Chevrolet Cobalt: Glows

By The Car Family

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We are always skeptical of compact cars when they are compared to sports cars because they frequently ride like pedal cars and have engines that sound just as tinny. However, the Chevrolet Cobalt positively glows as a commuter car and a sporty.  It has superior handling, a firm chassis, and enough standard features to placate those who endured through Cavalier and Opel ownership.

Everywhere there is improvement in this Chevrolet. The trunk is positively huge. The rear seats fold down and that enables you to carry a five-foot ladder. The engine revs freely, and the fit and finish are above average. Overall, with a price around $15,000(US) for a well equipped version, this 145 horsepower Cobalt may be just the tool to fight the high cost of daily travel as it can easily top 30 mpg even with the optional four speed automatic.

What comes immediately to an informed consumer’s attention is how the Cobalt relates to the competition in the form of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.  First, in terms of value it is difficult to compare because the Cobalt comes with a lot of standard features that the others don’t offer or are available only as options. Secondly, resale would favor the Japanese cars but the Cobalt is too new to have developed a valid residual value index. Next, concerns for reliability and dealer satisfaction must also be decided by the potential consumer due to the newness of the Cobalt and the large differences in individual dealership customer relations. Overall, the Honda has the shortest drivetrain mileage warranty as the others offer 60,000-mile coverage. Finally, each vehicle has a distinct advantage. The Chevrolet is a great handler and well equipped for the money since Cobalt is built on the dandy GM Delta platform.  It has not yet been crash tested.  The Honda has proven high crash scores and reliability. The Toyota has equally good crash test scores and excellent fuel mileage. There isn’t a loser in the bunch.

So where does that leave the consumer? Well, in need to some statistical comparisons for a start. The Chevrolet is way more powerful, with a 2.2-liter engine producing 145 horsepower compared to 115 for the Honda and 130 for the Corolla. As expected, this much more potent Cobalt engine results in less gas mileage for the Chevrolet. The Cobalt gets 32 mpg on the highway versus 38 for both competitors. In real life we found that the Cobalt averaged 28 mpg and the other two 33 on the highway. However, it must be realized that the Chevrolet is 400 pounds heavier than the Toyota and Honda at 3000 pounds. You can feel the difference in heft when you are driving the three. The Cobalt feels much more connected to the road. Clearly, this reflects the fact that the Cobalt has the newest chassis. So if handling, hauling, and performance are your interests test-drive this new Chevrolet.

Interior space is quite impressive for all three thanks to a split and folding rear seat that provides a fairly flat floor open into the trunk. In terms of interior room, luggage and cargo capacity, the three are quite equal.

As for value, it is clearly all Chevrolet. Cruise control is standard, power steering is electric and speed-proportional, and all but the base model get four-wheel disc ABS. Other standard features are keyless entry and power windows. The Chevrolet also offers traction control, available dual front air bags with head protection as an option. A driver’s information center, available OnStar, satellite radio, and even a SS version with supercharged engine make the Chevrolet in its various forms the most interesting as well as the best initial value.  However, because of the Cobalt’s rather bland styling it is easy for potential buyers to walk right by this model. It does not demand your attention and until you get behind the wheel and experience its handling and potency, the Cobalt might well remain a wallflower just because its mother couldn’t afford a fancier dress to attract suitors. Shame, for this is quite a date. So the advantage here would go to the Japanese vehicles. Unfortunately, we cannot predict how the Cobalt is going to stand up to the rigors of commuter driving. The record is unproven, whereas the Civic and Corolla are at the top of the class.

Mom’s view: Small sedans always worry me because of their size. With cell phone gossiping SUV drivers untrained in the use of rear view mirrors waddling between lanes you tend to be on the defensive in diminutive vehicles such as the Cobalt. Fortunately, this Chevrolet has a goodly amount of safety features and handles well. Safety features include dual-stage front air bags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, rear center shoulder belts, and the LATCH child seat retention system. All but the base model has ABS.

