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2007 Saturn Sky Redline and Pontiac Solstice GXP

GM’s Sexy Twins Get Some Spunk

     The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky are gorgeous vehicles, and if you don’t agree you must work for Mazda. So, considering their perfect proportions and confident handling, producing a follow-up to the uber-successful roadsters can mean only one thing: more power. And GM was happy to provide lots of it.
     Both roadsters share the new 2.0-liter direct injection turbocharged I4 wonderengine that claims the title as the highest specific output engine GM has ever sold. The good news is it’s livelier than the lethargic Ecotec under the hoods of regular Kappa vehicles and it sounds less coarse when revved. Though we found there is so much power in the mid-range that running to the redline in every gear was pointless. When the turbo starts blowing the 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque make themselves known, but the chassis never feels overpowered, thanks to the standard limited-slip differential and meaty 245/45R 18” performance Goodyears. If you turn off the traction control overlords you can lay down rubber like no naturally aspirated Solstice or Sky, that’s for sure. Overall, this engine is much better prepared to back up the roadster’s aggressive sports car looks than the rough base engine and we’re glad GM didn’t drag their feet too long before offering a suitable performance engine.
     The rest of the performance upgrades on these turbocharged models are appreciated too. GM includes sophisticated traction control with a competition driving mode like that on the Corvette and the aforementioned standard limited slip differential. In our minds no performance model should leave that factory without better brakes than its lesser siblings and unfortunately, GM installs the same 11.7-inch front, and 10.9-inch rear discs on all models. They’re lucky the pedal feel is firm enough and the horsepower count high enough to make us gloss over such deficiencies.
     Our Sky had the standard 5-speed manual, which besides being more fun than the automatic, also improves fuel economy to 31 mpg on the highway. This was our first experience with the revised gear ratios and thankfully the large gap between 2nd and 3rd gears that plagued earlier cars is only a memory. Our Solstice was an automatic, which matches much better to the turbo engine than the 2.4-liter Ecotec, but it still doesn’t offer an automatic mode so driver involvement is limited. It does, however, scoot the Solstice to 60 mph in under 5.4 seconds, which is faster than we could manage in our 5-speed Sky. Although we strongly suspect the Saturn could improve its time under the right conditions. Both cars still sticks in the corners like glue on duck tape and the super composed feel that we like so much in the base cars is the same or better in these guys.
     The minor changes to the manual transmission and the major changes to the engine combine with the already good handling to create a far more entertaining car to drive. Unfortunately, GM hasn’t had time to work out the platform’s quirks. These include, but are not limited to, a trunk that at all times is filled with a gas tank, or the cloth top, or both, and an interior that doesn’t offer one decent cupholder or covered storage space. The interior materials are far from class leading too, but the 7-speaker Monsoon stereo offers up strong sound.
     Yes, the Kappa roadsters need some modifications before they can be called a no compromises sports car like the MX-5 Miata, but one thing that doesn’t require any adjustments is the style. You’d be hard pressed to find a better-looking car than the Saturn Sky at double, or even triple the price. We like the blacked out headlights on the Sky and the extra brake cooling ducts on both models help distinguish the performance models from the rest of the pack. The best visual modification might be the standard dual exhaust tips, which we’ve wanted on the Solstice and Sky since the start. Turbo models include a digital boost gauge in the Driver Information Center, but like any true enthusiast we’d far prefer an analog gauge, and throw in an oil pressure gauge while we’re nit picking.
     The Sky and Solstice have been hampered by a rough, unwilling engine since the start, and the new Turbo takes care of that issue with a heaping helping of horsepower. The platform deficiencies remain, but at least owners can now back up their sports car style with some serious spunk.

The Good:
Smooth new turbo Ecotec, 31 mpg, handles the curves like few others at this price, looks better than the competition.
The Bad:
No trunk space, no upgraded brakes, some poor interior materials, automatic has no manual mode.
The Verdict:
We asked for power and we got it, now we’re waiting for refinement.
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