by That Car Guy
When we talk about a car getting little or no respect, next to the Trabant, the Chevy Cobalt (And its lesser-known twin, the Pontiac G5) usually comes up. Why does this happen? Is the Cobalt deserving of the bad rap? Does it spend so much time on a service rack that it has more miles on it vertically than horizontally? I thought maybe it was time to mosey on down to the local Chevrolet dealer and try to find out.
But first, so that I don't look any dumber than I am, off to the official Chevrolet web site, explore what they have to say about the Cobalt, then "build" one or two. I am immediately impressed that there is no price difference between the 2-door and 4-door models! Prices start at $16,330 for a base LS to $24,095 for the SS. Personal options and accessories, like the Sport Pedals and Performance Air Intake, will cost you more. You may also want to buy the $75 Spare Tire option, otherwise you'll look silly standing there with the standard can of inflatable tire repair stuff the next time you have a blow-out. Available in either a base Cobalt LS, Cobalt 1LT, Cobalt 2LT, or as the Turbocharged Cobalt SS, all in four doors or two, it's now time to personalize "MY" Cobalt.
Introduced in 2004 as a 2005 model, the car is built on GM's Delta platform, which also underpins the Chevy HHR (Heritage High Roof), Saturn Ion, Saturn (Opel) Astra, and Daewoo Lacetti. It has electric power steering that I drove in an HHR, and that experience takes a bit of getting used to. Not good, not bad, just... different. The standard 2.2-litre I-4 ECOTEC tech puts out 155 horsepower, same as a 2001 Miata, and the Cobalt SS turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-litre I-4 ECOTEC literally screams with 260 horses!
The 2009 Chevy Cobalt print brochure says, "Cobalt comes with a great selection of interior fabrics and colors." What? According to the same brochure, only gray and ebony are offered, and they are both just lighter shades of black. There are gray cloth, gray Sport Cloth, gray leather, ebony Sport Cloth, and ebony leather choices. That's all, folks, unless you go with the Cobalt SS. The LT1 and higher models have power windows (No more busted knuckles, Nathan!), power door locks, power mirrors, and Sport Cloth seats. The LT2 adds cruise control, 16-inch wheels, ABS, a 4-speed automatic tranny, and remote start. The SS (Super Sport) is discussed shortly.
The Cobalt dash is as hard and hollow as today's plastics can make it, and the one-piece plastic door panels follow suit, with either a cloth or vinyl insert (Matching the seats) swathing your elbow in the lap of luxury, and reminding me of Monzas and Chevettes of 30+ years ago. There ain't no door pull handles, your fingers grab a cup on the unforgiving door panel, and the poor folks back in Coach Class have it even tougher... virtually no arm rest at all and again, rock-hard panels. Maybe this car should include a First-Aid Kit for bruises. "Ooh, my arm, it's broken!"
The LS Coupe I sat in had two remote control outside mirrors, both cable-operated, with a rubbery feeling of uncertainty. There is no way the driver could safely, if at all, reach over and adjust the passenger's mirror while driving. I've seen a lot of Cobalts with a Sport Appearance Package for the outside that sells you sportier bumpers, lower rocker moldings, 17-inch wheels, low profile tires, a chrome exhaust tip, that rear spoiler, and fog lights.
I think a paragraph or two has to be dedicated to the Cobalt SS. If somebody truly wants a sleeper, this is your car, in two doors or four this year. In addition to the 105 extra ponies, you get stability control, ABS with Brembos up front, Performance Handling Suspension, stainless steel exhaust with chrome tip, 18-inch wheels, something in the order of a body kit including a spoiler and fog lights, and a 228-Watt, seven-speaker Pioneer sound system.
Omit the spoiler (Available on all Cobalts), and it'll take practiced eyes to separate this from the other trim levels. But at least the seats are unique, offering Premium Cloth with an "SS" logo and color combinations of ebony/gray, ebony/red, and ebony/ebony. Sorry, no ebony/ivory option; Paul & Stevie will be disappointed! Chevy is claiming 0-60 in 5.7 seconds; Car and Driver got a very respectable stopping distance of 70-0 in 160 feet with the SS. Impressive, though I believe safety features such as better brakes should be available all across the car line, not just for a select model or two. What's next... "Seat Belts of the Rich & Famous" ?
