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THE SKY’S 2.4 LITER “ECOTEC” ENGINE is not as race car feeling as the 8,000 RPM-plus S2000 (which comes alive like an angry rattlesnake above 6,000 RPM, when the variable cam timing gets aggressive) but is in real world terms a better all-arounder. There’s serviceable torque (166-ft.-lbs.) on the bottom end — where the high RPM-intended S2000 is limp as overcooked linguini. That means easier stop and go driving — including low-speed put-putting in second or third gear without needing to downshift and rev the engine to 4,000-plus just to get moving. And the Sky’s 177-hp is a solid seven horses stronger than the Miata’s 2-liter, 170-hp engine. (Power freaks who need more, fear not. In a couple of months, the Sky red line will be available — with turbocharged, direct injection engine, 260-hp and 5-second 0-60 capability. No firm word yet, but the estimated price of the package will be in the neighborhood of $4,000 over the base Sky’s $23,115 MSRP.) A six speed would be nice, though. Still, the 5-speed’s ratios seem well-placed to work with the 2.4 liter engine’s power curve and you’re rarely more than one gear away from where you need to be for any given condition. Fifth is a pretty steep overdrive you’ll find you often don’t even need until you’re over 50 mph.
Zero to 60 mph takes 7.2 seconds through the standard 5-speed manual (the automatic version is only about two-tenths of a second slower, according to Saturn).
Handling-wise, there is plenty of lateral grip (.90 g on the skidpad) to make the car fun to toss around pretty aggressively — and though the steering’s not quite as nicely weighted the Miata’s or as stiletto sharp as the highly focused S2000’s, it is precise, imparting communicative road feel that works well with the way the suspension’s set up. The Sky is fairly easy-going and takes more work to provoke it into a tail-out skitter than some other roadsters — and snaps back compliantly just by easing off the throttle a tad if it does begin to get loose. Overall, it’s a nice mid-point between the S2000’s higher but sometimes abruptly “there” limits (which can really wake you up if you haven’t got some track time under your belt) and the too-soft two-plus-twos out there like the attractive but kind of squishy Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Now if only people shopping Mazda Miatas and Honda S2000s will give it a fair shot at their business.
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