Saturn's first-ever convertible, the two-seat Saturn Sky roadster, debuts in the spring as an early 2007 model. It's basically a more stylish and more expensive (by about $3,000) version of the new-for-2006 Pontiac Solstice with more standard amenities (Saturn and Pontiac are divisions of General Motors).
The Sky shares its rear-drive platform and powertrain with the Solstice, though the car looks quite different inside and out and isn't billed as the bargain-basement roadster as is the Solstice. Like its Pontiac twin, the Sky contemporizes the quintessential 1960s European roadster known for nimble handling and simplicity of design -- with 21st century sensibilities. True to form, the Sky is rear-wheel drive, with two seats, a cloth top, a reverse-opening clamshell hood and an affordable price for a sports car.
Its 2.4-liter, dual-overhead cam, four-cylinder engine produces a robust 177 horses, which is about as strong as the Mazda MX-5 Miata's inline four-cylinder. It's mated to a short-throw, slick-shifting five-speed manual transmission. An optional five-speed automatic is available for those who favor convenience over control.
If the Solstice is any indication, the Sky should be entertaining to drive, with slot-car-like handling through the corners. The roadster benefits from a wide stance, near-perfect weight distribution, large wheels and tires (18-inches in diameter) and a fully independent suspension with Bilstein shocks.
As with most low-slung sports cars, the suspension system should favor firmness over compliance, trading some comfort and cushioning over rough roads for improved handling. While a limited slip differential is available to help maximize traction, especially on slick surfaces, a stability control system is not offered. Roadster purists might relish this lack of electronic traction aid, as not having it reduces weight and mechanical complexity. Plus, such systems usually intervene before an accomplished driver can deliberately cause the tires to lose their grip in order to slide around a turn which is quite fun (but not advisable on public roads). Four-wheel disc antilock brakes with dynamic rear proportioning are standard (antilock brakes are optional on the Pontiac Solstice).
The Sky's exterior reflects Saturn's new look, which is more aggressive and which will find its way to future models like the 2007 Aura sedan and Outlook sport utility vehicle. This is especially evident at the vehicle's angular front end.
A manually operated fabric roof folds neatly under a clamshell cover immediately behind the passenger compartment, providing a clean and streamlined top-down look. The top is a bit odd in the way it retracts, and raising it requires anchoring two bolts at the rear -- one on either side of the car. Unlike the competing Mazda Miata's excellent manual top, which is light enough to raise or lower while sitting in the car, the Saturn (and Solstice) force occupants to get out to work the top. Plus, if the rear compartment on the Sky is like that of the Solstice, the trunk area into which the top folds will be oddly shaped and able to hold very little with the top down.
The Sky's cabin lacks the wraparound instrument panel found in the Solstice and is otherwise tasteful and minimalist in design. Unlike Pontiac's strategy, which was to strip the Solstice of as many amenities as possible to ensure a low starting price, Saturn's roadster will come well-equipped with standard features like air conditioning, power locks, mirrors and windows, adjustable steering wheel, keyless entry, theft-deterrent system, automatic headlamps and an XM Radio-ready CD stereo with an auxiliary input jack to accommodate MP3 players and other portable audio devices. Leather upholstery is optional.
The standard dual-stage front airbags for driver and passenger reduce the likelihood of injuries by deploying in two different levels of force, depending on the severity of impact during an accident. Every Saturn comes with GM's emergency communication and response system, OnStar, and a one-year subscription to one of this system's service plans.
Buy this Vehicle if: You want an affordable sports car that doesn't sacrifice style; you like small sporty cars; you're looking for a basic convertible.
Keep Looking if: You require more passenger room and cargo capacity; you're willing to spend for a more luxurious or higher-performance convertible; you like air conditioning and don't like messy hair; you favor comfort over sport; you're really tall.
Who Fits? As with most vehicles of this type, tall and/or portly occupants will likely find the cozy cabin claustrophobic and a challenge to enter and exit, especially with the top up.