|Consumer Reviews of Saturn SKY||Saturn SKY Red Line Photo Gallery||Saturn SKY Red Line Specs|
by Alex Kramer
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!
- Grin inducing acceleration
- Well balanced suspension
- True high performance tires
- “Look at me!” exterior design
- Lots of speed for little cash
- 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.