2008 Saturn SKY Red Line Review – Rethinking the High-Performance Roadster

Wednesday April 23rd, 2008 at 8:44 AM
Posted by: AKramer

Consumer Reviews of Saturn SKY Saturn SKY Red Line Photo Gallery Saturn SKY Red Line Specs

by Alex Kramer

2008 Saturn Sky Red Line

Screaming fast turbo-charged engine? Check. Wide grippy tires? Check. Wind in your hair convertible top? Check. Head turning design? Check. New respect for Saturn from the car enthusiast crowd? Check!

Pros:

  • Grin inducing acceleration
  • Well balanced suspension
  • True high performance tires
  • “Look at me!” exterior design
  • Lots of speed for little cash

Cons:

  • Automatic transmission needs a manual mode
  • Finicky convertible top
  • Cheap interior plastic
  • No cargo room

When Saturn emerged on the automotive scene in 1990, it proclaimed itself to be “a different kind of car company.” As an independent and innovative new division of General Motors, Saturn would provide a Japanese level of quality and reliability with a unique, no-hassle sales experience. Although its customer first philosophy did create intense brand loyalty, it never really translated into sales, and by the year 2000 Saturn had lost its autonomy and was largely producing mediocre clones of various GM models. With sales plunging, GM turned to one of its European subsidies for some fresh ideas and a plan to reboot the franchise.

Enter the Saturn SKY, a daring little ragtop that shares its underpinnings with the Opel GT and Pontiac Solstice (other Opel collaborations include the Aura sedan and Astra hatchback). Unveiled in 2007, the SKY features a bold exterior design and some serious sports car moves, all for a relatively modest price. With the 2008 Red Line edition, Saturn fixes the only major knock against the base model, the somewhat anemic 2.4 liter Ecotec engine. By bolting on a turbocharger, re-tuning the suspension, and mounting some seriously sticky rubber, Saturn has created one of the most entertaining cars on the road today, and is well on the way to re-establishing its image as a unique and innovative voice in the car world.

2008 Saturn Sky Red Line

Driving Impressions

Take the SKY Red Line out for a nice afternoon of top-down motoring and you’re bound to come back with a big grin on your face. The fun starts when you fire up the Red Line’s potent power plant, a 2.0 L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with direct injection that produces a whopping 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. With rear-wheel-drive and a limited slip differential, all that power is channeled to the road very effectively. Bury the throttle and you’ll hit 60 mph in just over 5 seconds and a quarter mile disappears in 14 seconds flat, impressive numbers for a car priced under 30 grand. Turbo lag is minimal and there’s so much torque that acceleration is strong in every gear, even at low RPMs. About the only downside to this engine is the less than symphonic tune emanating from under the hood. At idle, the sound is more percolator than purr, and full throttle produces a racket that falls somewhere between a vacuum and a blender.

Our test car featured an optional 5-speed automatic transmission, an interesting choice for a car with such sporting potential. Although this is a solid slushbox that upshifts smoothly and quickly, and downshifts without any fuss, the lack of any manual shift feature is unfortunate. Driving fast on steep and twisty roads was less rewarding than it could have been due to the reduced control over gear selection.

Saturn Sky Red Line - turbocharged 2.0L I4 Saturn Sky Red Line - 5-speed automatic

Although not the ultimate corner carving machine, the SKY Red Line is more than capable of tackling a set of switchbacks or turning some hot laps at the local racetrack. With its wide stance, low center of gravity, and balanced weight distribution, the car tracks securely when pointed straight ahead and rotates nicely around its center when cornering hard. The suspension is well balanced, with the specially valved Bilstein shocks being compliant enough to provide a comfortable ride, but also firm enough to keep the car glued to the tarmac. Only when the pace really picks up do you start to wish for a stiffer setup.

Preventing the SKY Red Line from being a truly nimble little roadster is a healthy curb weight of almost 3,000 lbs. In comparison, a Mazda Miata weighs close to 500 lbs less. While the extra mass helps keep the roadster stable at higher speeds, it’s definitely a liability when trying to hustle through some tight turns. Similarly, although steering response is sure and steady, a bit more feedback would be welcome, especially when cornering at the limit. On the plus side, Saturn engineers spec’d the Red Line with some seriously sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 high-performance tires. These tires, combined with powerful anti-lock brakes, as well as defeatable traction and stability control, make for a car that is almost idiot proof. Overcook that sharp left hand turn? No problem. Just grab the wheel and hang on!

