- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

Barely giving us time to fork a bite or two of the main course into our mouths, Saturn has trotted out the bananas Foster. The main course in this case is its hot-looking two-seat roadster Sky while the turbo-charged Sky Redline plays the role of dessert.

It’s tough to concentrate on the meat and potatoes when 2 feet away a guy in a tuxedo is setting your ice cream topping on fire.

That’s the sort of predicament more than a few shoppers will face in Saturn showrooms this winter when the Redline arrives to join the Sky.

There are differences and there are similarities, but basically the Sky is hot while the Redline is on fire.

Topping the list of differences is the Redline’s extra firepower thanks to its turbocharged Ecotec four. A new engine, this is the first North American application of direct fuel injection by General Motors.

Enhancing both power and fuel economy, direct injection mixes the fuel and air in the combustion chamber rather than in an intake manifold or port. The fuel is burned more completely and at a lower temperature; consequently, less fuel is needed.

At 260 horsepower, the Redline has 83 more ponies under its hydroformed hood than the normally aspirated Sky.Peak torque is also up by 94 foot-pounds to 260. While the Sky lopes to 60 mph from a standstill in about 7.2 seconds, the Redline sprints it in about 5.5 seconds. The difference is clearly noticeable and exhilarating.

Although the final drive ratios are a bit different, both models use the same five-speed manual and five-speed automatic transmissions.

When fitted with the manual transmission, the Redline bests the Sky by 2 miles per gallon both in city and highway driving. It has an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. The EPA rates the automatic version of Redline at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. This is three miles per gallon less than the Sky’s city numbers, but one mile per gallon better than Sky’s highway performance.

Carried over to the Redline virtually intact is Sky’s exceptionally well-engineered four-wheel independent suspension. Neatly balanced with just the right amount of stiffness for effortless cornering, this architecture is one of Sky’s strongest attributes.

In the Redline it is given more to do by the turbocharged four. In light of this, Saturn has beefed up both front and rear stabilizer bars. The front is up by 6.1 mm and the rear by 1.2 mm. Filling the wheel openings of both models are 18-inch alloy wheels and rubber. They are model-specific.

A four-wheel antilock disc brake system shoulders stopping responsibilities.

However, where Sky doesn’t offer traction control or electronic stability control even as options, they are standard on the Redline.

Purists will be encouraged by the ability to either reduce the degree of stability control or eliminate it completely through the three-stage traction-control button.

In addition to the Redline-specific badging and wheels, other exterior styling cues include the polished dual exhaust ports in the rear and the restyled front air dam featuring functional brake cooling vents.

Most available interior space is devoted to the passenger area. Both Sky and Redline are cargo-space challenged. Forget the golf clubs. What little room there is in the trunk is mostly consumed by the top when it is lowered.

The cockpit, however, is as roomy as anything in this class.

The seats are well bolstered and all the controls are close at hand.

The Redline’s interior changes aren’t simply cosmetic. Sure, it has Redline seatback and floormat embroidery, stainless-steel pedal covers, metallic sill plates and Redline-specific gauges; but it also features a leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, the aforementioned traction-control button and a digital turbo-boost gauge.

The convertible top on both models is manually operated. Despite its layer of sound insulation, it is light and easy to raise or lower. It fits neatly out of sight into the trunk when lowered. It is remarkably sound resistant and watertight when raised.

Visibility isn’t optimal to the rear when the top in its raised position, but that’s about par for the course, especially in smaller roadsters.

Making a choice between these models will boil down to cost and performance needs. Saturn already can’t keep up with demand; so whichever version you choose, expect to stand in line. At $27,295 the Redline is $3,605 pricier than the Sky.

That heftier bottom line buys a lot; but if you don’t want to spend it, the Sky is plenty of automobile.

On the other hand, if off-the-line velocity is a key criterion and the extra money is no problem, it’s the Redline. Essentially they are both head-turners, but one is a heart-stopper as well. You won’t go wrong with either.

Ultimately it’s just a choice between black and cayenne pepper.

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