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Saturn reaches for the Sky with new sports car

March 31, 2006|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

Far from falling, the Sky is actually raising Saturn's normally conservative profile and adding more luster to General Motors' expanding crop of fun and sporty automobiles.

Since GM launched its import-fighting Saturn marque back in the early 1990s, the lineup has primarily focused on sane and sensible automobiles that fit right in with the brand's no-hassle, no-haggle marketing philosophy. Lately, however, there have been signs that the division is aggressively courting the performance/image crowd with the launch of the Red Line brand of vehicles, essentially an option grouping that's currently available on the Ion Quad Coupe and Vue sport-ute.

Now Saturn is set to launch the Sky, a no-holds-barred two-seat roadster that wowed the crowd back in January 2005 at the Detroit Auto Show.

Although the new sports car is mechanically identical to the Pontiac Solstice that arrived last fall, including the all-new rear-wheel-drive Kappa platform, the Sky has been blessed with its own identity. The front fascia, including a traditional Saturn-style grille protected behind a ribbed-shaped bumper and twin slotted air inlets that also house the running lights, are some of the key physical traits that separate it from its Solstice cousin. These differences also give the Sky a more hunkered-down appearance as well as a closer kinship with the Chevrolet Corvette.

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However, don't expect a rip-snorting V-8 under the hood and don't look for any plastic fender or door panels (which will eventually be phased out of all Saturn products) either. As with the Solstice, the Sky will open this spring with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes a gutsy 177 horsepower and 166 lb.-ft of torque. By comparison, the cosstown rival Mazda MX-5 serves up 170 horsepower/140 lb.-ft-torque. Keep in mind, though, the Sky's 2,950-pound curb weight exceeds the Mazda's by about 500 pounds, which will likely negate any apparent power advantage.

A five-speed manual transmission comes standard, while a five-speed automatic is optional.

The Sky also differs from the Pontiac Solstice in terms of base equipment. Both models come with four-wheel disc brakes and 18-inch alloy wheels, but Sky buyers will receive air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, cruise control and power windows and locks, all of which are optional on the Pontiac. The added built-in content also contributes to the Sky's $23,700 base price (including destination), which is about $3,200 higher than the Solstice's price tag.

Other notable standard Sky features include remote keyless entry, a six-speaker CD stereo and a one-year subscription to GM's OnStar satellite-based help desk.

On the extra-cost list are chrome-coated wheels, performance suspension, rear spoiler, tonneau cover, up-level audio system and a premium trim package that features leather seats, steering-wheel audio controls and stainless-steel pedals and door-sill plates.

There are some notable items that are not available in the Sky at any price, such as stability control, side-impact air bags or a power top. Raising or lowering the lid requires exiting the vehicle and manually opening the clamshell-style rear deck. By contrast, an MX-5 owner can manually lower and raise the cloth roof from the driver's seat, in traffic if need be.

None of those deficiencies detract from the Sky's stare-gazing ultra-cool looks, however. And if anyone needs for more power, just hang on a few months. This fall, the Pontiac Solstice will be available in a supercharged version and speculation is that the same motor will eventually be offered in the Sky, perhaps wearing a Red Line Badge.

For the time being, whether it's power or passion you seek, the Sky has enough of the right ingredients to deliver both.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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