Saturn's best kept secret sells out for the calendar year
My nickname for Saturn’s new car, the 2007 Sky, is “Saturn’s best secret.” The reason: During my weeklong test drive, other drivers repeatedly sought me out to ask “what is that?”
They could see the Saturn badge on the Sky. But even if they were familiar enough with Saturn to recognize the badge, many still couldn’t believe that the sexy-looking Sky was from Saturn Company. It’s not their fault. Saturn vehicles over the years have been rather ho-hum in styling. But the Sky stands out in a crowd, just as Saturn officials wanted. Not only does the Sky look good on the outside, the sporty interior looks far more upscale compared with other Saturn vehicles.
Indeed, so many consumers now want to buy a Sky that the production run for the rest of calendar 2006 is effectively sold out, according to Saturn. Based on the same underpinnings as the 2006 Pontiac Solstice roadster, the Sky is a low-slung, stylish, two-seat convertible with a pleasant ride, agreeable power and decent starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $23,115.
This price is for the base model. It comes with 177-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission. The roof, with glass rear window, is fabric and nicely lined inside and goes up and down manually.
A turbocharged Sky Red Line with 260-horsepower, 2-liter four cylinder is due this September. Just don’t look for noteworthy fuel economy. The base Sky is rated at 22 miles a gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway, which is lower than many other convertibles, including the two-passenger Mazda MX-5 Miata and the four-passenger Mini Cooper and Audi A4.
Contemporary look Saturn and Pontiac have the same parent company, General Motors of Detroit. So, the Solstice and Sky are built at the same Wilmington, Deleware, assembly plant and share the same rear-wheel-drive platform, engines and transmissions, roof mechanism and other major components. Both cars feature long hoods and short rear ends which epitomize roadsters. But every body panel on the outside of the two cars is different.
Thus, where the Solstice is a lighter-weight car with bold styling that exudes a raw roadster personality like that of roadsters of the past, the Sky comes across as a less macho car with more contemporary styling. (Note: The Sky’s body panels are steel, not the plastic that typified early Saturn vehicles.)
The base Sky also comes standard with more creature comforts than does the Solstice, which has a lower base price of $20,490. For example, remote keyless entry, cruise control and antilock brakes are standard on the Sky but optional on the base Solstice.
Four-cylinder power only The base Sky engine was mated to an optional five-speed automatic in the test car and performed with good spirit. Torque peaks at 166 lb.-ft. at 4,800 rpm, and I could keep up with city stop and go traffic easily and had decent power for passing on highways. But a five-speed manual transmission on another tester didn’t have the short, easy throws of the six-speed manual in the competing 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Maybe this is because the manual transmission in the Sky and Solstice is the same one used in the GMC Canyon pickup truck, which also is a GM product.
Be aware: there's some unpleasant noisiness from this engine.
Nice ride While the Sky has the same basic, independent, short/long arm suspension in the front and back as the Solstice, it has different tuning. This explains why the Sky felt so comfortable to drive.
The car is wider than expected and felt stable. It absorbs many road bumps so passengers weren’t jarred or jiggled incessantly, even though they sit quite low to the ground. Note that the Sky is only around four feet tall with the roof on. A few big road shakes came through to Sky pass-engers only on major potholes, old railroad track crossings and rough road. Yet, the Sky tester stuck easily to the pavement on curves, and the power rack-and-pinion steering had good on-center feel.
About that roof… Unfortunately, both the Sky and Solstice force drivers to get out of their vehicles to put the tops down and back up.
Basically, a driver must push a button inside to spring the rear clamshell cover asnd rear roof buttresses, then unlatch the roof from the top of the windshield and climb out of the car to push the folding roof into the rear, shallow holding area.
After this, the driver must slam down the clamshell cover. I noticed that a GM official who demonstrated this maneuver recently had taken to standing right at the back of the Sky to position himself centrally over the clamshell as it goes down. This seems to help get the clamshell hook in the right position for the latch that’s behind and right between the two seats.
But at 5 feet 4, I can’t stretch myself easily over the metal clamshell for this maneuver -- not to mention it gets my clothes dirty. So I would stand by the side of the car, in front of a rear tire, and push the clamshell down. But I often had to repeat this once or twice before the hook and latch would catch.
The test car had annoying wind noise that emanated from the roof, by the driver’s left ear. And I wonder how the fabric roof buttresses will look after a year or two. On the test Sky, they already had some puckers and didn’t look tight and streamlined.
Maximum trunk room is 5.4 cubic feet with the roof up. But this space is the sum of shallow areas positioned around the gas tank. So hard-sided luggage and even full grocery bags don’t fit. The 13.6-gallon gas tank is problematic, too. I went only 267 miles before the low-fuel warning light came on.