By on April 13, 2006

 Can GM, master of big iron, build a proper sports car? Not simply something that murders straights and grips like grim death– the Corvette's got that covered. Rather, a roadster that takes to the bends with the eager playfulness of an overstimulated puppy and the agility of an all-star point guard. Could the Saturn SKY be such a car? I know it sounds crazy: an honest-to-God sports car from GM's shiny happy plastic panel people. And the specs aren't promising: this parts-bin special out-girths the Mazda MX-5 by four inches and 400 pounds. Still, it sure looks promising…

Like all post-Borg Saturns, the SKY borrows heavily from another GM product, in this case Pontiac's Solstice. Saturn's badge engineers added a few creases, slits, and chrome bits to the Poncho's clean curves– to excellent effect. The SKY's less retro-classic and perhaps a bit busy than the Solstice, but it's also less bulbous and thoroughly current. The Saturn brand's new face works well on this car, lending it an appropriately aggressive appearance. Cute it's not; a good thing for balding alphas who rely on their wheels to broadcast their masculinity.

 Open the door, drop in, and say hello to the high cowl. Shorter drivers will wish they could raise the seat. Not happening. In fact, many of the frequently used controls aren't exactly where they should be. The non-telescoping steering wheel is too close. The shifter is too high; to grasp it, your right hand must reach well above your unsupported elbow. And where are the power window switches? Ah, beneath your forearm. Aesthetically, the interior fares better. Instead of the cheap gray plastic that smothers much of the Solstice's massive instrument panel, SKY drivers enjoy a relatively small patch of fashionably piano black trim on a less imposing center stack. Sweet.

Crank the engine, head onto the crowded boulevard, and you'll discover a surprisingly pleasant driving experience. The suspension doesn't have much travel; hit a healthy bump, receive a healthy kick. But across patchy pavement that would set other small roadsters a-jitter you'll feel shockingly little. The Bilstein coil-overs effectively absorb the small stuff. You won't hear much either. Unlike other sporty rubber, the SKY's Goodyear Eagle RS-A's don't translate the slightest texture into road noise. They're not the most aggressive treads, but your ears and rear will become fans.

 To raise the SKY's roof, you have to leave the vehicle. Stop and…you can't get out. As soon as the SKY starts moving, the doors lock and the power lock button goes AWOL. You could kill the engine or hunt for the manual lock doohickey in the neighborhood of your left ear. Luckily, the key fob still works (GM's lawyers aren't as thorough as they are cautious). But why do you have to get out of the car anyway? If the Saturn still wants to be Honda, then here's a hint: keep it simple and can the fussy, ill-fitting flying buttresses.

Roof up, the SKY's interior is as quiet as a family sedan's– an impressive accomplishment for a ragtop roadster. But, with the slit of a windshield the primary source of sunlight, claustrophobia threatens. Best put the top back down and get off the boulevard. After all, "real" sports cars aren't about cocooned cruising. They're about blasting down roads with fewer cars and more curves.

 When pushed, the SKY's powertrain neither disappoints nor inspires. The 177-horsepower 2.4-liter engine feels soft at low rpm, but adequate over 4,000. No surprise here; the DOHC powerplant peaks at 6,600 rpm. However, unlike most peaky fours, GM's corporate mill isn't eager to rev and doesn't sound sporting when prodded. The five-speed shifter connects positive engagements with moderately abridged throws. Though among the best cogswappers GM has offered, it's still far from the best.

Turning the SKY's thick-rimmed wheel elicits a refreshingly quick reaction just off center, natural weighting, and decent communication from the contact patches. The fat all-seasons stick well– too well, given the middling thrust on tap. The balanced chassis can be precisely adjusted with your right foot. Goose the throttle mid-turn and the rear steps out just a skosh. But there's no way you're going to delicately drift the SKY through turns at a half-reasonable pace. This sucker is planted. Any dancing requires a faster clip than prudent within metropolitan limits. Even on a curvy rural two-lane, the Saturn roadster won't approach the agility of its archrival, Mazda's MX-5.

