I Bought a 2008 Saturn Sky Red Line and It’s Way Better Than I Thought It Would Be
The most powerful production Saturn ever is a real hoot.
I love my 2009 Chevy Cobalt SS, but it's always been missing something. It's not the interior or the looks that bother me, it's all stuff to do with just... the car itself. The engine is great, but it's a front-wheel-drive sedan with a fixed roof.
It's missing that rear-driven, open-air feel I love, which is honestly a hard one to get over. Thankfully, though, GM had me covered here. Not only did it make a rear-wheel-drive car with the same LNF engine as the Cobalt SS, but it also made it look like this.
Yes, I bought a 2008 Saturn Sky. But not just any Saturn Sky, though. This one is a Red Line with a five-speed manual transmission and just 45,000 miles.
I'm not sure why nobody ever talks about this car, because it's not just good for a car made by GM, but a great car full-stop. Built to compete with the likes of the Mazda Miata and Chrysler Crossfire, the Saturn Sky—especially the sportier Red Line model—deserves a lot more respect. Let me tell you why.
Ride & Handling
I'm not sure if this is true of all of the cars that sit on GM's Kappa platform—which also underpins the Pontiac Solstice, Opel GT, and Daewoo G2X—but the steering in the Sky is really stunningly good. Considering this is one of the most parts-binned cars ever, you would think it would have steering out of a truck to go with its truck transmission. That's not so. An awesome amount of road feel is sent up to the driver's hands through the wheel—especially mid-corner—and the rack itself has zero slop, rotating just 2.7-turns lock-to-lock. I really can't drive home how good it is. Feels as good as my E46 M3 if not better.
The ride quality itself is also great, although the car is a little too soft for my taste, feeling slightly cushier than an ND Miata. It's not necessarily jouncy but it could use some coilovers, a mod which I eventually plan to go through with.
And even if it's not stiff enough for my tastes, the car corners flat and rotates very nicely thanks to its 95.1-inch wheelbase, about three and a half inches longer than a third-generation (NC) Miata's. It feels very agile and the engine sits far back, nearly against the firewall. The result is a tight package that's truly impressive, with the chassis itself feeling very rigid.
The Regular Sky and Solstice got a 177-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. It's fine for a base car, but if a car is offered with an LNF, you get it with the LNF. The same engine out of the Cobalt SS and HHR SS, the LNF makes 260 horsepower and the same amount of torque. It's a great little turbo-four that is cheap to tune and reliable as well. In the Sky Red Line it drives the rear wheels, which is a good thing beyond the obvious burnouts; instead of the plastic charge pipes and intercooler sides it gets in front-drive applications, the rear-drive LNF gets a full-aluminum intercooler and charge pipes, as well as—wait for it—an engine cover. GM really went crazy here.
I plan to put the same ZZP tune in this car that I did on the Cobalt for an easy boost in power and torque, but eventually, I want to install some serious parts in order to produce about 350 wheel horsepower. With the LNF, that means a new turbo—at least a better K04—an intercooler, downpipe, and maybe an intake/exhaust. In stock form, the Sky has plenty of power though. It's not a really fast car yet, but it gets you down the road just fine.
That brings me around to the transmission which, honestly, I really like. It's an Aisin AR5, a version of which was found in a number of GM trucks from the era, including the Chevy Colorado and Hummer H3. Before you discount it completely for that fact, know it's actually very similar to the Toyota R154 found in the A70 Supra. It feels extremely solid and mechanical if lacking a little refinement that one would expect from a modern manual transmission. I like it just fine—it's another part of the car that feels better than my E46 M3.
Combine that transmission with the limited-slip differential that comes standard on the Sky Redline, and it's a durable package that feels and performs great. I never feel like I'm abusing it, it always feels ready for more.
Can't Forget the Looks
None of this would matter if the car looked bad, but fortunately, it looks great. It was actually designed by Franz Van Holzhausen, the same guy who is Tesla's current chief designer. Needless to say, the Sky is some of his best work, with an angular design that holds up really well to this day. From the speedster cowl behind the seats to the huge clamshell hood, it's a joy to look at. People also don't seem to know what it is anymore—it's a low-production two-seater from a defunct automaker. It turns a lot more heads than I expected.
The interior is also, well, unironically good. It has a lot of Cobalt parts, but they've been dressed up nicely with chrome or piano-black plastic. I also test drove a Solstice GXP, and compared to that thing there's no contest. The Solstice interior looked and felt worse than my Cobalt's. It had a grab handle on the center console for the passenger—grasping it felt like picking up an empty gallon of milk. Pretty bad stuff! The Sky, on the other hand, is nice. The switchgear even feels good, which I wasn't expecting.
Why Don't More People Talk About These?
When I discovered that the car I bought was far better than I was expecting, I began to wonder why these weren't more popular? They're a reasonably cheap, tuneable platform with double wishbones at every corner, a five-speed stick backed up by an LSD, and they look the part too. I can only assume the reason they get little attention in the automotive media is because of their status as just another one of those pre-bailout GM cars that falls apart while you're driving it and handles like a pickup truck.
I really look forward to driving the Sky more and putting some money into it. In the end, I think this car will be perfect with a little over 300 ponies and a slightly better stance. I'm really happy with my purchase.
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