The word “cobalt” comes from ‘kobolt’, variant of the old German word ‘kobold’, meaning ‘goblin.’ As the story goes, German silver miners of yore believed that goblins would come and steal their booty, leaving worthless cobalt in its place. Not exactly an auspicious choice of names for a car, then.
Still, one can hardly fault the General for wanting to distance the Cobalt from the Cavalier it replaces. What with everyone from Toyota to Hyundai producing far more interesting econoboxes than the august Cavalier, Chevrolet knew that the Cobalt had to set a new, higher standard for its low end products. It had to ‘bring the noise’ to capture sales from parties other than Alamo and Enterprise.
The Cobalt’s interior reflects the General’s ongoing campaign against acrid cheapness; the Cobalt’s plastics rank several orders above the outgoing Cavaliers’ (and the Ion). Still, the cabin’s overall quality won’t worry VW’s Golfers or Toyota’s Sciontologists. As always, the devil’s in the details. For example, the Cobalt’s seat bottoms ratchet up and down, but the action is uncultivated, and the seat coverings themselves are more Stainmaster than stylemeister. The Cobalt’s urethane steering wheel rim is suitably thick, but feels like a discount replacement part, and fails to telescope.
The Cobalt is a seriously quiet automobile. Noise from the drivetrain, tires, wind and traffic are all suppressed far more effectively than they are in a comparable Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. Better still, despite the frigid temperatures and epic potholes on our test loop, the Cobalt’s interior trim uttered nary a squeak or groan. Reliability freaks have every reason to be hopeful.
Despite a large-for-the-class 2.2L Ecotec four-cylinder with 145 horses, the Cobalt is a decidedly reluctant revver, with general smoothness being notable by its absence. Although we can only hope that Chevrolet will find some people who will, thrashing an entry-level Cobalt is both unpleasant and pointless. Doubtlessly, the shortly-promised 2.4L 175hp will improve matters, as will the 205 ponies in the force-fed 2.0L SS variant. But for now, file the Cobalt’s go-power under: ‘Competent, not inspiring.’
Name change or no, the Cobalt started from the back of the pack, inheriting the Cavalier’s reputation for low residuals, suspect quality, and a ‘rent me/beat me’ persona.