2007 Saturn Sky. Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Jil McIntosh

Earlier this year, a study by consulting firm A.T. Kearney revealed that styling has become a key factor in the auto-buying decision. Good looks can trump quite a number of flaws; the study said that customers will buy a car that even has quality deficiencies if it simply looks good.

So just what kind of ill-advised buyer would take a car strictly on looks? Well – she says sheepishly – a lot of them would, including me.

You’d think I’d know better; I make the major portion of my living assessing all the aspects of cars, and then advising readers on what’s good, what isn’t, and what should be considered when looking at the vehicle. I tell people to buy with their heads, not their hearts; I tell them to test-drive until the wheels fall off, and research until they’ve scoured every inch of the Internet. But I will also admit that it’s a case of do as I say, not as I do; my only new-vehicle purchase, made twelve years ago, was a truck I bought solely on its looks. My very first test-drive was in the actual vehicle I’d bought, and while I was lucky in that it turned out to be exactly right for me, I know it easily could have gone the other way.

Indeed, it often does; I recently spoke with someone who bought the object of his heart’s desire in the winter, and only discovered it lacked air conditioning when he went to turn it on in the spring.

The author's 1949 Studebaker pickup
The author’s 1949 Studebaker pickup. Click image to enlarge

Not only do we buy impractical cars, but we find ways to work around their deficiencies. My hobby is hot rods, and when I bought a 1949 Studebaker truck – being the truly rational consumer that I am, I struck the deal when it was in a million pieces scattered across the shop floor where it was being built – the first thing I had to do was take it for a shakedown. That turned into a two-week trip, meandering from Ontario as far as Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Because we still hadn’t figured out how to fit window regulators to its modified doors, the truck had no side glass, and there was no tonneau cover on the box. That didn’t stop us, of course; my husband and I packed a few clothes into a food cooler, set tight restrictions on souvenirs, and made several stops at coin laundries along the way. (Our standard answer to the frequently-asked question “What do you do when it rains?” was, “We get wet.”) When we parked the truck to go sightseeing, we simply stuffed the cooler bag into the engine compartment alongside the alternator for safekeeping. That was seventeen years ago, and being older and far more set in my ways regarding creature comforts, I probably wouldn’t undertake the trip under similar circumstances today. Still, it just goes to show you what car owners will tolerate if the styling and the cool factor are there.

That trip came back to mind when I drove the Saturn Sky, the new-for-2007 sibling to the Pontiac Solstice.

Raising the roof on the 2007 Saturn Sky
Raising the roof on the 2007 Saturn Sky; photo series by Brian Early. Click image to enlarge

General Motors, truth be told, has a tendency to produce cars that are very well-built and practical, but blandly styled. And when the company goes the other way, and puts some zing into the zone, there’s often a price to pay. That’s truly evident with the Sky and Solstice, which have some incredibly glaring errors, even in the world of roadsters where compromise is a way of life. Mostly they revolve around the roof, and where that roof goes.

To drop the top, first you must open the trunk, either from the keyless remote, or from a button inside the glovebox. This unlatches the trunk lid and also unsnaps the canvas flying buttresses that are attached to it.

If you weren’t in the car when you did this, you now have to enter it, and unlatch the roof from the header panel. Now get back out, pull the top into the trunk, and slam the lid closed. To put the roof up, you pop the trunk again. If you were in the car when you did, you now get out and pull the roof up. You get back into the car and latch it closed on the header panel. Then you get back out of the car, slam the lid down, snap down one flying buttress, and then walk around to the other side and push that one into place.

2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata
2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

By comparison, the Mazda Miata requires you to unlatch the roof and then just give it a push, even while you’re sitting in the seat; when it’s time to put it up, you can reach back, pull it up, and make it all happen without getting out from behind the wheel. And it’s even easier when you buy the new retractable hardtop version, which does it all electrically at the push of a button.

And where does the Sky’s roof go? Into a place that’s already pretty much useless as far as storage is concerned. The position of the fuel tank is always a concern on small cars, especially rear-wheel drive ones.

2007 Saturn Sky
2007 Saturn Sky
2007 Saturn Sky. Click image to enlarge

The solution, in GM’s case, was to shove the flat tank up into the trunk. The result is that it fills almost the entire space; the storage area is confined to a narrow, shallow trench around its perimeter. And you can’t put anything on top of the tank, because that’s where the roof goes. The Sky’s trunk will easily accommodate a two-four box of beer, but only if you pour the contents of each bottle into it.

My little cooler bag, which most people wouldn’t even consider sufficient for an overnight hotel stay, wouldn’t fit into the Sky’s trunk. And yet a friend of mine who bought a Solstice – his very first time behind the wheel being in the one he bought – simply loves his, and says that he just works around the roof and storage issues. I suspect that many buyers will eventually fall out of the honeymoon period, and when it comes time to replace the roadster, they’ll have had enough of the compromises and won’t get a second one. But I could be wrong on that, of course; people can be impossible to figure out.

Would I buy a Sky? Yes, I would. The study’s right: people will overlook just about anything if a car is drop-dead gorgeous, and for me, piloting that sexy car down the street makes up for almost everything. As Mr. Spock used to say on Star Trek, humans are illogical creatures, and he was right.

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