Rabu, 04 Juni 2008

Saturn Sky Red Line Review

By Jehovah Johnson

The Saturn Sky has been a tremendous success. Not because it’s a great car; the lack of any appreciable trunk space and the model’s less than intoxicating driving dynamics make it a toy with limited play value. But the Sky knocks the ball out of the park in the style department. In fact, the Sky is the most physically appealing GM car has produced since Harley Earl last prowled the halls of The General’s design department. With the advent of the Saturn Sky Red Line, GM’s different kind of sports car gets a chance to redeem itself amongst die-hard pistonheads, to whom the drop-dead gorgeous base model failed to provide the necessary automotive intercourse. Unfortunately…

While the Saturn Sky Red Line’s basic shape and proportions remain top shelf eye candy– a modern take on the original Corvette– God is not in the details. The Red Line’s chromed hood vents are fake. The headlights’ black bezels, chromed exhausts tips and 18” wheels are nice, but they do little to project the requisite menace. OK, the brake cooling vents and the larger mesh in the lower grille add a bit of aggression, but the cosmetic changes to the basic Sky are about as thrilling as Pamela Anderson’s fourth breast op. Meanwhile, twin antennas– an OnStar/XM killer whale and an analog radio whip– continue to mar the roadster’s pitch perfect lines.

Still, who cares? I admit that my pants were wet when I got behind the wheel of the Sky Red Line. Not because of the way it looked, sounded or drove; because the roof leaked. So I dropped the thoroughly ridiculous piece of barnyard engineering known as the Saturn Sky’s roof. Step 1: Open the windows and unlatch the top from the top of the windshield. Crack open the glovebox and hit the trunk release. Hop out of the car. Step 2: Lift the boot lid. With both hands, pull the top backward into the trunk. When you think it’s down, give it a nice shove in the middle ‘til it’s nestled snugly. Step 3: Slam (and I mean SLAM!) the boot lid down, making sure it’s sealed on either side of the car. Step 4: Never pack luggage. My normal airplane carry-on wouldn’t fit into the trunk.

[For those of you who think GM’s got this quality thing sorted, open the Sky Red Line’s trunk and look at the base of the top. You’ll see little foam cubes plasti-tied (like clothing tags) to help the roof keep its shape.]

I believe a convertible’s cool factor is measured in direct proportion to the hotness of the woman next to you. Women who achieve high Fahrenheit readings will not be pleased by the lack of a vanity mirror in the Saturn Red Line’s sun visor. Nor will she be pleased with how low you sit inside its carcass. In fact, my girlfriend refused to drive the car. She said she didn’t feel safe in it. This is from someone who used to drive a rusty Dodge Caravan without complaint.

As I mentioned, my first day with the Saturn Sky Red Line was wet, wet, wet (and too cold to play ball), so I left the traction control alone and did nothing at all. (The base car is a handful in the wet; she’ll swap ends faster than a boomerang.) Later, in the dry, I discovered that the more powerful Red Line Sky makes tire-shredding mid-corner drifts so easy you’ll start to think your last name is Millen. Until you hit a bump. The Sky Red Line’s damping is fine– initially. The rebound is vicious. It kicks out the tail of the car, unsettling the rear tires and eliminating driver confidence. Then the chassis twists a bit, prompting arm flailing and passenger-side nausea. You can learn to live with the Sky's limitations, scanning the roadway for potential disaster as you gather speed, but it's not exactly what I'd call fun.

If this is what “unique Red Line coil springs” do for handling, someone at Saturn should put in an urgent call Tempurpedic. Oh, right; the power. I almost forgot. The Red Line has a 260hp Ecotec four-cylinder engine. Whereas a similar engine in the Cobalt SS Super-charged has its moments-– including a delicious WW2 fighter plane belt whine– the turbo bolted onto the Sky’s unit just gives this asthmatic motor a puffer. If lackluster power delivery isn’t enough to frustrate the fully committed speed freak, the fact that the four pot quit in traffic should. Four times.

Taken as a whole, it’s as if Saturn/Opel/GM/Vauxhall/Pontiac’s engineers built this sports car using 10-foot poles. Everything about the ostensibly rabid roadster seems to have been developed from well outside the car– sacrificing drivability, handling, practicality, reliability, usability and comfort. Yes, the Saturn Sky Red Line looks like sex-on-wheels. And that’s about it.