First Drive: 2007 Saturn Sky Redline saturn first drives
2007 Saturn Sky Redline. Click image to enlarge

Review and phtos by Laurance Yap

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Santa Barbara, California – There isn’t a single dent-resistant polymer panel to be found on the side of Saturn’s new Sky Red Line. Did the Californian population – young and old, male and female, all of whom hung out of moving cars with their camera phones and upturned thumbs – care? Not a whit. I don’t blame them. I mean, just look at the thing: it’s a gorgeous little droptop – now with serious power – for a lot less than 40 grand: the Canadian MSRP is $37,980 vs $31,935 for the regular Sky model. It has decent room for two and an interior packed with cool finishes, from leather on the seats to piano-black trim on the console and instrument panel.

Rolling down any road, the Sky’s dramatic show-car proportions and big wheels mean it draws all kinds of stares. It looks like a miniature Corvette that’s been customized by someone really talented with glass and clear plastic and chrome; a miniature Corvette for the iPod generation. It’s hunkered down purposefully on 18-inch wheels and it bulges in all the right places. Check out all the cool details: the trapezoidal exhaust pipes under the rear bumper, the tiny door mirrors that look straight off a Ferrari; the ice-block rear lights and the twin peaks on the rear deck that blend into the seats.

First Drive: 2007 Saturn Sky Redline saturn first drives
First Drive: 2007 Saturn Sky Redline saturn first drives
2007 Saturn Sky Redline. Click image to enlarge

You may be a little familiar with the Sky’s overall shape. It’s reminiscent of Pontiac’s little two-seater, the Solstice, but the look here is sharper, more tailored. The Red Line ups the ante with some subtle but important visual differentiators: polished aluminum alloy wheels, extra brake cooling vents under the fog lamps and two polished aluminum exhaust tips instead of one. As befitting its higher price and higher power, the Red Line’s interior feels richer than the base Sky. You get a two-tone leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, unique embroidery on the seats, metallic sill plates and pedal covers and a digital boost gauge in the trip computer. The audio system plays MP3 CDs and also features satellite radio capability.

Unfortunately, the Red Line still has the same soft top, one that is a pain to put up and down and which consumes way too much space when folded. When the Mazda Miata offers a roof that can be unlatched, thrown over your shoulder and locked into place in just one motion – and you can now get a convertible hardtop that doesn’t consume any more space – the Saturn’s complicated arrangement is a disappointment. First, you open the trunk lid with the key fob, which also releases the two small buttresses on each side of the roof. Then you unlatch the roof from the windshield header. Then you fold it all into the trunk and close the lid. Putting it up is even more complex, as you have to crack the windows open or open the doors to ensure the top’s seals don’t get bunched up on the windows; you also have to walk around to both sides of the car to latch the buttresses in place.

First Drive: 2007 Saturn Sky Redline saturn first drives
2007 Saturn Sky Redline. Click image to enlarge

The top still fills most of the luggage area when folded thanks to a high-set fuel tank and the car’s pert rear end. To its credit, the larger, more pointed rear bumper means Saturn has found a bit – but noticeably – more luggage space than Pontiac found in its small roadster. There’s enough room in the trunk, once the roof is folded, to jam in a small gym bag and a couple of (much) smaller items.

Storage space inside the cabin remains very much at a premium. Aside from a glovebox which is already full to bursting with owner’s manuals and warranty information, and a cubby on the vertical wall between the seats, there’s nowhere to stash your cell phone, your CDs, your sunglasses, or anything else. The pockets mounted on the front edge of the seats are useless if someone’s actually sitting in them, and the spring-out cupholder in the side of the console feels flimsy (two more come out from the base of the wall, but they’re so far back they’re almost useless). If you’re short, like me, there’s enough space behind each of the seats for a briefcase, but that’s about it.

First Drive: 2007 Saturn Sky Redline saturn first drives
2007 Saturn Sky Redline. Click image to enlarge

In normal driving situations, the regular Sky is a really nice little roadster. The seating position is appropriately low and sporty, and it’s comfortable on long trips thanks to excellent ride quality and good wind management with the roof down. Roof up it’s surprisingly refined, with the insulated top doing a good job of minimizing wind and road noise. Since none of these fundamentals have changed with the Red Line – and since we’ve agreed to an embargo on full driving impressions – you can imagine it’d be much the same, just faster.

How much faster? A lot faster, thanks to direct-injection technology and turbocharging. The Sky Red Line produces 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque from the most powerful iteration yet of GM’s increasingly ubiquitous Ecotec four-cylinder. Displacing 2.0 litres instead of the base Sky’s 2.4, the new engine is nonetheless significantly more powerful, easily eclipsing the 177 hp and 166 lb-ft produced by the regular Sky. GM quotes a 0 to 60 mph (96 km/h) time of 5.5 seconds vs 7.2 seconds for the regular Sky. Power is still transmitted to the rear wheels via your choice of a five-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic transmission. I actually preferred the automatic in the base Sky, so it’s well worth a try before you, uh, automatically opt for the manual in the Red Line.

The real question is whether the Red Line gets better when you start pushing harder. Despite great steering and a nicely sensitive brake pedal, the base model isn’t really comfortable in the sports-car role set out for it by its styling. It rolls a fair amount in bends and the rear end of the car often feels like it might get away from you; driving on wet roads requires a lot of caution.

First Drive: 2007 Saturn Sky Redline saturn first drives
2007 Saturn Sky Redline. Click image to enlarge

Changes made to the car’s chassis should definitely improve its behaviour during more aggressive driving. The all-season Goodyear Eagle RS-As have been replaced by serious Eagle F1 rubber. The suspension features coil-over Bilstein monotube shocks for what Saturn claims is vastly-improved wheel control as well as road isolation. ABS brakes and four-wheel discs are standard, as is the StabiliTrak electronic stability-control system. Given GM’s excellent record for turning its recent small cars into speed freaks (the Cobalt SS is a revelation when driven on a racetrack and Saturn’s own Ion Red Line was developed at the Nurburgring in Germany), this high-performance roadster should be quite impressive when it’s unleashed onto Canadian roads.

The Sky Red Line sits in an interesting niche in the marketplace; since the demise of the Mazdaspeed Miata, there’s really been no roadster to fill the gap between lower-end roadsters like the small Mazda and the base Sky and larger, far more powerful and expensive models like the Honda S2000 and Nissan 350Z. In terms of price and performance, it’s kind of on its own in the roadster market with no direct competitors – and its gorgeous styling sets it apart from pretty much everything else on the road. The Sky may not have the practical polymer body panels that first attracted people to Saturn, but it has something a lot more important to a lot more buyers: sex appeal.


Manufacturer’s web site

  • Saturn Sky at GMCanada.com