Build

Most convertibles these days have fully automatic tops, and those that don’t are at least easy to operate. The SKY, on the other hand, has an utterly finicky and annoying convertible top that is not going to be a selling point for Saturn dealers. When putting the top down you have to practically slam the trunk lid to get it to close properly, which not only takes multiple tries to get right, but every time you’ll be afraid you’ve broken something. Similarly, when raising the roof you need to spend several minutes aligning the top with the windshield, while simultaneously tugging and pushing on it so that you can flip a lever to close and secure everything. Bottom line: don’t buy the SKY if you don’t have a garage to house it in.

Saturn Sky Red Line - soft top stowed Saturn Sky Red Line - interior Saturn Sky Red Line - projector beam headlamps

The rest of the SKY is bolted together quite well, with no obvious lapses in quality. The doors close solidly and body panel gaps are uniform. Road and engine noise is quite apparent, even with the top up, but that is to be expected for a car with no solid roof and what is likely very little sound insulation material. Some of the interior surfaces give away the fact that this is still a GM product, with the dash being made out of the same chintzy plastic you’d expect from your average rental car.

Interior

To say that the interior is small would be a drastic understatement. Not only is there barely room for two full sized adults, there is literally no cargo room to speak of. With the top up, you might be able to cram a few grocery bags in the trunk, but no large suitcase would fit. The glove compartment is literally only big enough for the owner’s manual and the weird little storage compartment that between the two seats is barely big enough for a few CD cases. None of this will be a problem if you’re just going for an afternoon of joyriding, but anyone with more practical transportation needs should look elsewhere.

Saturn Sky Red Line - cockpit Saturn Sky Red Line - center dash Saturn Sky Red Line - driver's seat

Although the seats are nicely upholstered in soft red and black leather, they could use a pound or two more stuffing material. Sitting in the SKY gives you a bit too much of that falling through the seat feeling that normally only happens when you plop down in a 20 year old recliner. Our test model featured a punchy “Monsoon” audio system with in-dash CD changer and satellite radio, although with the top down the system could barely play loud enough to overcome wind noise.

Exterior

If being inconspicuous while driving around town is your goal, then the SKY Red Line is definitely not the car to be seen in (or not be seen). Although the exterior design borrows a few elements from the only other true sports car in the GM family, the Corvette, the final package is a uniquely bold visual statement that will lead to more than a few turned heads. When driving on the freeway, other drivers will speed up to take a look at what just sped by, and parking the SKY downtown will cause pedestrians to pause in their stride and take a long, lingering glance. Factor in a striking silver paint job, optional 18” chrome wheels, twin exhaust pipes, and the Red Line’s cute little “Turbo” badge, and you have a car that clearly signals its sporting intentions.

2008 Saturn Sky Red Line

Value / Who Should Buy It

A turbocharged roadster with two seats and no cargo room is inevitable going to fill a small niche in the automotive spectrum, and no sane person would buy the SKY Red Line to be their daily driver for a boring, traffic filled commute. Yet, for what it is, the SKY Red Line is almost in a class of its own. No comparably priced convertible has anything close to the same performance potential, and the few that do are not only more expensive, but they arguably lack the visual appeal that the SKY has in spades. Although not the fastest or most agile car on the road, and definitely not the most practical or luxurious, the Saturn SKY Red Line has the “wow” factor dialed to 11.

  Build Interior Performance Handling Styling Value Overall
Rating 4.0 4.0 4.75 4.75 5.0 4.5 4.5/A-

25 Responses to 2008 Saturn SKY Red Line Review – Rethinking the High-Performance Roadster

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  5. Kevin says:

    Purchased a Sky Redline ’07, Silver Pearl, manual, black leather, chrome wheels, 6-CD MP3 player, and no spoiler (did not want one, as I love the sleek look of the rear deck).

    It is awesome. Power to spare. Push the pedal down and the car will push you back into the nicely bolstered leather seats. Putting the top up or down is not a chore…I actually enjoy doing it…and it is quick (comfortably under a minute every time).

    This car is awesome. It is what it is. A sports car.

    My other car is a 2004 Saturn Vue, V6 AWD.

    When I haul luggage or gear, I used the Vue. When I just want to haul ass, I use the Sky.

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  7. blaze says:

    Purchased this car this past July and I will never be sorry for doing so. It is a great car that moves like the wind. Handles great and the looks and stares are unreal. I bought a 2008 Saturn Sky Redline in Chili Pepper Red with 2300 miles for under $25 K!!!!!

    I can get the top up and down quickly, not a problem, in under 60 seconds. The only problem i am having is the line up of the hood. It seems that it is awry. I have to periodically open the hood and reclose it because the driver’s door will just touch the piece of hood that is, of course, closest to it. Not too sure why this is happening. I plan to take it to a GM dealer and see if this is something that can be fixed as it is still under warranty. At this point it is a nuisance.

    It took me quite a while to find this car and i am so glad i did. My previous cars include a Mazda RX7 and Dodge Stealth. This car is far superior to both.

