Much better to use this car for a day trip, as we did, leaving from San Diego heading east and north to Mount Palomar. As you slog through the suburban sprawl, the Sky's quick, short-throw shifter and easily modulated clutch are your friends, but the visibility with the top up, typical of convertibles, is not. Riding around with the top up on the freeway also highlights the noise and coarseness of General Motors' Ecotec 2.4-liter four. With 177 hp and 166 lb-ft of torque fighting against 2933 pounds of roadster, we had to keep our right foot buried to merge and run with the stampeding hordes on San Diego's multilane freeways. Push the Ecotec much past 3500 rpm, and it sets off resonances that vibrate various cabin bits. The upcoming turbocharged Red Line version [see sidebar] should give the Sky more brio, but GM really needs to send the Ecotec to finishing school.
When at last we stopped, stowed the top, and started up the sinuous road that climbs Mount Palomar, the Sky brightened considerably. Just like the Solstice, this is a car that loves corners. In fact, the most impressive thing about the chassis tuning is that it hasn't been dumbed down for Saturn duty. True, there is one minor change: the rear bump stops have been shortened, allowing for a bit more suspension travel and greater compliance. This is more of an evolution than a retuning, and Bruce Kosbab, the chief engineer of both the Sky and the Solstice, suggests that the change is likely to eventually be made in the Pontiac as well.
Without driving the two cars back to back, we really couldn't feel the difference. The steering effort is just right, and the pedals are well-positioned for heel-and-toe work. There's way more grip than there is power, so big oversteer is not really on the menu, except in the wet. (Traction control and stability control are both absent.) Even without electronic help, the car mostly just hangs on, and when you do finally overwhelm the tires, grip goes away slowly and is easily recovered.
In the end, the Sky is another bright light in the roadster firmament. Whether it dilutes the Solstice's specialness or merely offers buyers an alternate look is something armchair product planners can argue about over beers. We can say that it drives every bit as well as the Solstice, which is very good indeed. Even the base price difference of more than $3000 proves largely academic, because Saturn includes many of the niceties (air-conditioning; power windows, locks, and mirrors; antilock brakes; keyless entry; cruise control; and others) that would add a couple grand to the Pontiac's bottom line. The choice between the two cars really comes down to a style statement. So ask yourself, do you speak with creases or curves?