There might not be a more gutsy group of owners than those that shop for a sporty new compact and decide on the Cobalt SS. Because to appreciate it you have to do several things. To begin with, you have to look beyond it’s styling, which is bland at best. You have to look past it’s history and that of the Cavalier, (not to mention GM as a whole); two cars that have regularly underachieved already low expectations. If you could somehow give yourself amnesia and give the 2009 Chevy Cobalt SS a clean slate to start with, you might actually begin to like it.
The additional pieces that have gone into the Cobalt to make it a “Super Sport” are substantial enough over the lower trims to warrant the designation, though you could make a case that Chevy could have gone further. Most significant in this upgrade is the engine, which is one of GM’s most advanced and promising power-plants and a sign of where the automakers best efforts are directed. It’s a direct-injected turbocharged two-liter four-cylinder with variable-valve timing that produces 260 horsepower and an equal amount of torque at only 2,000 rpms.
Under The Hood
Not that you need reminding, but that is a substantial amount of power for a front-wheel drive car to handle, necessitating careful engineering by Chevy to counteract potential torque steer problems. Testers report than when the hammer is dropped on the throttle under certain conditions, the steering wheel rotates violently to one direction. Mostly this elicits a shrug of the shoulders and an understanding that this is a just a happy compromise for having a potent (and rather nasty sounding) engine under the hood. On the upside, acceleration numbers from 0-60 mph are in the solid 5.7 second range. Along with traction control, which can be turned off, the Cobalt also throws launch control into the mix when the driver presses the traction control button twice. Although launch control is usually reserved for very specific kinds of cars, like the Lotus Exige, in the Cobalt SS it performs well enough, although not without taxing the tires considerably. Unlike the strong engine, the five-speed manual transmission is somewhat of a mixed bag. It, like the rest of the car might be light-years ahead of other small GM vehicles from the past and present, but it is still a step below that of the imports. Travel distance is a bit on the long side, although the feel of the manual itself is solid. Gear ratios are within the parameters of the rest of the sporty small car segment, though testers thought a sixth gear for cruising would have been an even greater asset to the already fuel efficient Cobalt SS.
Another equally important area that Chevy addressed was the Cobalt’s handling, aided by a limited slip differential and stabilizer bars. GM also puts Brembo brakes on the front, giving it legitimate higher-end stopping credentials. Overall, ride is much better than past Cavalier-type experiences, and a credit to GM’s development of the Delta-platform used with the Cobalt.
Fuel economy is an equal bonus with the Cobalt, though not as sexy of a positive as the raw horsepower numbers. Even with the added pull under the hood of the Cobalt SS, the EPA rates the 2009 Cobalt SS at 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. A decent set of numbers all things considered.
It is a weird fact to state, but the Cobalt LOOKS like a Chevy. Weird because it actually is devoid of style. Unfortunately, this is in line with a series of bland cars they have pumped out over the past few decades. Corsica, Beretta, Lumina, Cavalier, even the previous Camaro are all in this nebulous anonymous automotive category. We can only imagine how much more positive the reviews of the Cobalt would have been if it resembled a smaller G8. At any rate, the SS is slightly more attractive than the standard Cobalt with additional body panel pieces, fog lights and upgraded wheels and tires, though we could have done without the wing on the back. But it still lags behind nearly every competitor in this segment in terms of looks. Not to mention that build quality, while improving, is still substandard as evidenced by the many comments about the grinding metal sounds eminating from the hinges when the doors are opened or closed.
The Cobalt SS is still a relatively cheap car, though with a great deal of upgrades in the interior. This doesn’t quite excuse the so-so materials used inside, however. Maybe we’ve been spoiled, but for a 20-plus grand car we would have liked to see a little less hard, flimsy plastic in the cabin. The seats and steering wheel are upgraded though, and a standard Pioneer stereo features some decent qualities as well. It has a USB port in the faceplate of the head unit that can work with an iPod or a USB thumbdrive via an intuitive audio interface. The stereo system also includes six speakers and a big subwoofer. The Cobalt SS includes a turbo boost gauge on the driver’s A pillar, not an ideal location, but it looks cool.
Unlike the hatchbacks from VW, Honda and Mazda, the SS is a coupe and therefore does not provide the same kind of utility in hauling. The Cobalt’s 13.9 cubic feet trunk is also somewhat misleading as access is limited by a small opening. In fact, the entire interior feels a bit tight despite it actually being larger than the Cavalier it replaced.
At first, pricing seems a bit steep starting at $23,525 for a domestic compact car. But loads of things come standard for that price. Unfortunately, this is a tough segment to compete in when you have the likes of the Honda Civic Si and MazdaSpeed3 lurking around.