Subaru Legacy, Saab SportCombi, SS Chevrolet

Cobalt: S Cars that Go

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Saab’s proven 9-5 SportCombi wagon, the hotted up Chevrolet Cobalt SS coupe, and the no longer just for winter Sabaru Legacy have two things in common. First, they have good crash tests scores, and secondly they have either a supercharger or a turbocharger that make them potent go machines,  abeit at increased price in fuel usage and cost. The loaded Saab lists for $40,000, the Sabaru reside near the middle of the $35,000 range, and even the well equipped Cobalt goes for  $23,000 with most options. All three of these cars averaged between 20 and 23 mpg on premium.

So why would anyone consider and of these S cars? Well, that is why The Car Family spent a week with each of them and, as usual, the family bickering was on high. First, we enjoyed driving these models and were quite amazed at how well they handled in daily driving as well as spirited sprees. What we argued about, on the main, was the pricing. We have owned both Saabs and Subarus and enjoued them despite high part costs. However, we had our reservations about the sticker prices. The Saab 9-5 in the current form has been around for years and even with a reported 1367 changes to the 2006 model it is difficult to justify a price tag of $40,000 even fully ladden with leather, power front seats, seat heaters for every seat, a 240-watt Harman Kardon audio system with an in-dash CD changer and satellite radio, and a  2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 260 horsepower with a five speed automatic or manul transmission handling the 258 pounds of torque. Saab also has attractive 17-inch wheels and lots of trim pieces.

Chevrolet’s Cobalt SS coupe was enjoyable, but at $23,000 with a supercharger that makes the 205 horsepower four cylinder engine lively, but not as fast as one would think, it is considerably more than the more base version. We were surprised at the quality and drivability of the Cobabt, expecpt for its large turning radius and shortage of interior storage, but we would more highly recommend that non-supercharged version of the SS with its 171 horsepower and save many thousand dollars as well as getting better fuel economy. The Cobabt has superior crash test scores.

Subaru, the legendary lion of winter, has gone upsacle with the newest Legacy wagon and sedan and so has the pricing in the mid $30,000 range. It  makes one question about there use in heavy winter conditions where Subaru’s superior all wheel drive system shines, but where salt, skidding drivers, hurried snow plows, and sanded roads can easily damage its shinny coat. We believe that the new Subaru is going to make inroads for those who want a quality vehicle regardless of where they live and who appreciate its uniqueness and good work habits. However, we believe that the non-turbo version is better. If you want to go fast and still spend less and catch yourself the mischeviously swift 300 horsepower STi Subaru sedan and delete the rear wing. We love it.

Mom’s view: These three remind me of suitors in my younger days. The Chevrolet Cobalt is the athletic little guy who was competitive and friendly, but not as polished as I would have liked. Call him JC Penny. The Subaru Legacy is the all around fun date who could surprise you with his manners, take you places you never visited before, a good worker, and wasn’t afraid to go out in the rain without a coat. Call him Lowes. The Saab is more sauve. It has good looks, but what makes him attractive is his uniqueness. He knows how to treat a lady and never fails to impress, but alas, he has expensive tastes. Call him Saks Fifth Avenue. My choice is the Saab 9-5. It is dramatic looking, unique and upsacle, comfortable to drive, entertainin, and gives you plenty of poke when passing. The Subaru is quite snazzy with a lot of features, but the automatic transmisison took the edge of the engine’s abuntant energy. As for the Cobalt, I can make that simple. It has a suprisingly good ride, but I see no need for the supercharged version. We tested the sedan with the 171 horsepower engine and were more than satisfied. If you are looking for a car that can give you a lot for your money think basic Cobalt.  On the negative side, I could learn to live with the Saab’s quirkly key placement between the front seats, but the upside down power window controls in the center armrest are another thing.

Dad’s view: The Subaru with a standard transmission and the turbocharged engine is awesome, friendly, and has a vast cargo hold that is easy to load. However, with the automatic transmisison the Subaru becomes more muted. It is still the class of all wagons and easily the best buy if you can forgo the turbocharged version and live with the quite satisfying non-turbo version. The standard all wheel drive makes it ideal for life where such features make life easier. The Legacy looks great, takes less filling, and has a fine ride. The Saab is just too expensive and they suffer when it comes to resale. Again, we would opt for the base Saab 9-5 and still have a safe, good handling, wagon that can move a family with ease. We still pine for our 1999 Saab 9-3 hatchback, which, of course, has developed fantastic resale value once we sold ours.

Young working woman’s view: The Saab is my selection. It is stunning, has exclusivity, and runs like a deer. You can make a mockery of the BMW set if you lower yourself to such macho actions, and it has a vast cargo area that is easy to load. Yes, it has questionable placement of most everything in the cockpit area, but that is part of its charm. Drive one. The Subaru is more of a work horse. It goes about its work without undue alarm, has a restful look, and eats up potholes and gravel roads with ease. If I didn’t live in a metropolitian area the Subaru wagon would be an instrucment of transporation and enjoyment.  As for the Cobalt SS coupe, it really isn’t that fast and the interior lacks sharpness. I found the Cobabt sedan a fine vehicle and underrated. The base car is good value and I think this is one of Chevrolet’s finest efforts.

Young college going male’s view: Only another year and I’ll be unemployed with a B.A. degree rather than being unemployed without one. As for my choice it is simple, the Cobabt SS with the supercharger is fun to drive, easy to shift, has adequate room for four and is easy to maintain. I didn’t find favor with the large turning radius and the rear wing constantly bothered my rear view, but we’re talking looks here. The Saab was nice, but a bit to prissy for my taste. The Subaru was most excellent with a sinister look and a sexy interior, but it just isn’t as much fun.

Family conference:  All of these S cars that go are much more expensive than the base versions and, although we understand forced induction enables manufactures to get more power out of less cubic inches, they do require premium fuel so be warned. Interestinly, all of these cars averaged about 23 mpg and all had above average crash test scores.That aside, each of these is a joy to drive. The family had no clear cut winner, but there certainly was an interesting bias as the women heavily favored the Saab and the men the other two. Overall, these are exceptional family vehicles, if you get the Cobalt sedan, and decidedly a must drive for families willing to leave the cocoon of mainstream driving.  For a list of websites go to and click on business.