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Carmaker known for drab introduces a 4-cylinder head-turner that dreams of 6 cylinders
- Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, August 25, 2006

It prowls down the street on those big 18-inch wheels, its low windshield and high beltline giving it a certain mean, even growling look, its squared-off exhaust tip emitting just the right tone of a four-cylinder engine that sometimes wishes it were a bit more, say, on the six-cylinder side.
I'm stopped at a light on Fifth Street in San Francisco, near Interstate 80, and a guy crosses the car's bow, pauses for just a moment, then gives an approving nod as he spies the car's distinctive logo that splits the chrome grill.
"That's quite a changeup for Saturn," he says with a smile, then crosses the rest of the street, turning back a couple of times to make sure it really is a Saturn.
A Saturn? This little two-door roadster with the racy trunk-mounted fairing bulges just aft of the headrests? A Saturn?
Think about Saturn, after all. It's the line General Motors introduced in 1990 as kind of a small car that, the ads proclaimed, was different from everything else. Sure was. It was different in so many ways that it was a nonentity. Rough-idling engines, undistinguished -- I mean really undistinguished -- design, the type of design that looked as if the indentured servants at GM were ordered to do this one way and only one way, and at the end of each day, as they headed for the bar, they added a particularly awkward line or flare to make the thing even uglier.
So what is Saturn doing with this crisp head-turner of a new car? It's called the Sky and is meant to be driven with the sky thoroughly in mind -- the car's ragtop tucked into the already tiny trunk -- and in California that is not a bad thing at all, particularly this summer.
I parked it for an hour or so in Berkeley while I got my hair cut, and I could see through the mirror as people stopped, checked it out, left, came back with a friend or two, checked it out again. After the haircut, while I was driving down Claremont Avenue, a big wagon suddenly cut across a lane of traffic and followed me down the street, clearly wanting to see more. I pulled over. He pulled over.
"It's great-looking. What is it?" said Ryan Ledwith, a New York real estate mortgage company executive in Berkeley for a fraternity reunion. Ledwith, who drives a Chrysler PT Cruiser and a 1964 Austin-Healey 3000, had to leave for his reunion, but later, in a phone chat when he was back in New York, he said what stopped him in his tracks "was the Saturn sticker. A good-looking American convertible is as rare as hen's teeth. This one -- its design was bold but it wasn't overdone."
In the end, the Sky isn't all too mysterious. Essentially, it's much like the Pontiac Solstice, introduced earlier this year. The Solstice is about $3,000 less expensive, looks a lot like the Sky, but, for some reason lacks what the Sky has in curb appeal. I drove a Solstice for a week earlier this year and got about 10 percent of the head-swiveling reaction that I got for the Sky. Both cars are built in Delaware on GM's Kappa platform, "a potpourri of hydroformed steel tubes and stampings, aluminum control arms, and GM-parts-bin bits," as Car and Driver magazine put it.
Where they differ is in the details. The Sky tends to be a bit more upscale -- surprising, given its humble derivation, marketing and even its current siblings -- and has a slightly softer ride than the Solstice. (Both cars, incidentally, compete directly with Mazda's MX-5 Miata, and Mazda has had more than 16 years to perfect what has become one of the most popular cars in that genre.)
The Sky is powered by a 2.4-liter, 177-horsepower four-cylinder engine, and the one I had was a five-speed automatic. Given that it's not a rocket ship anyway, the auto-trans was fine for slogging back and forth in Bay Bridge traffic. (Later this year, the Solstice and the Sky are slated to get a 260-horse, 2-liter turbo engine, which, GM says, will cut two seconds off the current car's zero-to-60 time of 7 1/2 seconds.)
Sitting inside the Sky is almost like folding yourself into a bathtub. It doesn't feel particularly snug -- the plush, two-toned leather seats are wide enough -- but at the same time there's almost no room. There's a small glove box in the usual place and a smaller one tucked in the vertical back of the center console, right above the essentially useless cupholders that can only be reached if you're growing a third arm out of your back. (There's another cupholder near the glove box, but it's shallow and it intrudes on the passenger's footwell.)
The view out front is fine, with those muscular fenders rising up, but can be a bit hindered out the rear by those seat-rest fairings, particularly for the height-challenged driver. The controls are fine, very straightforward -- no high-tech quiz to get the sound system or HVAC working -- but the instrument pods are pretty deep and tend to lose some visibility when the light's wrong. The electric window lifts, in the door rest, are far enough back to be operated by your elbow, and the adjuster for the seatback angle is jammed back in where it's nearly unreachable, unless you move the seat far forward.
Once you're settled in, though, the car has the right feel, the right distance from steering wheel to arms, legs to pedals, and it has that comfort you get only when a car starts fitting you within a few minutes of trying it out. On the road, it tracks great -- sling it around corners; those big P245/45 tires will handle it -- and in the twisties it feels as solid as a Corvette.
With the top up you'll find that the Sky is a bit like a cage. The top is low and confining; and there are the usual blind spots in the rear quarters. To boot (so to speak), when you fill the tiny trunk with the top (the gas tank is already taking up a big chunk of it), you'll have room for a tea towel or two and that's about it. But Saturn does make other cars, if room and the ordinary (to the point of banal) are what you want.
For now, GM has a winner with this car, and both it and the Solstice, like the Corvette and much of the Cadillac line, are bright spots in GM's overall picture.

2007 Saturn Sky Style: two-door convertible; front engine, rear-wheel drive
Price: $23,115; as tested, $26,700
Powertrain: 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder 177-horsepower engine; 5-speed automatic transmission
Curb weight: 2,963 pounds
Seating capacity: two
Mileage: 22 city; 26 highway
Fuel tank capacity: 13.6 gallons.
Dimensions: Length 161.1, width 71.4, height 50.1 ; wheelbase 95.1 inches
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Source: Saturn Corp.; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (

18,114 Posts
as never before...and never again I might say...Have u seen what they did to the Aura...they had a great concept car and the designers at GM must have skimped on the money...they opted not to have the exhausts which look similiar to the vette... they put this cheap molding half way up the car and the gm logo about a third way up....Who is running Saturn these days!
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