The other problem I had with the Cobalt is also a similar to those that other compact vehicles suffer from and that is a small fuel tank that holds just 13.2 gallons (US) thus making it necessary for you to stop to refuel after only 300 miles.

Chevrolet has produced a well-done interior that is far from cheap looking. Although the horn was recessed into the steering wheel hub making it difficult to use in emergency situations, the rest of the interior was fairly good. I did find the instruments difficult to read because of their small fonts and strange lighting. The door openings are a bit small and the seats need more thigh support, but there is little else to fault in this zippy Chevrolet. However, driving the Cobalt never made me forget this was a small car even though it had good visibility to the sides and front, and a sturdy ride. The brakes were adequate and the acceleration and passing ability were quite good and I never felt like I was not in control of the situation, but it would be difficult for a woman to leave an Impala sized sedan for the Cobalt. This is definitely a car for the younger set.

Overall, I would recommend this Cobalt, but I would pass on the base car and go with the upscale LT models that offer larger tires and four wheel disc brakes with ABS. The

4T45-E four-speed automatic does a good job and you don’t pay much of a gas penalty when ordering one. As for option, I like satellite radio and OnStar and the upgraded MP3 stereo is a very good deal. The sports package and spoiler are reasonable, too.

Dad’s view: This could be the best Chevrolet in recent years. It is priced right, performs well, and is fairly tight. I prefer the sedan to the coupe because it is easier to load and looks just as good. The supercharged SS coupe is a little over the top with its large rear spoiler, but it can hold its own with most anything in its front wheel drive price range.

Chevrolet really has outdone the competition with the Cobalt. It has class leading horsepower, interior space that is as good as anyone’s, and only a little more attention to detail in the interior keep it from being king.

Driving the Cobalt revealed that most of the gauges were easy to read and the night lighting were more than adequate. The front headlights could use a little more lums. The seats were especially comfortable, in fact, the most comfortable of any General Motors outside of the sportier Cadillac.  You can adjust them up or down as well as for rake and distance. Even those who have no problems dunking a basketball can find legroom.

Acceleration is good, but the engine is not as sophisticated as the competition and so the 145 horsepower does not feel that much more impressive than the others and really does not come online until nearly 5000 rpm are reached. Where is does shine is when you have the family onboard or when you are carrying a full load. The Civic and Corolla can’t match the torque of the Cobalt. If you want to go fast the SS coupe with its 205-horsepower supercharged engine, is enticing, but I like the base 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine better and found it easier to live with.

I was most impressed with the chassis. The car is stiff and almost Porsche like in its attitude when faced with undulating roads. The doors shut with authority and clearly there has been some quality time and engineering placed where it counts, under the car. When you are looking for vehicles in this price segment you are seeking good transportation that is easy on the payment book. Chevrolet has succeeded there, no doubt, but they also added a touch of raciness and a great deal of comfort with a well tuned independent MacPherson strut front suspension and semi independent torsion bar beam rear holding this 3000 pounder in place well.

Young working man’s view: I found the looks too typical, but I also found the sound system atypical. Inside our test car was the Delphi AM/FM/CD MP3 player, a Pioneer seven-speaker sound system, and surprise, surprise, an enormous subwoofer mounted in the side of the trunk wall. There was even satellite radio. I liked it

The interior was a little too bland for me. The heating and cooling worked well, but we tested in only moderate weather conditions. I liked the 60/40-split, fold-down rear seat with a trunk pass-through that made it easy to carry most everything that needs to be washed home to mom. 

Although this is in my price range, I am not brave enough to be the first on the block to own one. It is not that the Cobalt offends me in any way, and I liked the way our LS model was equipped, but this front wheel driver doesn’t tug at my pocketbook. Perhaps in another color besides arrest me red and with some nice rims and a snappier interior I could be tempted.

Family conference: This is a good car that has arrived with exceptional timing into the marketplace. We have no idea why Chevrolet seems to be advertising it as a little Corvette even though it well might be. Chevrolet should be touting it pricing and frugal fuel consumption. If you are in the market for a compact car you need to test-drive the Cobalt in its many versions.  For a full range of manufacture websites go to

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