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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Top down, and reach for the Sky

By Royal Ford | May 28, 2006

The temptation is to write:

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter

But if you can't plagiarize a niche novel about teenage angst, you sure can't steal from George Harrison.

So here comes the Sky -- and the Solstice, Mazda MX-5 Miata, and Volvo C70.

You can't easily set it to music, but baby, you can drive these convertibles.

And I've driven them all, tops up, tops down; good weather and bad; in settings ranging from the granite hills of New Hampshire to the tortuous, volcanic twists of Maui, Hawaii.

So with summer sunrises on our horizons, here's a comparison of the Fab Four drop-tops.

2007 Saturn Sky
Base price/as tested: $23,115/$25,455
Fuel economy: 22.1 miles per gallon in Globe testing
Drivetrain: rear-wheel drive
Seating: two occupants
Horsepower: 177
Torque: 166 lb.-ft.
Overall length: 161.1 inches
Wheelbase: 95.1 inches
Height: 50.1 inches | Width: 71.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,000 pounds (est.)

I realize how wrong I was early on when I called it a rebadged Pontiac Solstice (they share the same General Motors platform and powertrains). The Solstice exterior was all muscular, rounded curves. The edginess of the Sky gives it the look of a Viper after steroids were banned. Beneath the skin, it has the same 2.4-liter, in-line four-cylinder engine pushing out 177 horsepower. And in the test model I had to use the optional five-speed automatic transmission instead of the five-speed manual I had in the test Solstice. (And for this they charge $850?)

But like the Solstice, the Sky was powerful in its thrust toward rear-wheel drive, its tightly designed interior, and the sparse amount of storage space.

Yet this is muscle car meets sports car, and with its sharp edges to wide-stanced, fat rear tires, it had the boys down at the filling station asking, "Saturn?"

2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Base price/as tested: $22,000/$25,000 (est.)
Fuel economy: 23 miles per gallon in Globe testing
Drivetrain: rear-wheel drive
Seating: two occupants
Horsepower: 170
Torque: 140 lb.-ft.
Overall length: 157.3 inches
Wheelbase: 91.7 inches
Height: 49.0 inches | Width: 67.7 inches
Curb weight: 2,474 pounds

English reliability. Now there's an oxymoron. And although the Mazda is not English, it is a nice throwback to the era of the basic roadster -- imagine if MGs and Triumphs had not had a tendency to short circuit driver dreams -- realistically and metaphorically. Then they would have been like the Miata, the roadster that, in the late 1980s, brought back its own genre.

This is not as muscular and throaty as the Solstice or Sky, but it is a wonderful, fantasy-fullfilling drive. It has a 170-horsepower, four-cylinder engine that can be hooked up with a five-speed manual, a six-speed manual, or a six-speed automatic. I found the manual-five plenty of gearbox, though I did hope for more pop from the engine.

Its steering seemed a bit light to the touch and took some care in handling at speed in corners. Where the Sky and Solstice clung hard and firm, the Miata wanted to wander. But straight ahead with mild in-and-out maneuvers it was almost magical.

2007 Volvo C70
Base price/as tested: $39,000/$43,000 (est.)
Fuel economy: 23 miles per gallon (est.)
Drivetrain: front-wheel drive
Seating: four occupants
Horsepower: 218
Torque: 236 lb.-ft.
Overall length: 180.4 inches
Wheelbase: 103.9 inches
Height: 55.1 | Width: 71.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,803 pounds

OK, more money, to the tune of about $15,000. But if you have kids and want a car in which you also want to ride with the top down for fun, this hardtop convertible is for you.

Just watching its multitiered hardtop rise and fall, tuck and tumble, is worth the price of admission.

I drove this one on Maui, where I logged dizzying miles on the famed Hana Highway (countless turns, one-lane bridges, volcanic climbs, flower-petal-slicked corners), and never got tired being behind the wheel or beneath the Hawaiian sun. Its handling was crisp and sure. With the top up, it handled all the water a tropical rain forest could dump on us.

Its 218 horsepower makes it the most powerful in the group. The four seats make it a family fun car: soccer on weeknights, solo sun on weekends. The price, however, sets it apart from the others in this group.

2006 Pontiac Solstice
Base price/as tested: $21,000/$25,000 (est.)
Fuel economy: 21m.p.g. Globe test
Drivetrain: rear-wheel drive
Seating: two occupants
Horsepower: 177
Torque: 166 lb.-ft.
Overall length: 157.2 inches
Wheelbase: 95.1 inches
Height: 50.1 | Width: 71.3 inches
Curb weight: 2,888 pounds

I liked this car a lot. Powerful, muscular, wide rear stance and fat tires attracting attention wherever it got parked. Its drooping, mesh grille features the Pontiac logo, its headlights look vaguely Porsche-ish, and, as with the Sky, the twinned humped headrests behind the seats give it a rakish, racing look.

It is a futuristic-looking car, with a dash that wraps riders in a cockpit embrace. The spread of gauges and controls are easy to reach, read, and use. The five-speed manual transmission was not as tight as the Miata's, and that should probably be cleaned up as more powerful models loom on the horizon. Yet the stickiness of its tires in tight cornering was a source of confidence -- no small measure when you are out for fun on the twisties.

So, tops down, who ends up on top?

For practicality (if you have the money), the Volvo oozes fun and everyday use.

For nostalgia, go with the Miata: Old English with a refined Japanese accent.

As for the American two-seaters with power and promise, take Solstice for road feel.

But on outside style (and I realize this is subjective), I'd reach for the Sky.

1,417 Posts
Thanks for the article. Looks like everyone is a winner... Yaaaayy!!! He kind of copped out on picking one from the bunch, but yes, our roadster might as well be the one wearing the tuxedo holding the strong martini. Sky... Saturn Sky.

133 Posts
Good article that seamed fair, without bashing any of the cars.:thumbs:
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