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2008 Chevrolet Cobalt ReviewThe Good
With the Cobalt, Chevrolet has produced a safe, economical compact car that handles well.The Bad
Chevrolet cut corners on quality, interior space, and standard brakes to put a low sticker price on the Cobalt.
The CarGurus View
If you’re shopping for an economical daily driver and concerned only with the bottom line, the Cobalt might attract your attention. The Cobalt SS, however, is capable of taking on “the fast and the furious” without selling the farm.
At a Glance
Introduced in 2005 to replace the Cavalier, the Cobalt is based on GM’s front-drive Delta platform, which also underlies the Saturn Astra. The compact Cobalt has received praise for its tight body structure and compliant ride and criticism for its lack of interior space and interior quality.
The Cobalt comes in two body styles: coupe and sedan. It's offered in five trim lines: the very base LS; the 1LT, which adds more basic equipment; the 2LT, which upgrades the brakes and wheels; the Sport, which adds a larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine; and the SS, which features a turbocharged 2.0-liter high-performance four and is tuned for world-class road performance. The SS is available only in the coupe configuration, while the other four trims are available in coupe or sedan form.
The base Cobalt engine is a DOHC, 16-valve, 2.2-liter four cylinder that produces 148 hp and 152 lb-ft of torque. The EPA estimates it will get 24/33 mpg with the manual and 22/31 mpg with the automatic. One reviewer saw 25.9-28.6 mpg on automatic-equipped sedans. This engine is available on LS and LT trims with a standard five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic that's optional on all trims except the SS.
The next step up, engine-wise, is available only in the Sport trim - a DOHC, 16-valve, 2.4-liter four cylinder “High Output” engine that produces 171 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque. The EPA estimates it will get 22/32 mpg with the manual transmission and 22/31 mpg with the automatic. Due to the 2.4’s higher compression ratio, premium fuel is recommended.
The top-of-the-line engine, available only in the SS, is a turbocharged high-performance, DOHC 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine with Variable Valve Timing. This jewel produces 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Red-lining at 6,250 rpm and spinning only through the five-speed manual (with a short-throw shifter) this powerhouse can push the Cobalt SS from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Even more surprising, Chevy claims the SS can cover the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds and get up to over 160 mph! The EPA estimates this engine will get 22/30 mpg. Naturally, this engine uses premium fuel.
Chevrolet offers a standard 100,000-mile powertrain warranty on the whole Cobalt line-up.
Ride & Handling
Reviewers are generally impressed by the Cobalt’s tight road feel, which hits a nice balance between soft and responsive. They attribute this to its GM Delta chassis and the use of high-strength steel throughout. They also like the feel of the Cobalt’s reprogrammed electric power steering, which now has more natural feedback.
Braking on the lower trim levels suffers from the rear drum brakes, with reviewers complaining about a spongy brake-pedal feel. The Cobalt Sport has a firmer feel due to its tuned sport suspension, but the SS is a whole other world.
Apparently, Chevrolet's engineers decided it was time that the SS logo really meant performance. After miles of road testing and four weeks at the Nurburgring in Germany, where the Cobalt SS beat the lap record for its class by 13 seconds, Chevy has a winner. One reviewer even compares its handling to that of the VW GTI – high praise for a GM product. The SS comes with 12.4-inch vented front rotors with four-piston Brembos and vented discs in back. Reviewers found the system offers above-average feel without fade. And GM's engineers have programmed out torque steer. Testers registered 0.9 g on the skidpad, which comes close to the Corvette's numbers. And the SS drives off with 22/30 mpg fuel economy ratings.
Cabin & Comfort
Overall, reviewers are dissatisfied with interior seating comfort, finding the seats uncomfortable and seating space – especially the back seat – inadequate even by compact-car standards. While the Cobalt offers enough room in front for average-size people, the rear seat is inadequate, offering only marginal headroom and virtually no legroom.
Trunk space, however, is sufficient and further enlarged by the rear seat's 60/40 fold-down split. Interior materials are good. But the seats left most reviewers sore, with some comparing them to rocks. Yet, some reviewers liked the hard seats, finding them refreshing after long drives.
The Cobalt SS is, again, a completely different beast. Standard equipment includes a very comfortable and supportive set of sport seats with suede-like UltraLux inserts that keep you planted well. A beefy leather steering wheel, reminiscent of the Corvette's, connects you with the road. However, other than those few SS additions, reviewers find the rest of the interior “ho-hum” Cobalt.
The base Cobalt is a stripped-down affair with manual windows, locks, and adjustable front seats. Air-conditioning, curtain airbags, 15-inch steel wheels, front disc and rear drum brakes, and an AM-FM-XM satellite radio/CD stereo with auxiliary input round out most of its standard features.
The 1LT trim adds power mirrors, door locks, and remote keyless entry, a higher grade of cloth upholstery, and a front-seat armrest.
The 2LT adds antilock brakes, cruise control, 16-inch steel wheels, and OnStar emergency services.
The Sport brings 17-inch aluminum wheels, an upgraded stereo system, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, a stainless-steel exhaust system, a sport-tuned suspension, stability control, and sporty bits and pieces.
The SS brings a high-performance tuned suspension, 18-inch forged wheels, stability control, front sport seats, different front and rear fascias, a rear spoiler, and SS trim bits and pieces.
Standard equipment across the line includes dual front airbags, curtain side-impact airbags, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. On the base model, the four-wheel disc ABS brakes are a recommended option.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the base sedan four out of five stars for driver safety and five stars for passenger safety. The Cobalt gets three stars for the front seat and four for the back in side crash tests. The coupe matches the sedan's ratings, except for the front and rear side crash tests, in which it does better and receives four out of five stars.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that the Cobalt and the Toyota Corolla equipped with side air bags are the highest-rated small cars in the Institute’s crash-worthiness ratings.
What Owners Think
The Cobalt receives top ratings from owners who seem to accept that you get what you pay for. They praise the Cobalt’s fuel economy, standard XM radio, and low price. And a number of owners like its styling and handling. Yet while criticizing the lack of interior room (especially in the back seat), corner cutting on quality, and its low resale value, they seem to accept it given its low sticker price.
by Albert A. Dalia
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