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THE SKY'S THE LIMIT

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Mon, Oct 16, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

THE SKY'S THE LIMIT By JOHN GRAFMAN

The summer night is perfect for this sort of place - an inviting outdoor patio, and patrons who on the whole know what's good and what's not. As I casually stroll toward the valet at Ago (It's pronounced "AH-go.") to reacquire the stylish convertible I deposited with them but a short time before, a small group is starting to gather around. At Ago, one of the L.A. hot spots on Melrose (co-owners/investors include two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro, actor Christopher Walken, Miramax's executive producers Harvey & Bob Weinstein, and director Ridley Scott), the prices - as one might guess, wean out the haves from the have-nots. The parking lot is stocked with many a desirable ride, which stands as testament to the price of doing business at this establishment. Now the small group is getting a little larger, and to my surprise they are swarming around my car d' jour, the latest car from, of all companies, Saturn! As the valet hands me the key to the new Sky, I answer inquiries from the countless curious on-lookers. Both sexes are looking at the small two-seater lustfully. Oddly (or perhaps predictably, given the location), once the cat was out of the bag on the price tag they all but lost interest. Not because it is too much cash, but just the opposite. That the trendy feel fooled by a car that costs less than their last vacation just doesn't sit well with them. The Sky doesn't completely rock my world either, but for very different reasons.

However, the point is this isn't a car for me, or any overpaid, trendy snobs either. This is for the Saturn buyer who wants some fun for the hard earned greenbacks. In other words, just because someone buys a Saturn doesn't mean he or she doesn't have a life. Any company that can survive with so few new products over the years must have mega loyalty among its buyers. The Sky is a remarkable car, if for no other reason than it is the first product with sporty intentions from Saturn. This also ushers in four new models from the company over the next twelve months. Saturn wants to make a splash with its first new car in years and so they chose to bring out the Sky first. And it does just that. Will the car carry the same appeal when they are as plentiful as VW Beetles? Maybe not, but by that time Saturn will have accomplished its primary mission: To sell cars. On the one hand, I am falling for the car.

The styling is a departure from the Pontiac Solstice, from whence the Sky originated from. And in my humble opinion, it is much more aggressive and racy - more similar to the Corvette than the Solstice. Driving is not up to the standards set by the Vette, but it is still more than what I expect - especially from this brand. In fact, this newcomer is a rather decent blend, able to please on the day-in and day-out commute along with the capability to push fairly hard without a problem. In short, I can't believe it's a Saturn! Sticking the pedal to the bottom does get the car going at a good clip relatively quickly, but it isn't going to blow the doors off too many. Even the Beetle, while not in the same league, lags just a bit behind. As far as keeping up with the traffic, the Sky will have no issues unless you're on the Autobahn. Life on the San Diego freeway is effortless. The road driving impression is refined beyond what the price tag suggests. It is hard to focus on just how good the behavior actually is, as the styling seems to garner the lions' share of attention. Be it on the freeway or city streets, the Sky behaves itself. If this is any indication of the improvements going on at GM, I am glad to see it.

It is easy to see this as the perfect little commuter car. The small size suggests that this is ideal for navigating and parking in the crowded urban jungle. Or is it? The first issue is the lack of storage. I am a realist, I can rationalize that in a car this small there are some compromises, but how far can anyone go? Understandably, the convertible top eliminates virtually all-functional space with the top down, and even when up the storage space is rather oddly shaped, which prevents toting a number of larger pieces. So be it. But when even the interior is so overwhelmingly lacking, I have to wonder who the target buyer is. Not only is the glove box miniscule (and the cubby between the seats isn't better in size or convenience), there isn't even a practical spot for a cell phone. I am resigned to placing mine in the shifter boot - hardly a good idea when having to shift. If Saturn is appealing to females, and those same females use cell phones, perhaps a proper receptacle for phones is a capital idea. Unless these same females also play for a basketball team they might feel just a tad undersized. The rear deck is so high that it effectively blocks some of the rearward over-the-shoulder visibility. The manual seats in the car I am in doesn't have height adjustment for those of us who are vertically challenged. Maybe the power seat resolves this issue. As the windshield is relatively short (which in part lends to such a nice design), it might not allow for much vertical seat adjustment even if it were possible mechanically. Again, design is king on the interior. The color combos do go a long way to making the most of the styling. But the cheap-feeling plastics, and easy-to-foul fake chrome isn't what I hope for. The ill-fitting parts inside and out only made me question the overall car further. Nonetheless, it is a positive surprise to see design like this coming from a domestic car company.

In lifting the top, I find it just a tad awkward reaching over the wide rear fenders housing some impressively large rubber. In an effort to get a grip on the top, I have a tendency to graze the edge of the wheel well opening, which in turn leaves a dirty smudge from road dirt that the tires deposit there for me to wear. I am not sure if I should be annoyed with unsightliness of the fouled apparel, of if I should be proud to wear this road dirt like a badge of courage - much like British convertible sports car owners endured eons before. I really don't question if the car will be a smashing success. The pre-sale numbers are proof this will do exactly what the execs at GM are hoping for. Besides, if trendy looks didn't sell cars, would oversized SUVs ever have been so popular? Jill Lajdziak (pronounced LAY-jack), Saturn's General Manager (who has been with the brand from the beginning in 1986), puts it in perfect perspective: "What America wants from us is clearly a more dynamic and contemporary product portfolio. That's what we intend to give the marketplace again, but we don't want to walk away from who we are." I think Jill is on the right track, and the Sky is the first step for Saturn in doing so. With five-star safety ratings and a focus on being environmentally friendly, Saturn is hitting the right notes with the masses. With a bit more attention to some of the aforementioned comments, the Sky can turn into the must-have car of both enthusiasts and Hollywood's trendiest celebs. What better place to find stars than in a Sky! SUMMARY JUDGMENT Top down fun and a good value, but it has a few issues.

More on Sky can be found at www.saturn.com. SPECIFICATIONS Price: Base $23,115, as tested $26,150 Engine type: 2.4L DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder with aluminum block and twin balance shafts Horsepower: 268 @ 6,600 rpm Torque: 166 lb.-ft @ 4,800 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine / rear-wheel drive Transmission type: Five-speed manual, or optional five-speed automatic. LSD optional. Suspension: Front/Rear: Independent wishbone with stabilizer bar and coil springs Wheels and tires: Front/Rear: 18x8 chrome plated aluminum, 245/45R/18 all season tires Brakes: Front: Vented discs, 11.7 in diameter Rear: Solid discs 10.9 in diameter Overall length: 161.1 inches Overall width: 71.4 inches Overall height: 50.1 inches Curb weight, lbs: 2,963 (Automatic), 2,933 (Manual) EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 20/28 (Manual), 22/26 (Automatic) 0-60 mph: 7.2 (Manual)

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