Working for a car mag has its perks, and one of them is getting to drive the "latest and greatest" out of Motor City. This time it was a call from the gearheads at GM Powertrain with an invite to drive the new Saturn Sky Redline, the "hot rod" version of a decidedly feminine conveyance. The only catch was that we had to check out their new four-door Aura as well. We drove it too, but only because we had to. The Aura is a fine grocery-getter, now on to business.
GM couldn't have picked a nicer location to test a sports car. The rolling hills and back roads near Santa Barbara, California, provided a perfect location for putting the little rear-wheel-drive two-seater through its paces. They tossed us the keys to a silver five-speed Redline with the 260hp intercooled turbocharged Ecotec, which right away sounded like an invitation to get into trouble.
The first thing we noticed was that, with the top down, there is very little room to carry anything bigger than a loaf of bread. The top folds down into the trunk area, which gives the exterior a sleek and clean look, but eats up most of the limited trunk space. Then again, it's a sports car and not an SUV, so don't plan on taking it to the Home Depot.
The five-speed gearbox in this Redline was smooth. Miatas have a similar feel, so we dropped a Second gear power shift just to make sure there really were gears in it. Not only did it not break, but we were rewarded with nice long twin patches of rubber. The dual scroll design of the turbo virtually eliminates turbo lag and the power comes on quick, almost as if the 260hp mill was naturally aspirated. The redline on the tach says 6,500, but the Ecotec is all done making horsepower by 5,400. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the gearing of the car makes it easy to stay in the power band. There is plenty of power to pull through turns and merge with the traffic.
The turbocharged Ecotec's...
The turbocharged Ecotec's torque comes on quick and stays flat. This equals a good time when you mash the gas.
Handling is definitely this car's strong suit. We'll resist calling it a slot car, after all, it does tip the scale at over 3,000 lbs, but the handling was precise and very predictable. Understeer was non-existent and, even when pushed hard through the turns, the car stuck to the asphalt and went where it was pointed. With some stickier tires, the Sky will be an absolute terror on the road course. We ran through most of a tank of gas and a good part of the tires and clutch, but the car sucked up what we threw at it.
We also piloted the six-speed automatic version of the Redline. While the manual is the preferred weapon for hot rodders, the auto performed very well. The steering wheel was equipped with the same paddle shifting system found on the C6 Corvette, and in manual mode it did a great job. In auto mode, the computer did a competent job of picking the right gear, but soon we got bored, and got back in the five-speed car. Wind noise is substantial with the top and windows down, but it gets much quieter with the side glass up. We heard one of the "wine and cheese" magazine guys complain about the comfort of the interior. Hey, this isn't a Lexus, it's a sports car and the seats are supportive and bolstered in the right places for spirited driving. The XM radio is an upgrade definitely worth the extra cash, but the amber lighting is impossible to read with the top down and the sun shining.
We found the car a blast to drive and prefer the chiseled look of the Sky over the curves of the Solstice. The car is gorgeous and has just the right amount of aggressive styling, however, it's the handling and drivetrain that makes the Redline a star.
With features like a dual-scroll...
With features like a dual-scroll turbo, direct injection, oil-cooled pistons, and variable cam timing, the turbo Ecotec is stuffed with all the right goodies. No wonder the Redline can go 0-to-60 in 5.5 seconds and knock down a 13.9 quarter-mile.