Fortunately, not even GM can make a car with a 95-inch wheelbase feel irredeemably large. A final analysis of the SKY's id finds two-thirds Corvette, one-third MX-5. Some top-down enthusiasts will reject the Saturn in favor of something more delicate and tossable. But those willing to trade agility for ride comfort, quietness, and a more macho demeanor will find exactly what they've been looking for.

[Michael Karesh operates, a vehicle reliability and price comparison site.]

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8 Comments on “Saturn SKY Review...”

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    The thing that suprised me about the Sky–I’ve just put 700 miles on one–is that the top-down experience is worse than anything I’ve driven since the last time I was in an MG TC. Understand, we own a Boxster, and its top is down from March through mid-November here in the Hudson River Valley, so we’re convertible people. The Sky, however, batters you at anthing from 60 on up. At 70, you’ll lose your baseball cap unless it’s migraine-inducing tight or you drive with one hand and keep the other on your head.

    At one point, I tried to read a magazine on my lap while my wife was driving, and it was damn near impossible. If I’d had some duct tape, I’d have strapped it to my pants and maybe been able to stabilize the pages long enough to read ’em. And there is no wind-blocker, either stock or optional.

    They should rent this thing to Wright-Patterson AFB as a small portable wind tunnel.

    Another strange little thing that fascinated me. I’m very suspicious of how carefully a car was engineered when it shows a flaw that I’m sure was detected by the very first factory tester who drove a pre-production prototype. The Sky has a brilliant red, two-inch-square jewel of a Saturn logo near the top of the “waterfall” panel between the seatbacks. It is placed perfectly so that the logo is reflected absolutely clearly smack in the middle of the rear-view mirror any time the top is down and the sun is illuminating the logo. (It has something to do with the “double reflectability” of the mirror with its nighttime anti-dazzle function.)

    Now, I know that pre-prod tester came back and said, “We gotta move the logo. There’s a bad reflection.”

    And I know his boss said, “Can’t afford it. Lutz will have my ass.”

    Or–and here’s a horrifying thought–maybe they brilliantly engineered it so that you see a Saturn logo every time you use the rearview mirror with the top down.

    You think????

    Stephan Wilkinson

  • avatar

    Is the logo backwards so it will appear correctly in the mirror?

    I didn’t notice the buffeting you describe, but I spent most of my time in the car under 60 mph. You might also be taller than I am (5-9).

  • avatar

    There is quite a fair amount of passenger room in the (Saturn)Sky. My slightly overweight 6.1″ frame has more space in it than in my original ’58 Corvette. I’d take the more muted dash of the Sky over that of the Solstice, but that is just me.

    I was ready to sign on the dotted line when my company sent me on a pre-world cup business trip to Germany. Upon arrival I extended my trip over the w/e and rented a: OPEL GT!! That badge engineered wonder from across the pond.

    To answer the question nobody asked, chicken or egg, actually all of the Kappa line family tree, Solstice, GT, Sky etc. has its beginning at the Vauxhall Lightning study first presented in ’04 in Geneva. Badge engineering is a wonderful thing…….

    What irked me in the end is in time honored GM tradition we are (again) getting the short end of the stick. I drove the afore mentioned GT with a 6 speed stick and the ONLY engine it is offered in Germany: the 2litre 260(!!) hp screamer!! I could only put an average 250km on the car before returning it, but it was SWEEEEEEET.

    We might get a (optional) version dubbed GTP or GTX or some such here in the future AT A PREMIUM over the lame duck 177hp one… Meanwile currency adjustment withstanding the Opel costs no more in decked out autobahn ready 260 hp version. Mention THAT next time you head to the Pontiac/Saturn Dealer!!!

    Supersizing, the time honored marketing gouging trick is alive and well here in the US!!!

  • avatar

    You should write a review, it’ll be the first of this car!

    For some reason, every site on the Internet with this car says it doesn’t go on sale until the spring of 2007. Gotta wonder how one ended up in a rental fleet a year almost a year prior to intro.

    The SKY and Solstice will be available with the same powertrain, for LESS money. The Opel GT will sell for 30k Euros, about $33k.

