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Is the Sky the Limit? – The 2007 GM Collection

General Motors hosted a two-day event in sunny Southern California showcasing quite a few of their 2007 makes and models. The event kicked off with a press conference at Saturn of Temecula with the first day’s events focusing on Saturn’s new lineup, followed by a ride and drive down to San Diego. Choices for the drive included the new Saturn Sky, Aura, and Vue. The second day of the event featured a broader spectrum of GM’s lineup ranging from a turbo charged Saab 9-5 to a Mid-Duty GMC Top-Kick towing a boat touting GM’s Vortec engine. With a handful of GM vehicles poised to attack the autocross course or engage in a ‘truck-pull’, at the end of the day the tough part would be deciding which models were the most note worthy.
I was at the event as VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific analyst.


An obvious choice at the top of the list was the Saturn Sky, which breaks from the conservative styling cues typically found on every vehicle bearing the Saturn marque. With its more aggressive lines, pronounced fender peaks and menacing front end the Sky definitely makes a bold statement. Many may liken it to a miniature Corvette or GM’s version of Mazda’s MX-5 (Miata), but not many will call it boring.


The Saturn Sky
Positioned as a vehicle that will signal change at Saturn, the Sky is built off of the Kappa Platform, which it shares with the Pontiac Solstice (pictured above). The choice between the Sky and the Solstice really becomes a matter of interior and exterior preference. On the first day, at the end of the press conference I made my way over to a silver Sky to begin the drive down to San Diego. I couldn’t just walk by and leave it sitting there; it actually looked like it wanted to hit the pavement running. But, as we all know, looks can be deceiving.
Inside and Out
After a quick walk around, the exterior lines and execution looked to be quite good and the interior was what you would expect from a ‘sporty car’ produced by GM. It was a little chintzy and quite sparse with three climate control dials, a stereo system/CD player and a few cubbyholes and a lot of plastic; but it did have cup holders! After slipping in behind the wheel, quickly evaluating the shift pattern of the short throw five-speed gear box, I turned over the 2.4 liter 177 horsepower engine and followed the procession of Saturn’s onto the highway.

On the Road
Following a short stint on arterial streets we reached the twisty rural roads leaving Temecula where I quickly realized that I had gotten into the wrong car. It was the bright red Saturn Sky behind me that really drove that point home, forever catching me up hills and on the straightaways. Once the solid yellow line on the pavement broke I finally got the chance to catch a fading glimpse of it, as it overtook me and left me in the dust. I did of course take notice of the all-important ‘Turbo’ badge affixed to the right rear side of the bumper. That badge denotes the fact that it was the new Sky Red Line; which cradles a testosterone direct injected 2.0 Liter Turbo charged engine producing 260 horsepower and 260lb. Ft. of torque. That’s 2.1 horsepower per cubic inch… Whoa!

At the next pit stop I fed the two gerbils under the hood of the Sky I was driving and promptly traded keys with the driver of the Sky Red Line. What a difference. The turbo definitely makes the Sky a viable counter to the Mazda MX-5 (Miata). The main differences being the turbo charged 4-cylinder, exterior styling, and the fact that it takes two men and a Boy Scout to get the drop top up or down on the Sky. The Mazda MX-5 (Miata) has a normally aspirated I-4 and now has an (available) power retractable hardtop that goes up or down in about 12 seconds. Both the Sky and MX-5 (Miata) are comparably priced, a new Sky roadster starts at $24K with the Red Line Turbo kicking in at about $29K. Of course if styling is an issue GM also offers the Pontiac Solstice (or Solstice GXP).

Other Offerings
There were a few surprises over the course of the two days, like the Saturn Aura XR (pronounced ‘Ora’ – shown above), Vue Green Line and the Chevrolet Cobalt SS. The Aura XR was very pleasant to drive and came with a 3.6 Liter V6 and an automatic 6-speed with a very slick paddle-shifting option. The torque-steer was nearly unnoticeable and the vehicle felt solid albeit the interior felt like it fell under a cost reduction mandate (the Aura show car at Detroit last year had a spectacular interior… ah, those beanies!). From the instrument cluster gauges to the lack of grab bars refinement was lacking but for around 24K it was a very nice sedan.

The Vue Green Line is GM’s answer to the Hybrid craze. It offers hybrid buyers a way to ‘go green without going broke’ and gives GM an Escape Hybrid competitor. For about 23K, about two or three thousand dollars more than a typical Saturn Vue, you can drive a hybrid and get 32mpg on the highway. I would venture to guess that Saturn would be adding the ‘Green Line’ to the rest of their line up in the future.
The Chevrolet Cobalt SS doesn’t seem to get much press attention and I’m not sure why. It seemed to be a favorite by many at the autocross course and after driving it I would equate it to GM’s version of Honda’s Civic Si. The Cobalt SS is sprightly, fun, and affordable, it must be a kick for those interested in an entry-level vehicle.

So What?
The two day’s with GM proved that after losing 10.6 billion dollars in 2005 they have pulled out the defibrillator, hooked up the electrodes and decided to market “value-driven, fuel-efficient vehicles”. They’ve spooled up, earned $400 million in the first quarter of 2006 and are working on turning this aircraft carrier of a company around. The hope is that many prospective buyer’s will take notice and want to spool up one of the turbo’s on the new Sky Red Line or drive off the lot in a new GMT900 truck with active fuel management (*no longer called cylinder deactivation – it just doesn’t sound good). GM is on the offensive and even with UAW unions, health care issues and international exchange rates they plan on remaining the world’s largest automaker.

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