The Chevrolet Cobalt is a good option for inexpensive, high-value transportation. The Cobalt is quiet and refined for a small car and it delivers crisp handling and a smooth ride, all benefits of its strong, rigid platform. With its all-around competence, the Cobalt compares well with the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Ford Focus. That's an impressive achievement, considering how long those three have dominated the compact car market.
For 2009, Cobalt's standard 2.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine has been upgraded with variable valve timing, for about 5 percent more power along with improved fuel efficiency. This engine when equipped with the five-speed manual is being marketed as the Cobalt XFE for 2009. Economy is further enhanced by new 15-inch low rolling resistance tires, and by a longer-legged (3.63:1, vs. 3.84) final drive ratio on manual transmission models. The Cobalt LS is EPA-rated at 37 mpg on the highway when equipped with a manual transmission, beating comparable Civic, Corolla, and Focus models.
Cobalt earned Best Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Premium features such as heated leather seats, a sunroof, a seven-speaker Pioneer sound system, and a remote vehicle starter are available.
The 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt is available in two body styles: a two-door coupe and a four-door sedan. All three come in LS, LT, and SS trim levels. The base engine, which comes in LS and LT models, produces 155 horsepower and qualifies the Cobalt as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle; these models come standard with a five-speed manual transmission and offer a four-speed automatic as an option. The new SS coupe and sedan are powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four rated 260 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. A heavy-duty five-speed manual is the only transmission available.
We find these cars enjoyable to drive and their economy makes for a compelling package.
The Chevy Cobalt is built on GM's Delta platform, which it shares with the Saturn Astra and European-market Opel Astra. But with its single-bar grille and bowtie emblem, Cobalt looks like a proper Chevrolet small car right down to its shoes and socks.
Body panel fits are extremely tight. So tight, in fact, that there are no rubber trim gaskets around Cobalt's compound complex headlamps.
The coupe weighs about 50 pounds less than the sedan, an insignificant amount.
Cobalt is longer, wider and lower than most of its direct competitors. Its interior dimensions and trunk capacity are comparable for the class.
The Cobalt SS is distinguished by its front fascia with integrated air dam and projector-beam fog lights. Upper and lower grilles both sport a specific diamond-mesh texture. Rocker extensions are also unique to the SS, and a rear deck-lid spoiler is standard. The standard spoiler can be replaced with big wing. Of course the rear view is finished off with a bright-tip exhaust outlet.
The design theme inside the Chevrolet Cobalt is simple and straightforward. Materials are decent and the fit and finish are good. Overall, it's comparable for the class. There's just enough chrome trim here and there on knobs and instruments to brighten things up without a lot of glare from the shiny parts. Instruments are large, well placed, and easy to read, with nice graphic treatment throughout.
Cobalt uses different seats in the different trim levels, each with detail changes in foam, padding and trim. We found plenty of fore/aft and rake adjustment for a 6-foot, 4-inch driver, plus seat height adjustment with a ratcheting handle. The LT seats were very comfortable and grabbed us in the fast corners exactly where we needed to be grabbed and held. Even better were the optional leather-trimmed seats, which come with electric heat.
Inside the SS are sport seats embroidered with the SS-logo and enhanced with suede-like UltraLux inserts. A specific gauge package includes an A-pillar-mounted turbo boost gauge.
The available Pioneer seven-speaker sound system with the Delphi AM/FM/CD delivers good sound and includes a huge subwoofer mounted on the left side trunk wall. And all Cobalts come with XM Satellite Radio.
The heating, ventilation and defroster system worked quickly and intuitively.
Cobalt LS comes with manually operated windows that take a lot of cranking (about four and half times around) to wind the windows up. The urethane steering wheel that comes on LS and LT models feels cheap. The leather-wrapped wheel that's optional on the Cobalt LT is much nicer.
Rear-seat passengers pay a price for the coupe's sporty looks. Headroom, legroom, and hip room are reduced by 2 inches, 1.5 inches, and 3.5 inches, respectively; enough to make the difference between a comfortable place for adults and one best left to pre-adolescents. Up front, the coupe actually offers more head and legroom than the sedan, but only by fractions of an inch. Therefore, the coupe is a good choice for drivers who are usually alone or with a friend, while the sedan is the better choice for drivers who often find themselves with two or three passengers.
The trunk in the sedan is wide and deep with a low lift-over height, and almost 14 cubic feet of capacity, more than competitive in the class, though the opening to the trunk seems relatively small. The trunk lid uses outside corner hinges and two hydraulic assist struts instead of gooseneck hinges that can squash groceries when the lid is closed. The coupe has the same trunk volume but an even smaller trunk opening, making it difficult to stow a thick suitcase. A 60/40-split, fold-down rear seat with a trunk pass-through feature adds utility to both sedan and coupe.
The Chevrolet Cobalt is quite pleasant to drive. It's quiet for a car that can be bought for less than $20,000. Chevrolet put considerable effort into special door seals, sandwich steel panels, thick carpets and pads, noise blockers and noise absorbers throughout the front, middle and rear of the car. As a result, normal front-seat conversation is possible at speeds above 90 mph.
We found the 148-hp engine used on 2008 models lacking in low-rpm power. For 2009, the rated horsepower is up slightly, to 155 hp, but more important the new variable valve timing system should fatten the torque curve considerably, making this 2.2-liter engine feel more powerful through wider range of speeds.
EPA-estimated fuel economy with the 2.2-liter engine, manual transmission, and standard low-rolling-resistance tires is 25/37 mpg City/Highway. With any of the larger tire options that slips slightly to 25/35 mpg, which is still within 1 mpg of any of the ratings for the base-level, manually shifted Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, or Ford Focus. With automatic transmission, Cobalt is rated 24/33 mpg.
The brakes seemed a little mushy on the LT and LS, which come with drums in the rear.
The Cobalt SS coupe and sedan are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled Ecotec four-cylinder that uses direct fuel injection to balance performance with fuel efficiency. With direct injection, fuel is delivered directly to the combustion chamber to create a more complete burn of the air/fuel mixture. Compared to a conventional port-injection system, less fuel is required to produce the equivalent horsepower, especially at normal cruising speeds. The Cobalt SS is rated 260 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, so we anticipate exciting performance. Chevrolet claims a quick 0-60 time of approximately 5.7 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is a decent 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway.
Chevy developed an all-new FE5 Sport suspension specifically for the SS, including upgraded stabilizer bars, spring rates and damper tuning, for a claimed cornering grip of 0.9 g. Front brakes are from Brembo and have a performance-oriented fixed-caliper design, which resists fade better than floating calipers. Rear discs are vented for better heat dissipation. This combination enabled the Cobalt SS to set a new class record of 8 minutes, 22.85 seconds at the famed Nurburgring racing circuit.
The Chevrolet Cobalt offers a low price, economy of operation, and a nice, quiet ride. We think it's a handsome, well-equipped car. It carries four people comfortably, five only in a pinch, on a minimal outlay for fuel and monthly payments. The new SS model promises exciting performance.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw reported from Dearborn, Michigan, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and John F. Katz from Pennsylvania.