The 2007 Saturn Sky roadster, a true performance machine, represented a departure from Saturn's traditional philosophy.

Saturn Sky and Saturn Green Line

The environmental-minded Vue Green Line arrived in summer 2006, promising to generate much-needed showroom traffic. So, too, did three more newcomers that made the 2007 line the broadest in Saturn's short history. Though those models also await history's verdict, they looked to give Saturn the competitive reach it had so long been denied.

First on the scene was Sky, a genuine two-seat sports roadster with an even higher fun factor than the Ion Red Line. Starting sale in spring 2006, it was an upscale version of the rear-drive Pontiac Solstice that had launched in late 2005 with a long waiting list. Sky caused the same clamor, orders pouring in before the first one left the Wilmington, Del., plant that had been refurbished after finishing with the L-Series.

Sky wore a Saturn face on an all-steel body that was four inches longer than the Pontiac's but with the same general look. It also sported a spiffier cockpit and a $23,000 base price, about $3000 upstream of its sibling. That was owed to no-cost anti­lock brakes, air conditioning, cruise control and power windows/door locks, all options for Solstice.

Sky also had its own suspension tuning for the plusher ride Saturn thought its customers would prefer. Otherwise, it was the same appealing package: base 177-bhp 2.4-liter Ecotec four, manual or optional automatic five-speed transmissions, all-disc brakes, 18-inch rolling stock, a manual-folding cloth top with heated rear window, and an options sheet showing limited-slip differential, leather upholstery, satellite radio, rear spoiler, and chrome wheels.

Released in fall was a performance-minded Sky Red Line. A counterpart to the Solstice GXP, it packed the same new supercharged 2.0-liter Ecotec with 260 bhp. That was the highest specific output in GM history, abetted by direct fuel injection, a first for a North American GM car.

Naturally, Sky Red Line had specific styling touches inside and out, including a deeper front fascia with large brake-cooling ducts. Regular or Red Line, Sky was an exciting symbol of a hoped-for Saturn renaissance.

But the real money is always in mass-market products like midsize sedans, so a lot was riding on the 2007 Aura. Scheduled for release in August 2006, it embodied the new Bob Lutz strategy for Saturn, being a close relation of the European-bred Opel/Vauxhall Vectra, but built at GM's Kansas City plant.

On paper -- and in the showroom -- Aura looked light years ahead of the old L-Series, with crisply honed styling, solid engineering, and most of the features buyers craved. It bowed in two versions, each a front-wheel-drive V-6. The entry-level XE married an iron-block 224-bhp 3.5-liter pushrod engine to a four-speed automatic transmission. The uplevel XR boasted an all-aluminum twincam 3.6 sending 252 bhp through a new six-speed GM automatic.

Variable-valve timing enhanced efficiency on both V-6s, and was a claimed first for the "cam in block" 3.5. Headlining a long standard-equipment roster were front torso and curtain side airbags, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, tilt/telescope steering wheel, and GM OnStar assistance with a year's free service. XR added 18-inch wheels to replace 17s, GM's Stabilitrak antiskid system, remote engine starting, extra interior amenities, and a little more brightwork.

Due later in the '07 model year was a Green Line Aura, GM's first hybrid-power passenger car, using the basic Vue Green Line powertrain. With all this, Aura seemed poised to be the sales success the L-Series was not.

No less important to the profit outlook was the aptly named 2007 Outlook, a large crossover SUV. Saturn was entering new territory here, but badly needed a presence in the booming market for new-age family wagons with carlike comfort and road manners.

Significantly, Outlook introduced the unibody Lambda platform that had been designed expressly for cross­over vehicles and that would soon serve other GM marques. Wheelbase was a generous 118.9 inches, nearly a match for the big truck-based Ford Expedition and more than sufficient to allow for the three-row seating most all shoppers demanded.

Like most every class rival, Outlook offered a choice of front-drive or AWD in a four-door package with passenger-car amenities, plus versatile accommodations for seven or eight. A lone powertrain mated GM's new six-speed automatic with a 3.6-liter V-6, basically the Aura engine tuned for 217 bhp and more low-end torque. With a full slate of standard safety aids and useful options like power liftgate, remote starting, and rear-obstacle-detection system, Outlook loomed as another big Saturn sales booster upon its scheduled early 2007 showroom debut.

Set to follow Outlook is a new-generation 2008 Vue, likely with bold new styling patterned after the Opel-designed PreVue concept presented in April 2006. That and a fill-in for Ion will complete a remarkable product expansion for a make that seemed to be at death's door just a few years earlier. Even so, Saturn is hardly of the woods yet, because General Motors itself must still hack through a forest of daunting challenges. But assuming everything works out, Saturn may at last be set for a truly bright, successful, and permanent future -- even if it is no longer "a different kind of car company."

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