short-throw shifters in our test cars were smooth and slick with a little bit of notchiness here and there.
Emissions regulations have forced a slight re-tuning for 2008, which has dropped the engine's power peak from 6600 to 5800 rpm; still, it's not a free-revving unit such as the one found in the Mazda Miata. For 2008, EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg Highway.
The more powerful, more firmly sprung Sky Red Line is much more fun to drive with its 2.0-liter turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder. This engine delivers 260 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, the latter over a very flexible range of 2500-5250 rpm. Bore and stroke dimensions for the 2.0-liter are identical, so there's less harshness. And there's no turbo lag. The turbo rolls out its power in a smooth, linear fashion, with strong acceleration performance available over a wide range of engine speeds. We've found this engine far more willing for sporty driving than the 2.4-liter normally aspirated engine in the standard model.
Best of all, the 2.0-liter turbo-motor delivers significantly better highway mileage, rating 28 mpg Highway by the EPA. As with the base engine, premium fuel is recommended for maximum performance (but not required).
One of the attributes we like best about the Sky is its powerful, progressive braking, with very little slop at the top of the pedal before deceleration starts. These are big discs brakes for such a small car, and they work very well and very consistently.
The Saturn Sky is a nice cruiser. It looks cool and sporty and would be a good commuter car. It isn't the best choice for tall drivers, and as with any two-seat roadster, luggage space is at a premium. Buyers benefit from the Saturn dealer network. The Sky Red Line version features a free-revving turbocharged engine we've found more willing for spirited driving.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Northern California.