    If you want to have fun driving and actually enjoy it; this little roadster is the way to go. As stated previously, this Sky is TRULY the limit.

    Enjoy this car to the max!!!!!!!

  8. Irv says:

    Just bought a used 2008 red line LOVE this car

  9. JIM says:

    Well, I’m a baby-boomer (63) and I remember fondly the days I was making stupid money in the 60′s which led me to my first fun-loving car, the 1965 Shelby. Then like an idiot, I traded that for a 63′ Split-window Vette. Then drafted and they all went away. Wish I had both today, Did someone say 401 K?

    So, my wife and I have had three Saturns since 1993 and have loved the cars and the company. Always great dealers and service. When the rumors were out in 2000 that a roadster was coming, we both said…. “YES”. So we had to wait till 2008, but we purchased an 08′ redilne and I have to say it absolutely takes me back to those driving days of the 60′s when it was fun to get in a car, put the top down and take off to get lost on some country road in the summer. Fantastic car to drive and even longer trips aren’t uncomfortable. Just enough room for a weekend bag and light lunch.

    Great car this Saturn Sky. Wish the company would have survived the economics of late. Who knows what great engineering marvels they would have come up with.

  10. Larry says:

    The top goes up in under 60 seconds and the trunk closes with one hand. If you have to haul something get a truck. My ’08 Redline can pack the groceries, fishing tackle, & enough clothes for any trip. It delivered a wake-up call to a G35 on the trip to work today. I drive it every day and it never fails to deliver. With a production run of approximately 9,000 units, it is definintely a keeper.

  11. Jerry Ringi says:

    I own a 2008 Redline turbo. I love the car but would like it to be faster. I had a 2000 Trans Am Ram air and the Redline is just not in that class for speed. Might have to get the upgrade to my turbo and get the horsepower up to 290. My one problem is the constant rattle I get in my dash area. Can’t seem to get rid of it have tried. This might get me to trade it in. Looking at the Shelby GT for 2011. But I do get great looks about the red sports car. Anyone else have the noise in the dash problem? Otherwise a nice car fun to drive and for the price well worth it. Just a little more power would be nice. I kow I’m not right but I’ve owned some powerful cars in my time starting with a 1964 GTO tri power 4 speed back in 1964 as a teenager. It started me on the road to power rides.

  12. Da Huge 1 says:

    For those of you who spout on about the “virtues” of a manual transmission: If you’ve been on your feet for 10 to 12hrs. a day working for a
    living, you’d find a manual transmission a pain in the a#% at the end of the day!!! I did and vowed before God and anyone else that for as long as technology could shift the gears, I’d allow modern technology to do it for me. I’m bumping around on the net looking for one(a Redline Sky) WITH an auto box. I’ve seen 2 or 3, would pull the trigger, but college tuition for my son trumps everything else.

  13. Don in CA says:

    I just purchased a 2008 Red Line with 6,900 miles on it for $22,000. I looked at the Honda S2000, the 350 and 370 Z, the Mazda Miata and the Pontiac Solstice.

    The Honda had to be revved within an inch of its life to give any performance, the Z cars felt heavy and had too high a high beltline, the Miata felt tinny and underpowered. The Solstice GXP was excellent but I preferred the styling of the Sky.

    This is a terrific roadster with high build quality, great torque, relatively light weight and a nice complement of equipment. Having had Corvettes, TransAms, GTOs, Impala Super Sports etc. I can really appreciate the efficiency of this vehicle’s design. With direct injection and 130 HP per liter, it gives me all the performance I need. 30+ MPG on the highway makes it a perfect car for my needs.

    I can easily manage the top in 25-30 seconds. I have no idea why anyone would need longer. I believe only 9,000 of these were produced in 2008 which is a very limited production run. Even in car crazy southern California I rarely see two a month.

  14. Fumbulit says:

    I bought an 08 Redline. I traveled from S.C. to Lexington KY for the South Eastern Regional Meet of SKY owners. No complaint from me or my gal about comfort or lack of trunk space. We packed soft bags of clothes and undies into the trunk and into the pockets on the seat-backs and floor space behind the seats. We stayed for 4 days, no problem. I raise or lower the top in less than a minute. The fun and complements never end and the price is right. To me, the SKY’s the limit.

  15. Steve in AZ says:

    I own a 2008 standard. When people ask me in one word to describe it, I say adrenaline. I come to work happy, I get home happy. But please don’t buy it, I for one do not want too many on the road. I like to keep all the stares for myself.

