The Saturn Sky is a two-seat roadster designed to compete against the Mazda MX-5 Miata and other roadsters. Like the Miata, the Sky is relatively affordable when compared against the BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK, Porsche Boxster, Audi TT, and Honda S2000.
We think the 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.
Standard equipment includes StabiliTrak electronic stability control, a limited-slip differential, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power height adjuster for the driver's seat, and XM Satellite Radio.
Changes for 2009 are minor and include 18-inch wheels in three finishes, some new colors, and a new OnStar 8.0 that includes Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity.
Another benefit the Sky offers is Saturn's one-price, no-haggle car shopping and one of the best dealer networks in the country.
The Saturn Sky looks more aggressive than the mechanically similar Pontiac Solstice. While the Solstice has a traditional Pontiac split grille and a nosepiece that rolls under gracefully, the Sky nosepiece is almost four inches longer and slathered with chrome, part of the latest Saturn design direction and consistent with the front-end design of the Saturn Aura sedan and Saturn Vue crossover.
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 shape, 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, attractive corner-mounted taillamps. Given the restrictions imposed by sharing the GM Kappa platform, we think it's a pretty successful design execution.
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.
The interior of the Sky is its Achilles heel. While the dashboard and instrumentation are done well, the instruments themselves are set in hard-finished plastic with dramatic Piano Black shiny trim. The controls are all reachable and easy to use, but there is a lot of flash and reflection from the chrome rims on every knob and dial, and from shiny black trim.
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 sides 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, so the space isn't conducive to anything but soft, pliable luggage that can be squished around to fit.
The handling capability of the Saturn Sky is excellent. We've found the Sky wonderful fun on country roads. Saturn says it will make 0.9g cornering force on a skid pad, world-class for a car in this price class. The steering is accurate and nicely weighted. The ride quality is what you would expect from a short-wheelbase car with big, fat heavy tires and wheels; smooth and pleasant on good pavement, but harsh on railroad tracks and bad pavement. The Sky has a 53/47 front/rear weight balance and four large 245/45R18 tires.
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, raucous 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 in the engine’s speed range, where you often 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.
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 turbocharged engine 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 play at the top of the pedal before deceleration starts. These are big disc 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.