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2006 Pontiac Solstice by TCC Team (8/29/2005)
Going toe to toe with the Miata – and scoring some direct hits.
2006 Mazda Miata by TCC Team
Raising the benchmark, one sunny day at a time.
TCC’s Top Picks: Convertibles by Eric Peters
Summer’s here – what are you waiting for?
Saturn has a brand new Outlook — and a Sky and an Aura, too. Long the underfed stepchild of General Motors, Saturn could soon start to look like Cinderella at the ball.
The once-promising GM division is finally getting the flood of product it long needed and deserved, including a handsome new sedan, the Aura, as well as a large SUV, dubbed Outlook. But to set things into motion, Saturn is starting out with the 2007 Sky, a two-seat roadster it hopes will put a new halo around the tarnished brand.
If the Sky seems at least vaguely familiar, that’s not surprising. It shares its Kappa platform, and general exterior dimensions, with the Pontiac Solstice roadster, which launched to much acclaim late last year. But the GM product development team worked hard to give Saturn’s offering its own, distinct look and feel.
“Let’s be honest. It’s amazing that the Saturn brand is as strong as it is with the limited product we’ve had and the bumps we’ve run into along the way,” admitted General Manager Jill Lajdzick, who joined us for the Sky rollout. The challenge for the new roadster is to signal the new direction Saturn is taking as it more than doubles the number of product segments it competes in.
Solstice is soft and organic, the Sky’s look is crisper, more angular and
bolder, with a jewel-like mix of chrome and matte accents. This is definitely
not the econobox sedan the automaker has long been known for. “That’s a Saturn?”
was the refrain we heard time and again during a winding tour through
The Sky’s nose arcs a little
longer and lower than its
The visually striking Sky exterior is matched by an even more dramatic interior design that is arguably one of the best to emerge in years out of the General Motors styling studios. The dominant element is the center stack, which has been lavishly covered in high-gloss piano black. It gives the Sky’s symmetric instrument panel the look of a fine piece of furniture or, if you prefer, the presence of a Bang & Olufsen stereo, while the Solstice’s cockpit layout looks like it had been served up by K-Mart.
The Kappa engineering teams had a tough mandate, bringing the two cars in at unexpectedly low base prices, the Solstice just under $20,000, and the Sky at $23,690. To get there wasn’t easy, and they borrowed a lot of off-the-shelf bits and pieces whenever possible. The A/C louvers, for example, were borrowed from GM’s Korean subsidiary, Daewoo, while Sky’s sporty seats were lifted out of the Mexican version of the Opel Corsa.
The tight attention to economics did have a negative impact on ergonomics. There’s no central locking switch. To unlock the doors, you have to shut off the car. And, unfortunately, power window switches, along with the driver’s power mirror control, are mounted in the middle of the armrests. It helps to be a contortionist to use them.
Like the Solstice, the Sky is going to be frequently compared to the ever-popular Mazda Miata. Where operating the Japanese roadster’s top is a largely one-hand affair, GM’s two-seaters require you to get up and out of the car, lift up the rear clamshell, pull the top in place, clamp down its rear wings, close the clamshell and — after a pause to catch your breath — climb back into your seat.
That said, once you’re out in the open air again, get ready to enjoy the ride.
Kappa, Kappa, Kappa
Under the hood, there are only the
most modest differences between GM’s Kappa-based roadsters. They share the same,
2.4-liter DOHC in-line four-cylinder engine. It’s reasonably peppy, at least if
you’re willing to work the five-speed manual gearbox to stay in the torque band.
Saturn claims a 0-60 time of 7.2 seconds for this package, though you’ll
probably lose a half-second with the optional five-speed automatic. Saturn is
the first to get that automatic, by the way.
We expect to see some real demand
later this year when the GM division introduces the Sky Red Line edition.
Performance and Saturn? Well, that’s what Red Line is supposed to add to the
brand, and considering the total remake of the marque, why not? While
displacement will be downrated to an even 2.0 liters, the turbo package will
pump the pony to 266, with 260 lb-ft of torque, and a promised 0-60 time of 5.5
(We were advised, incidentally, that the smaller displacement of the Red Line version should improve fuel economy. Expect the turbo edition to match, even exceed, the 20 city/28 highway rating of the five-speed manual, 2.4-liter four.)
Even in base form, you can flog
the Sky pretty aggressively, as we did whipping through the winding roads and
narrow valleys of
Steering is precise, with quick turn-in and a very good road feel. Overall, the Sky proved pleasantly predictable and easy to maneuver.
The base roadster is offered with a reasonable level of standard equipment, especially at this base price. The list includes power doors and windows, keyless entry, and a decent AM/FM/CD audio system with iPod accessory plug. The standard front airbags are matched with ABS and Traction Control, but you’ll have to wait for the Red Line for stability control — for now, anyway. A Saturn source conceded that with pressure from the competition, that desirable feature may become base technology in the next year or so.
2007 Saturn SkyEnlarge Photo
Will the Sky chip into demand for the Solstice? GM planners insist their data show the two roadsters appealing to very different sorts of buyers. Perhaps, but we expect both Kappa-based models will be frequently compared to the big gun in the affordable roadster segment, the Miata. And well it should.
Mazda has done a magnificent job demonstrating the concept of kaizen, or continuous improvement. Each successive generation has become better and the most recent update, launched in mid-2005, offers great handling, peppy performance and, to be honest, better ergonomics than GM’s twin two-seaters.
But don’t take that as an outright dismissal of the Solstice or the Sky, not by any means. They’re great fun to look at, more so than the visually plain-Jane Miata. And the Sky’s interior is best-in-class, if you’re willing to overlook a few miscues with its layout. There’s no question, you’ll turn a lot of heads with the new Saturn, which we expect to live up to its goal as a halo vehicle.
Base price: $23,690
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Engine: 2.4-liter DOHC in-line four, 170 hp/162 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual or automatic
transmission, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 161.1 x 71.4 x 49.8 in
Wheelbase: 95.1 in
Curb weight: 2860 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 20/28 mpg manual, 24/26 automatic
Major standard features: Power windows, doors and mirrors, AM/FM/CD, keyless remote, cruise control
Safety features: Driver and front passenger airbags; anti-lock brakes and traction control
Warranty: Three years/36,000 milesNext: User Reviews »