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2006 Pontiac Solstice into our garage last summer, we had a love-hate experience with the mold-breaking roadster. We loved its bold, sculpted, sporty looks and hated the clunky, plodding driving experience. Our main points of complaint with the Solstice were the mismatched ratios and agricultural feel of its manual gearbox and the lackluster output of the 2.4-liter Ecotec plant.
With the 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line, GM retained our favorite styling accents, while giving us (nearly) everything we wanted under the hood. The Sky Red Line features the same basic structural design as the Solstice, with which it shares the Kappa platform and most of its mechanical DNA. However, in contrast to the Solstice's curvy body styling, the Sky boasts aggressively arched fenders and a menacing mesh-trimmed front profile, giving it a Batmobile brawn (particularly noticeable on our Onyx Black test car). Being the performance-tuned version of the marque, the Red Line also features some unique styling cues, including chrome-trimmed dual exhaust outlets, 18-inch chrome-clad wheels, and a couple of brake-cooling vents in the lower front fascia.
Critically, with the Red Line, this beauty is more than skin deep. In place of the 177 horsepower naturally aspirated, four-cylinder block of the Solstice (and regular Sky), the Red Line is driven by a 2.0-liter direct-injection in-line four boosted by a turbo charger to give it a whirlwind output of 260 horsepower. Now we're talking Miata-mauler.
Test the tech (or lack of it)
While our 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line tester was equipped with the optional automatic gearbox, the soft-top roof remained very much manual. Drivers who want to get the roof up in a hurry have to undergo a multistage procedure, which involves the following stages: stopping the car, popping the rear hatch, getting out, manually opening the clamshell tonneau cover, levering the foldaway top out of its recess in the trunk, slamming the hatch closed, fastening two supporting pins in place, getting back into the car, and snapping an internal lever closed. This rigmarole constitutes a lot more work than in other roadsters we've recently seen--such as the 2006 Honda S2000 and the 2007 Porsche Boxster--which require a press of a button and maybe the unhooking of the odd latch.
For our tech challenge in the Sky, we decided to see how quickly we could get the top up and then down again, timing each of three CNET editors with a stopwatch. In general, the results were surprisingly quick, with times ranging from 23.5 to 44.03 seconds for top down to top up, and a blistering 11.47 seconds from top up to top down. Contributing writer Mike Markovich turned in the fastest times for both top up and top down, racing around the car like a Formula One pit crew member. Meanwhile, Editor Wayne Cunningham fumbled through closing the rear hatch, adding significant seconds to his overall time. Some of the more challenging aspects of operating the roof involved getting the fold-out canopy to line up with the top of the A-pillars when closing the top and getting the hatch to close fully on top of the folding canopy with the canopy stowed in the trunk.
In the cabin
The interior of the Saturn Sky is cramped and kitschy, in a curiously stylish kind of way. Our tester came with optional red-leather seat inserts and door panels ($595), as well as lacquered black plastic accents on the parking brake, shifter, and HVAC controls. Similar to most other roadsters, cabin space is minimal in the Sky Red Line. And with the top in the trunk, the Red Line's cargo space is significantly less than that of other cars in the segment. Another design gripe we have is the Sky's poor rearward visibility: with the top up, rear sightlines are seriously impeded, and we found the car an excellent test mule for a VR3 VRBC300W back-up camera we had sitting around in the office.
Our test car came with the Monsoon premium audio package (a $590 option), which includes an MP3 disc-compatible head unit hooked up to a seven-speaker system with a separate subwoofer. An auxiliary input jack is standard on all Skys, while XM Satellite Radio is an available option ($199 for an initial three months of service). For drivers who want more music options, a six-disc in-dash changer is available for an extra $300.
Despite its relatively basic appearance, we like the usability of the Monsoon stereo. An i button on the left of the head unit enables drivers to cycle through artist, track, and folder information for ID3 tags on MP3 discs, while hard buttons along the bottom of the monochrome display are an intuitive way of tabbing between folders (for MP3 discs) and genres (for XM Satellite channels).
The Monsoon stereo is tuned to be audible above the din of wind and road noise that assails the cabin with the top down (and to some extent, with the top up as well), rather than for acoustic refinement. Audio output is impeded somewhat by the lack of space in the cabin as the legs of the driver and front passenger muffle the sound coming from the in-door speakers. The muffled soundtrack is compounded by the placement of a subwoofer behind the passenger's seat (which is usually pushed into its most rearward position). Two tweeters located in the A-pillars serve to give some clarity and refinement to an otherwise muddy--albeit immersive--acoustic output.