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.

 Subaur STi

by The Car Family

For more car reviews and free educational links go to’s Hotted Up WRX Sti: Smoking Attention SeekerFor about $32,000 you can own one of the fastest cars in the world and still take the family to the local supermarket, or just revel in the fact that the Subaru WRX STi, even with its 300 horsepower, gets 22 mpg on premium.In fact, your only worry is how you are going to pay the insurance premium. Mom’s view: The car is much better looking than the regular WRX and it is a much racier vehicle in all ways. I disliked the rear spoiler, but when you are packing this much horsepower in a 3200-pound vehicle it is probably needed by those hell bent on losing their driver’s license. The problem with the large and expensive rear spoiler is that it interferes with rear visibility. Driving the car is easy, but you must be very tender with your right foot because the STi was born to run. In fact, it is so smooth that you don’t even have to downshift on the freeway to pass. You can just leave the STi in sixth gear, which is overdrive, and it pulls from 50 mph to faster than I care to drive.I did notice that this Subaru had an abundance of comfy features despite its rich racing heritage. Besides the aluminium hood and functional hood scoop, you get great headlights, intermittent wipers, air conditioning, rear window defogger, and a nimble 34.5-foot turning radius. The interior is basic, the seats very supportive, and the radio is an option. This is a street version of Subaru’s successful rally car and it is not meant for a sissy. The seats are good, the steering wheel adjustable, and the gear selector easy to use.In fact, all the gauges and switches are exceptionally easy to use. That is, except for the shifter. It is easy to shift, but finding the gears properly, especially the third and fifth gear notches, takes a lot of practice. But we doubt anyone is going to mind this kind of practicing. Safety wise, Subaru has front airbags; front seat front and side-impact airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, and the best brakes you are ever going to find on a streetcar. You also get, and this is what I love about this Subbie, child rear safety locks, tether anchors for a baby seat, child safe rear door locks, and five mile per hour safety bumpers. Even in a car that could easily be used for rallying, Subaru makes sure that a family can feel secure. Dad’s view: This is a wow-mobile. I didn’t waste any time notifying the 2.5-liter, turbocharged and intercooled “boxer” engine that it’s was time to play because that is what this Subaru is all about.With up to 14.5 psi of maximum boost this four-cylinder engine gives a power to weight and displacement ratios that are remarkable even for some racecars. The result is 0 to 60 times in the low, very low, five-second range. Yes, folks, this is an all wheel drive sedan with a nice sized trunk that is as fast as the much more expensive Corvette. But, I doubt you are going to lose much resale on this model because there is always someone who is going to want to know the feeling of owning a car that can claim to be king of the hill, especially if that hill is
Pike’s Peak.
The acceleration is extreme, but what is better is the driving because the steering ratio is fast, the independent suspension is firm, and the 12.7-inch front and 12.3-inch rear Brembo brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution are awesome. Cornering has to be experienced. Not since we drove a BMW Z3 did we have as much confidence in a car and the Subaru is clearly superior even in dry conditions. The tires are 225/45R17 and we believe most buyers are going to change those quickly for whatever use they have in mind for this mighty might of a car. There is a vague understeer when you first enter a corner, but just a touch of the throttle tucks the front in nicely. Beware, that the very large front scoop blocks your view of the apex, which is risky with the very expensive rims the Sti carries. We recommend you don’t practice on the streets with this car because despite its cute looks, it is a true performance vehicle. We took the Subaru over to Autolinks in
Temple City, 626-279-7122, where they specialize in high performance imported cars. The high level of civility the STi showed impressed owner/manager Clay York
, who drives an imported Evo. He commutes to
Japan on a regular basis and was familiar with the Sti name, Subaru Technica International.
York even made some suggestions on how owners bent on violating their three year, 36,000 mile warranty could get more power from the Subaru for just a couple of grand more. You get a lot to love with this Subaru. The sophisticated all wheel drive system has a centre differential with both automatic and manual modes that allow the driver to vary the torque split for specific driving conditions via a thumb wheel near the console. That gives you six options for your locking differential to handle the 300 pounds of torque before they reach the 17 inch BBS rims.High intensity headlights, a button that enables you to inject water into the intercooler when you feel the need for additional speed and plenty of creature comforts such as climate control with air filtration, power windows, power door locks and mirrors, and cruise control are also standard.Young working woman’s view: How did they do that? Subaru took a racecar and made it gentle without losing any character. Amazing, and that price is unbelievable. What’ s even more fun is the wide birth slammed Civics, Mustangs, and BMWs give you when they see the small STi on the car. But what I enjoyed most was how civilized this Car is around town. It never makes a fuss.For example, when I missed a gear, its easier than you think, the Sti does not stall. The air conditioner cools well, the seats are easy to get in and out of, the cup holders work, there is ample storage space, the leather wrapped steering wheel feels good even in hot weather, and the tachometer gives you a warning light and a beep if you go over the 7000 rpm redline.Trust me, in low gear it does not take long to reach this level, because until you get to about 3000 rpm nothing much is happening. After that, start shifting and stay shifting until your angst proves too great. College-going male’s view: The first question that comes to mind is whether the STi is better than the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The answer is maybe. The Evo has quicker steering, is quicker accelerating, and has a tighter suspension. The brakes are even better.Unfortunately, this Mitsubishi is truly a performance car and it can easily wear on you as it literally pounds the pavement. Even the acceleration grows tiresome when you find yourself constantly searching for the right gear. So, if you want to race, get the Evo, if you want to have the rare combination of a racy car and a great ride, get the STi. By the way, a check with dealers revealed that the Mitsubishi dealers were asking for a bigger mark-up than the Subaru dealers.Technically, the Evo costs a few grand less. Personally, I’ll wait for the STi station wagon and have a truly everything in one car.

Family Conference: First of all, we need to tell you that we own a Subaru Legacy and have thought highly of this brand for years. As such, you should consider that fact that we are biased. That said, the Subaru WRX STi is a bargain. However, it is only a bargain if you need what if offers, world-class handling and acceleration.

We liked it, but beware of dealer mark-ups over ten percent of MSRP. Also beware of the fact that many of the parts on the STi can be used on the regular WRX Subaru making theft possibilities real. The bottom line is obvious, if you want your cake, better get over to the bakery fast before someone else cobbles them all up.

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