The folks with the friendly dealers have jumped into the sports car business and the all-new 2007 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 may not have quite the agility of the Mazda 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, massive low-profile tires, a double overhead-cam engine, and a standard manual gearbox.
Model year 2007 will mark the start of a new era at Saturn. The GM division goes into its 15th year with a vastly expanded lineup of products, including the sporty new Sky, the attractive new Aura sedan, the Relay minivan, the Vue hybrid SUV, the Outlook large SUV, and the Red Line performance models.
Saturn appears poised to move upmarket into a position above Chevrolet and Pontiac, a long way from where it started. For customers, that means more choices, one-price, no-haggle car shopping, and one of the best dealer networks in the country.
The Sky convertible represents Saturn's first thrust into the sporty end of the spectrum, the Ion Red Line sedan notwithstanding. The Saturn Sky is built on GM's new Kappa platform shared with the Pontiac Solstice (and Opel GT in Europe). This new rear-drive, four-cylinder platform gave Saturn an opportunity to quickly enter this market segment, the $25,000 open-air car, which includes the Miata and the powerful Honda S2000.
The Saturn Sky comes standard with 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A Red Line model will be added later in the model year with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine rated at a whopping 260 horsepower, more than a 50 percent increase over the standard engine. The Red Line version will come with special front and rear styling, high-performance tires, and recalibrated suspension, among other items.
The Sky borrows 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, 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.
We have been trying to like the GM Ecotec engines for years, with few positive results. The 2.4 version is undersquare (a bigger stroke than bore), with a very high power peak of 6600 rpm, and that means you have to wind it up through the gears to have any fun with the car, and that winding produces loud, thrashy noises under the hood which we find not much fun to listen to shift after shift. The noise problem extends to a low, somewhat blatty exhaust note as well. If you stay out of the throttle all the time, we think you'll still have difficulty reaching EPA's estimated highway mileage of 28 mpg. In short, it's not a free-revving engine such as the one found in the Mazda Miata.
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.
The handling capability of the Sky is very, very good, with an eight-foot wheelbase and a five-foot track width, 53/47 front/rear weight balance, and four meaty 245/45-18 tires supporting its nearly 3000 pounds of weight. We thrashed the Sky heavily on some California wine country mountain twisties, and it was wonderful fun to toss around, far better than we expected. Saturn says the Sky will pull 0.9g on the skidpad, which is world-class for a car in this price class. The steering is pretty 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 a bit harsh on railroad tracks and bad pavement.
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, however. And, as with any two-seat sports car, luggage space is at a premium. Buyers benefit from the Saturn dealer network.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from Northern California.