  • avatar

    I am an industrial designer by trade, worked in Germany several years for an oem automotive interior supplier. Several dealers around Russelsheim and Frankfurt have already a few testers. The one dealership I groom some relationship with, took pride (and a little pity) of lending me one complete with manufacturer plates.

    The goal is to sell the GT agressively in the 27/28K euro when it finally goes on sale in line with the pricing of the Miata’s and MR2’s (still sold in Europe).

    For an early production car, fit and finish was already excellent. Hard plastics abound (no Golf interior, there). Ignite the engine and it settles in a pretty low (750) rpm idle. Very light girlie clutch but pulls strong off idle with no apparent turbo lag, very 1.8T-on-steroids audiesque. near the 6200 rpm mark, the wastegate openes annoyingly but there is no loss of pull, don’t know if this will be different on retail cars. Reminded me of my factory Metro Turbo…..

    On the autobahn it was a joy how compliant the suspension was at high speeds over undulating tarmac and I experienced no nervousnes for a car with such a generally short weelbase through drawn out long top speed curves. I had to drive it with the top up since the temperature was constantly between 50-60 F (18-20 C) with intermittent showers. Noise from the roof was extreme at high speed due to a misalignment (there was a 1cm gap on the driver’s side where the roof meets the body, none on the passenger side) and the radio antenna was either not connected or absent.
    Thanks G_D for a Tangerine Dream CD in the system. GM should use that music in their commercials!!

    The seat cover material had a pleasant pattern but a bit “sweatty under humid conditions, the side bolsters just right on the outer side of the seat but a moot point towards the middle console, since, “you’re not going anywhere”. Lol. This could be resolved so that there’s a couple of extra inches for the posteriorically challenged amongst us…
    Steering is european sports car like direct with good feedback from the oem dunlops. I constantly wondered if this car really had 260 horses. The combination of acceleration excellence, cornering and midrange torque in combination with a just right spacing of the gearbox made it feel like 300hp!!

    I returned the car the following day an hour before my flight still some 80 km away from the airport in morning rush hour, so the goodbye’S were short and sweet. I tipped the guy for letting me have the screamer the equivalent of a w/e rental but it was well worth it.

    The night before I went to a Wiesbaden Disco with the car and it attracted the looks of quite a few scantly clad party goers. (I leave some space for plausible deniability with the wife here!!)
    The challenge for Oplel will be to see if the GT will be a serious sports car contender. They can sell as many as they produce!! The power is there to challenge the TT’s and Sportsters, but the looks and the reaction from the gurllz said: Miata………..

  • avatar

    I saw the Sky up close for the first time today, and sadly, GM laid another egg, style-wise.  Are there any designers left at GM who have any kind of clue?   I say, GM is better off copying from the Europeans or even Japanese, because it consistently demonstrates a lack of design talent.  Even if this car had the moves of a Ferrari, I wouldn't be caught dead in it.

  • avatar

    The Sky is already out in Birmingham, Alabama. Some 15 deliveries have been made. However, it seems that Saturn either cannot or will not provide dealerships with a floor sample to actually sit in or drive. This would go a long way to providing potential buyers like myself with hands on information with which to make a purchase decision. Like a previous entry, I too am 6-3 and 250 lbs and wonder how I would fit into it. I did sit in a Solstice and seem to have enough room, however, I didn’t drive the car. I would love to hear from somebody who has actually driven the car and preferably someone who is similar in size to me.

  • avatar

    Don’t let anybody tell you that the Saturn Skys are not available. If you look hard enough you will find one. We have two local dealers by me. One dealer had one in stock, and the other didn’t even have one to test drive. We went back to purchase the one that the dealer had in stock and low and behold, they raised the sticker price up by thousands of dollars. We refused to pay more then the sticker price, so we went hunting on the internet. We found the exact car we were looking for, and put a deposit on it. Within a week, I had a brand new Sky sitting in my driveway. The best part of the whole deal was. We didnt pay more then a penny over sticker price. We have put 500 miles on the car already…and all I can say is…….SWEEEEEEET

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