As Chevy's iconic Corvette has passed through each successive generation, it has transformed into a bona fide supercar, a ride that can step into the ring with the world's best and leave un-bowed. But that transformation has come at a price--literally. A base Corvette now costs nearly $45,000, a steal in terms of the capability it offers but expensive enough to price it out of the very niche it helped create: the accessible, all-American sports car.
And so we welcome a new patron of performance for the everyman, the Saturn Sky Red Line. At just under $29,000, the Red Line is exactly what the Corvette used to be: fairly cheap and plenty fast. The 260-hp, 2.0-liter, turbocharged and intercooled, DOHC Ecotec four sounds pretty damn good and will move the Red Line from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. The 6300-rpm redline and closely spaced gear ratios mean that you're working the standard five-speed manual all the time, but with the Saturn's solid shift action and perfect pedal placement, that's no bad thing.
Around town, the Red Line will dip into the turbo only if you ask it to. Should you manage to keep your right foot reined in, you'll cruise from stoplight to stoplight boost-free, and there's ample low-end grunt to make this a viable strategy. When you do crave more thrust--or, like us, just want to hear the twin-scroll turbo go FSSSHHEEWWW!--20 psi is a mere stomp away. The extra power comes quickly but progressively--a long way from the twitchy, on/off turbocharged engines of yore.
The Red Line receives higher spring rates, stiffer bushings, and uprated antiroll bars over the base car, and the setup combines with tenacious grip to allow you to carry a lot of speed into corners. The tight, linear steering delivers near-telepathic turn-in. Mid-bend, gentle understeer is the order of the day and will change to lurid rear-wheel drifts only if you drop the hammer.
Affordable performance isn't the only thing about the Saturn that reminds us of the Corvette. There's the view over the sleek hood, framed by two peaked fenders. There's the sultry sheetmetal sculpted into an aggressive, rear-up stance. And, unfortunately, there's the substandard interior fittings.
Much has been made of how improved the base Sky's cabin is over that of its mechanical twin, the Pontiac Solstice. Yes, the styling is impeccable, and the climate control and stereo switches are quite nice, but they're merely an island of niceness in a sea of mediocrity. The Red Line adds little beyond a leather-wrapped steering wheel, stainless-steel pedal covers, and Red Line-specific sill plates, gauges, and floor mats.
But, as with Chevy's supercar, we can forgive the Red Line its plasticky trespasses and simply be thankful to those who have created such a fun and frugal (31 mpg on the highway with the manual) piece of machinery. We're just happy we can finally afford a Corvette.