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Photos and Text by Zerin Dube

General Motors put on its 2007 GM Collection media program in San Antonio, TX yesterday, and brought out nearly all of it’s new for 2007 models. Of all the vehicles available for us to drive (Everything from the Aveo to the XLR-V), I was most excited to get behind the wheel of the brand new 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line. While I only had 45 minutes or so to drive the car this time around, it was enough to get a good impression of what the car has to offer.

Most of the Sky Red Line’s changes occur under the hood by way of a new Ecotec turbocharged 2.0-liter, direct injection engine. This engine is GM’s first direct injection engine offering in North America, and produces a very respectable 260 horsepower at 5300 rpm, and 260lb-ft of torque at 2500 rpm.

There are a few visual elements that help the Sky Red Line differentiate itself from the standard Sky Roadster, including dual chrome exhaust tips in the rear diffuser, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels, a new lower front fascia with brake cooling vents, and black headlamp bezels. Simple as these changes might sound, they really do make an already great looking vehicle look even better.

Of course what I was most interested in was how the Sky Red Line’s driving dynamics felt, and to be honest I was somewhat skeptical going into it. It’s easy to throw a turbocharged engine in a car and produce big horsepower numbers, but it isn’t so easy to make the chassis and engine work together harmoniously.

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The back roads of San Antonio provided me with the perfect place to stretch the Sky Red Line out and see what it could do in both straight line sprints, as well as technical roads with tight switchbacks and some elevation changes. In a straight line, the Sky Red Line isn’t the fastest thing I’ve driven, but it definitely is quick.

GM claims a 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds, and a ¼ mile time of 13.9 seconds. If you can get the tires to hook up, I think the Sky Red Line will actually be a little faster in the real world than even their estimates. And while GM PR likes to claim there is no turbo lag, it is somewhat noticeable. Full boost seems to come on at about 3250 rpm and tapers off right around the 5500 rpm mark. I also felt like the car could really benefit from a lighter flywheel since it didn’t seem to rev as quickly as I’d like. That said, downshifts require quite a bit of finesse to get the rev’s matched perfectly.

Rolling out from a stop light and putting the pedal to the floor will result in a “LOW TRACTION” warning flashing from the LED computer display as the rear tires fight for traction. Despite having a limited-slip rear differential, the poor Goodyear F1 Supercar tires just couldn’t overcome the torque being transmitted to them. Once out of first gear though, the Sky Red Line hooks and goes. And while we’re on the subject of shifting, I have to mention that the Sky Red Line manual transmisssion really needs a lot of work. It’s vague, it’s notchy, and the ratios are all over the place. Luckily the Sky Red Line has enough mid-range torque that you can get away with leaving it in third gear for most city driving duties without lugging the engine.

Around the corners, the Sky Red Line felt balanced, and extremely neutral. No matter how hard I pushed the car, it never displayed any understeer, and complied perfectly with my input from the steering wheel. The car’s suspension was not easily upset over rough roads, and cornered nearly flat. I was able to induce oversteer by feeding the car a little bit of throttle mid-corner, which of course can be corrected by a little steering input and more throttle. Speaking of steering, the Sky Red Line’s steering is extremely responsive, and has very little play when turning the wheel.

Though the Sky Red Line got up to speed with little fuss, I was a little disappointed with the way it stopped. The brake pedal was extremely mushy, and gave me very little feedback as to what they were doing. As a result, I found myself getting on the brakes a little harder than I wanted to, and ended up locking up the rear brakes almost on demand.

With anti-lock brake systems as advanced as they are, there is almost no reason that I should experience full brake lock up under any circumstances. My feeling is that the brake proportioning needs a little work, and needs to be biased more towards the front to eliminate the tendancy to lock up.

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Being the owner of a modified turbo car in everyday life, I wondered how well the Sky Red Line would take to the basic modifications that nearly every turbo car owning enthusiast does to their cars. That is, ECU flashes for more boost, larger exhausts to get those gasses flowing more freely, and intercooler upgrades.

As I was messing around with the trip computer, I found that Saturn has included a digital boost gauge as part of the computer. What I discovered was that the Sky Red Line’s boost peaked at 17psi and sustained 16psi to about the 5500rpm mark as I mentioned earlier. What does this mean to the turbo tuner? Well, as small as the Red Line’s turbo is, I don’t think it will take well to more boost than it’s already making, but we’ll see what the tuners come up with by way of big turbo kits.

The intercooler and associated piping looked excellent. There is plenty of surface area to draw in cooler air, and boost side piping of the intercooler is all hard piping. No chance of boost robbing flex here! I do think a larger exhaust will definitely free up some horsepower, and give the Sky Red Line a bit more of a growl.

Hopefully that gives some of you who were waiting to hear impressions about the Red Line a little bit of an idea of how it performs. As I mentioned earlier, anyone can take a car and throw a more powerful engine in it. I’m happy to say that from the short amount of time I had with the Sky Red Line I was able to tell that the additional power adds to the driving experience rather than detracting from it. We should have a Sky Red Line to test in the next couple of months, so stay tuned for a full blown review!

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Zerin Dube

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