  16. BOOOST says:

    I agree, it only takes a few seconds to get the top up and locked in place. I think everyone who bought a Sky/Solstice knew what they were getting into when in came to storage room and trunk space. It has very little, but that’s not what any of us bought it for. It’s a one-of-a-kind roadster that delivers an 11 on the styling and fun scale for less that 30K. My yuppie neighbor asked me if it was a Ferrari when he first saw mine! True story.

  17. Dana Wedding says:

    I just bought by 08 Sky Redline and I love it. I drive it everyday to work which is a 45 minute commute one way. I love the speed and responsiveness. The DC area requires power to handle the aggressive drivers in the area and the sky definitly provides that.

  18. John says:

    People! This is a 30k, 260HP roadster! OF COURSE it doesn’t have a lot of storage! That is not why you buy a 2 seat convertible! I get so tired of reviews like this and others that list pros for buying SUVs as cons for buying little sporty roadsters – they are not the same market!

    I bought my 2007 redline as a daily commuter for the very reason of spicing up my commute and making parking in the city a LOT easier. I cannot describe how much bettre my commute is and I drive 1:15 minutes each way into DC.

    As far as the convertible top goes – a couple of minutes, please?! You have got to be kidding! 30 seconds tops. The roadster would probably be even heavier with all the machinery it would take to make it automatic. My top stays down 85% of the time anyhow.

    I however, do not like having to slam the trunk. There are definitley things that could be higher quality on the car, but again, the price point for what you get provides tons of value! And you just can’t stop looking at them – the styling is fantastic!

  19. Bruce says:

    I have a new ’09 Ruby Red Turbo with black leather interior. What a machine! I use mine for day trips and its an ideal fusion of value, performance, styling, fuel economy, and resale/return on investment. Buy it!!

  20. Cris says:

    I would take exception to a couple of things mentioned in the review. I own an 08 Redline and use it as my daily driver. First off , a “few minutes” to put the top up is extremely exaggerated. I’ve never spent over 30 seconds putting the top up or down. The quickest method is to pull it up and out, get in the car use both hands to pull forward to align the roof guides, then close the handle. Get out, close the trunk lid and you are done.
    The second item worth noting is I also have the monsoon audio and at high speeds , 80+MPH the monsoon stereo is loud enough to where it blocks out most of the wind noise. I have heard the standard non-monsoon stereo is weak.

  21. Eric says:

    >>

    See many of them still on the road? Thought not.
    And why are you whining about $15k cars when we’re looking at a $30k roadster that by all account is worth every penny?

    Show me a car that can compete in styling, performance, fuel efficiency and value and I’ll buy it for you.

    Which japanese automaker do you work for Steve?

  22. Bob Cammarata says:

    I agree with all of the above comments…except that my Sky WAS acquired to add a little fun to that (boring) daily commute.
    (Though the jury is still out as to whether or not I’m a sane person.)
    This little rocket is indeed a head-turner and a blast to drive.
    At 31 mpg on the highway, the Red Line Turbo is one of the most economical sports roadsters in its class.
    More storage space would be nice but that’s an acceptable compromise for sleek styling and performance.

  23. Steve says:

    Yes, it’s a 30k car, but toyota and nissan knew how to make 15k cars ten years ago, with much higher quality interior materials that don’t make you want to puke. GM might, someday, learn, just maybe not this decade. A auto with no manual mode is absolutely inexcusable, and has been since about 1995.

  24. Robert Geddis says:

    This is my daily drive. I went from a Lexus to this roadster … and love it. In December I pack enough in the trunk for five months in Florida or Arizona. That includes my day golf bag & clubs, cloths, shoes and so on. At a youthful 62, I find the ride most comfortable and rising-lower the top in 20-25 seconds easy. In fact, I can beat most all power tops. The gas milage is outstanding and the power brings daily grins. But the very best part of owning the Sky or Solstice is the owners. Each State has a club and there is a National gathering too. Going on cruises and meeting up for dinner or a show or a hike .. buying this car is joining a youthful fun life style. Many owner’s upgrade the power even more with after market products. Wing doors and various body panels and paint …WoW! This is the first American vehicle I am proud to own and be seen in. If you need more space .. for goodness sake buy a SUV.

  25. Snarky says:

    While I agree with all of the Pros, I do take exception to the cons of this review:
    1) Automatic transmission needs a manual mode
    A: Who would be silly enough to GET the Automatic transmission if they want a manual mode? Stick is the way to go, baby!

    2)Finicky convertible top
    A: It takes me 30 seconds to get the top up. Faster than waiting on my other power top convertible.

    3) Cheap interior plastic
    A: I have leather inserts, and remember, it is a 30K car, not a 70K car!

    4) No cargo room
    A: Uh, Yeah…It’s a Roadster! Of course it has no cargo room!

    JMHO, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. This car’s selling point IS its impracticality. A joy to own and drive.





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