Exercise in style. By Matt Delorenzo • Photos by Guy Spangenberg June 2006 It's no secret that the Saturn Sky and the Pontiac Solstice share the same mechanical package beneath their respective skins. But before accusing the Sky of being a case of badge engineering, much closer scrutiny is in order. The shapes are decidedly different and in that design exercise, as well as the basic equipment levels, is where GM differentiates the two open-top sports cars. Whereas a bare-bones Solstice is stickered at just under $20,000, the least expensive Sky costs $23,115 — and has the goods to match the price. The design of the Sky is far more important to Saturn than the Solstice is to Pontiac, because it is part of a general theme that will see all that division's models taking on this look and aligning them with similar Opel cars on sale in Europe. Although the Solstice and Sky share the same 95.1-in. wheelbase, the Pontiac has a much more organic shape while the Sky is crisper, a more technical look. The shape was heavily influenced by the Vauxhall VX Lightning show car, which boasted similar clean surfaces and sharply drawn character lines. Both the Sky and the recently launched Opel GT share the same large projector-beam headlamps flanking a horizontal grille with a chrome insert. The lower fascia sports a large mesh-covered intake flanked by additional cooling vents and driving lights. In keeping with the slightly more upscale positioning of the Sky versus the Solstice, there's a bit more body jewelry, including chrome vents atop the hood, chromed door pulls, and chrome detailing on the rear lamps. These shiny body bits jump out on black and dark-colored cars, while the same features disappear on silver models. That upscale appearance extends to the interior, where the center stack and armrests are done up in Piano black lacquer accents, while chrome accents are used on the shift knob, door latches and pulls, the instrument bezels and on the steering wheel. Particularly fetching are the optional two-tone leather seats and door panels, part of the Premium Trim Package. Like the Solstice's, the controls are logically laid out and simple to use — rotary knobs control the air conditioning, while the radio is a standard GM unit with a large on-off and volume knob. Lights and wipers are stalk-mounted, while cruise control, the driver information center and redundant radio controls are mounted on the steering wheel. The interior fit and finish, gloss levels and materials are top-notch, although some may quibble with the painted silver portion of the console surrounding the shifter as not being up to the same level as the other interior bits. At 71.4 in. wide, the cabin is not what you'd call closely coupled — there's plenty of room to get comfortable, although storage comes at a premium. Little items fit nicely into the door map pockets, there is a small glovebox and another one on the back of the console between the seats. The cupholders are mounted here, popping out forward, and I found myself occasionally catching my elbow on them when rowing through the 5-speed manual shifter. There's also a third one that deploys from the center console, but intrudes into the passenger space. Another annoyance is that it's just about impossible to use the seatback adjuster unless the door is open, such is the limited space between door and seat. With its fashionable interior, the Sky is much less Spartan and elemental than the Solstice, which in its base form comes with roll-up windows as opposed to the power lifts found in the Saturn. The one curious aspect of both is the lack of sports-car instrumentation. There is a tach and speedometer (large and quite legible), but other than the fuel gauge, little else you'd expect in an open-top sportster, such as amps or water temp or oil pressure. To find out water temp (while waiting for the heater to build up steam on a cold morning), I had to scroll through the driver information center to obtain a digital readout. Here's hoping at least for a boost gauge when the turbocharged Redline version bows later this year. Still, the paucity of instrumentation does not take away from the sheer joy of driving, which the Sky offers in abundance. The car is light on its feet and the 177 bhp from the 2.4-liter Ecotec inline-4 is easily accessed through the smooth-shifting Aisin 5-speed manual gearbox (a 5-speed automatic is available as a $950 option). The shifter has precise, short throws and snicks into place with authority. The clutch take-up is progressively light and intuitive. If only the engine were as slick as the transmission. While it provides the necessary power, there is a bit of harshness to the Ecotec that was noted by more than one test driver. At the track, we were able to wring 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, which was 0.2 sec. quicker than the Solstice we tested last fall. The quarter-mile time was identical at 15.8 sec. The power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering is direct and quick in action, thanks to a 16.5:1 ratio that takes just 2.8 turns to go lock-to-lock. In the slalom, the Sky hit 67.8 mph, and it averaged 0.91g on the skidpad, with a whiff of understeer. It's interesting that the Sky was also a bit quicker and exhibited slightly better grip than the Solstice, which recorded 67.0 mph in the slalom and 0.88g on the same 18-in. P245/45R-18 96V Goodyear RS-A wheel and tire package. The different bodywork of the Saturn allows for more rear suspension travel, which not only aids the ride somewhat — it feels a little less likely to hop at the rear — but also may contribute to the handling differences. While the Sky gets the edge in handling, the Solstice stopped considerably better, hauling down from 60 mph in 114 ft. compared with the Sky's 132 ft. Part of that might be because the better-equipped Sky tips the scales at 3155 lb., compared with the Solstice's test weight of 2980. The ride and handling of the Sky, especially in terms of compliance, are in keeping with the Saturn's more upscale aspirations. The revised rear bodywork also results in just a touch more trunk space, which, according to the official spec sheet, is just 2.0 cu. ft. with the top down and 5.4, top up. Saturn execs insist that a bag of golf clubs will fit in the trunk, for what that's worth. The top is lined (an option on the Solstice, standard on the Sky), providing great cold weather insulation and also acting as a nice sound barrier. With the top up, the Sky feels a little like a chopped coupe, thanks to the high beltline. Its manual operation is a bit sticky — it takes a bit of energy to unlatch the handle in the middle of the windshield header. It also takes some effort to pop the rear wings on the roof back into place when putting the top up or accessing the trunk. But overall, it fits snugly and keeps out most wind noise. The high beltline that feels so confining with the top up provides ample protection from wind buffeting. And that's what the Sky is all about — it's not a go-everywhere, do-anything, daily driver, but rather a sporting machine that delivers sharp looks at rest and open-air thrills when on the move.