2007 Saturn Sky Review
Built For a Moonlit Summer Night
By Steve Purdy
GM’s Saturn brand came to life in 1990 as a new kind of car company. Plain-Jane, white-bread sedans emerged from a fresh new factory in the mid-South where UAW members with an enlightened contract put the cars together. Dealers sold the cars to enthusiastic customers who preferred the no-haggle environment offered nowhere else. Regardless of its uninspired design the Saturn immediately inspired loyalty and fealty among its substantial number of owners. It was a good idea.
GM milked that situation for 10 years while the little coupe and sedan became more and more outdated. The Saturn cars on display at the Detroit Auto Show in ‘99 garnered this reporter’s award for “most anachronistic.” Finally, in 2000, a larger sibling was added – the equally uninspired L-Series. By that time new, fresh and exciting cars were coming from everywhere. Saturn still couldn’t keep up.
Despite a lack of fully competitive products Saturn owners kept coming back and new customers came to the brand, if not in droves at least in numbers that kept the division viable.
Saturn has now gone mainstream-GM. No longer does Saturn do business its own way. Products, procedures, policies and programs come from the corporate boardroom. But that seems to be a good thing at this stage in the life of GM’s second youngest offspring. A renewed vitality is growing at Saturn punctuated by this week’s test car, a lovely teal Sky roadster. This just happens to be the week of my high school class reunion, so the timing couldn’t be better.
I decided to leave a couple hours early for the reunion so I could explore some old haunts and swing buy the house in which I grew up long, long ago. Of course, as a dedicated shunpiker, I’ll eschew the Interstate in favor of two-lanes and even a couple of gravel roads. I’ve already run the Saturn at extra legal freeway speeds and found it pleasant without excessive noise or buffeting with top both up and down. With the top down I could easily keep my hat on without it being ripped off by the wind.
That top is not the easiest thing to operate. First, push the power button to release the two rear anchors in the trailing edges of the top skirt. Then twist the stiff handle on the inside top of the windshield. Get out of the car. Lift the rear lid, noticing the lack of space back there. Then with both hands push the top down. Then push it down again, tighter. And finally slam, don’t just close, but slam the hatch. Whew. The more we do it the easier it gets, and most owners will probably not find the process cumbersome after doing it a dozen times.
The Sky and its Pontiac sibling, the Solstice are on the entirely new “Kappa” platform, the first full new vehicle program entirely overseen by GM’s car-guy VP, Bob Lutz, who probably has the best sense of automotive lust in the business. GM brought him on board to perk up a dismal product line and this is the best example so far of his influence.
My Forest Green (looks teal to me) test car has the optional ($850 extra) 5-speed automatic transmission. While not as much fun as the standard 5-speed manual, it has a reasonably crisp feel on hard acceleration. My route to Lake Odessa, or Lake O as it’s commonly known, is highway M-43 west from Lansing, a straight, well-maintained two-lane state highway passing through Mulliken and Sunfield. I took advantage of a lack of traffic to run her through the automatic gears to see what kind of grunt motivates her. It was more than adequate with a respectable 170-horsepower. It is, after all, meant to be a low-end sports car and it does a mighty fine job of that. EPA says we should expect about 22-mpg city and 26 highway.
In downtown Lake O, directly across from my friend Lon Smith’s grain brokerage office (Lon’s usually over there playing liar’s poker with some of his clients), is an old fieldstone building, the size of a shed, that many years ago was a gas station. In spite of the major reconstruction of 4th Avenue, (Lake O’s main street) it is a great spot to photograph the Sky.
Sky has considerably different styling queues than its Pontiac sibling. Both have the dramatic 18-inch painted aluminum wheels (plenty big for such a little car), but Sky includes faux hood vents, side vents, more complex grille with chrome, and just a generally more sophisticated look.
Sky’s base price is about 3-grand more than Solstice. Sky includes ABS, AC, power windows, mirrors and locks, cruise, lots of extra trim, keyless entry, floor mats and OnStar for a year. Like ordering a package, the total of the extras out-values the cost when you add it all up. Base price on our Sky is $23,115. We have the $750 Premium Trim Package (leather, steering wheel audio controls, and some other extra trim) and an upgraded audio system for $590. XM Satellite radio adds another $325 so we’re looking at around $25,000.
The Sky, built in Wilmington, Delaware, will also be sold in Europe as the Opel GT.
Cruising the backcountry roads and returning late from the class reunion I’m reminded why we like convertibles, particularly small roadsters, so much. The moon was full. The sky had just a few intermittent puffy white clouds and the air was cool. Taking the back roads through good mid Michigan farm country we can smell freshly mowed and freshly baled hay (two distinctly different smells), barn lots full of feeder cattle, pigs, dairy cattle and a few sheep, and of course the verdant aroma of rapidly growing corn. Our senses are nearly overwhelmed.
Compared to the slightly more expensive Miata, Sky and Solstice are not nearly as well sorted out, as the Brits would say. There are lots of little niggles that need attention, but in terms of style, ambiance, panache and just overall entry-level sports car design, they are a hit, in my estimation.