GM's Saturn division has seen some tough times over the past few years. Once applauded heartily for fair and equitable treatment of customers at its dealerships, Saturn never quite developed a lineup of cars to match that praise.
Last year, when Pontiac launched its two-seater Solstice roadster, it was no secret that Saturn would get an equivalent model. After all, millions of people had seen the Sky in concept form, at auto shows.
On sale as an early 2007 model, the Sky certainly looks the part of a racy road machine. Even onlookers who know little or nothing about cars are likely to be drawn to its sinewy shape, capped by twin nacelles on the decklid. Overall, it's a close cousin to the Solstice, with unique styling touches up front.
Built on a rear-wheel-drive platform, like the Mazda MX-5 (Miata) that serves as its closest competitor, the Sky contains a 2.4-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine that develops 166 horsepower at 6600 rpm. Either a five-speed manual or an optional five-speed automatic transmission may be installed.
With manual shift, the Sky gets an EPA fuel-economy estimate of 20 mpg in city driving, and 28 mpg on the highway. An automatic transmission changes those figures to 22/26 mpg. Saturn claims the roadster can accelerate to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds.
Alloy wheels hold 18-inch tires, but side-impact airbags are not offered. Riding a 95.1-inch wheelbase, the roadster is 161.1 inches long and stands only 50.1 inches tall with its fabric top up. Manually-operated, the top slips below the rear-hinged decklid, completely out of sight.
That's not quite as easy as it sounds, unfortunately. Engineers came up with a clever method for installing the fabric top in highly restricted space, but lowering it is a several-step process. At the same time, cargo space in the Sky is close to nonexistent. Even the smallest suitcase isn't going to fit into the minuscule trunk space.
Differences betwen the Sky and its Pontiac Solstice sibling are minimal. Not just snug, the two-passenger roadster is cramped inside. Seats are well bolstered and adequately cushioned, with helpful thigh support and pretty good back support, though the driver's right calf leans against the giant console. Space for the driver's left elbow is highly confined, too.
With the top raised, rear visibility is passable directly between the decklid nacelles, but the over-right-shoulder view is restricted unless you crane your neck upward. Over-left-shoulder visibility is nonexistent. Visibility isn't particularly impaired by the squat side windows and windshield, except that overhead traffic signals could disappear. Getting into and out of the cockpit requires a substantial head-ducking.
Gauges are nicely lit in the dark, but not easy to see in sunlight. They're too deeply positioned, and white numerals don't stand out enough. White pointers are satisfactory, but red would be better. A glossy black lid atop the dashboard produces reflections. Worse yet is the bright metal on the gearshift plate and door handles, which can be dangerously distracting when sunlight hits those surfaces.
Step on the gas pedal of an automatic-transmission Sky at 55 mph and you get a lot more sound than true fury. What you hear from the exhaust is a noisy, rather coarse blare, not a rich sport-car sonata. Acceleration is better from a standstill.
Heavy steering feel is doubtless meant to convey a sporty nature, but it cuts into easy maneuverability. On glassy surfaces, the ride is satisfactory, but you can sense its tightness. Through rougher spots, it ranks as downright stiff, and can occasionally turn punishing.
Despite its pragmatic flaws, the Sky - like Pontiac's Solstice - is quickly capturing the hearts of buyers and aspiring shoppers. Kelley Blue Book reports that eager buyers are paying more than the Sky's $23,690 sticker price for the privilege of driving one home right now.
Sure, it's a matter of style over substance. Cynics might even brand the Sky as a flashy little plaything for the gullible. Maybe so, yet this two-seater exudes so much style that its tangible defects may easily be overlooked.
Nevertheless, if the Sky and Solstice are a joint foundation for GM's master revival plan, as has been suggested, the corporation might be closer to doom than we've imagined thus far. Twin roadsters, no matter how luscious and appealing, just aren't likely to be enough to set a fresh course for the success of General Motors' ailing divisions.