Then there's the Cobalt XFE (eXtra Fuel Economy). Introduced in April, 2008, just in time for $4.00 a gallon gas, this model comes with a recalibrated engine (Producing the same 155 hp), 15-inch reduced-resistance tires, and a higher top gear in the required manual transmission. This option is available only on the base LS and slightly higher 1LT Trim levels. It's my guess you can't get the 2LT because the automatic transmission can't achieve the lofty 25 City/36 Highway MPG that Chevy says you'll get, raising you above the mileages of the Aveo5 and Honda Fit.
And let me say some great things about the standard Driver Information System on the Cobalt! At the touch of a switch on the steering wheel, 15 different pieces of vehicle and temperature info are at hand, including air pressures for each tire. The one item that really impressed me was the "Vehicle Average Speed" readout. Teenagers, beware. Also, the hood and trunk lid were held up by struts, not prop rods or springs. At least by buying this car new, you won't find your wife's dress in the trunk.
If anybody reads my bio here, they'll see that I worked at the Nissan plant in Tennessee when it opened. NMMC had a Vehicle Evaluation System (VES) that recorded and scored cars based on quality demerits... the more flaws, the higher the score, like in my golf game (I shudda yelled '2'!). So, walking around the outside of this car raised red flags and points everywhere. Body panel gaps were inconsistent, the front bumper stuck out approximately 3/16ths of an inch from the fender (But we were able to push it back in a bit), and every new Cobalt I saw on the lot had the trunk corner raised on the driver's side higher than the passenger's. On all the metallic paint cars, the bumpers looked like they had been sprayed using another color chart... the discrepancy is even visible in the official brochure! The plant manager should be fired for accepting this rubbish from a supplier unless they were made in-house... then he should still be fired.
If this car had been named the 2009 Nighthawk, it would have been right at home. Styling is subjective, and I saw cues dating back to 1977, like the Coupe's rear side windows. Build quality was similar, as I almost cut my finger on a metal burr inside of the totally unfinished trunk lid's rough edge. The door window sashes (Frames) are too wide to be classy and too thin to be "limousine" style - I think they just look cheap. The headlights are too big, the rump is too high. And I can't understand the optional second tachometer/boost gauge, mounted on the A-pillar, available on the Cobalt SS. All Cobalts have a speedometer, tachometer, and fuel meter. If they are going to add some more gauges, what about oil pressure and engine temp?
I just couldn't drive this coupe. I wanted out and away from it; too many bad car memories were evoked by this thing. And since I had no intention of buying one, why waste the time and fuel... I was there to learn about the Cobalt, to get a brochure, and I had done what I came for. Sadly, I like the last generation of Cavaliers better than this model. Why, when you buy a car like this I bet you get a free bowl of soup, huh? Oh, it looks good on you, though!
I really, really wanted to see and say more nice things about the Cobalt, but I found the same attitude of "Build it cheap, and they'll trade up later" philosophy that got them where they are today. And until they design and build a better car, I just don't have much sympathy for them. Poor design and sloppy craftsmanship do not a good car make.
But there's hope on the horizon. Within the year, we should see the (Optional) 1.4-litre, 140-horsepower turbocharged Chevy Cruze start to replace the Cobalt. However, the challenge is just beginning... it will be built on the new Delta II platform at the same Lordstown, Ohio, plant that makes the Cobalt (And the Vega). I hope build quality and attention to details are improved. And can you puhleeze! take those little GM badges off of the cars? Then maybe... just maybe... you'll get a little more respect.
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
I took the picture of Rodney Dangerfield on October 25, 1981, at the Grand Ole Opry House from the "No Respect" seating section, of course. Google Images supplied the Cobalt SS dash shot. Other photos are from Wikipedia.