2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS
Taking It to the Streets: The Cobalt SS powers GM onto the sport compact scene
Obstructing whale tail
Should stop better
Limited-slip, Recaros option only
Dodge Neon SRT-4
Acura RSX Type S
Honda Civic Si
It’s been a long time since sport compact enthusiasts had incentive to visit a General Motors showroom. And no, we don’t mean zero-down and zero-percent financing. We’re talking driving incentive, the knowledge that somewhere on the showroom floor sits an affordable, stylish and spirited machine with a youthful attitude.
For much of the last decade the only thing GM could fire back at the likes of Honda’s Civic and Volkswagen’s Golf were the 150-hp J-body Chevy Cavalier Z24 and the Pontiac Sunfire GT. But where the Z24 struggled among pocket rockets, Chevy’s new Cobalt SS seeks to fly.
The SS packs a 2.0-liter, 205-hp 200-lb-ft inline four motivated by a roots-type Eaton supercharger set at 12 psi. Yes, it has lower compression pistons, a forged crank and stronger aluminum casting, as you would expect. But a major supercharger side effect is heat, which Chevy addresses with an oil cooler, sodium-filled exhaust valves, a larger cooling fan and radiator core, and pistons directly cooled by high-pressure oil jets.
Drivers in the know will surely issue a challenge to this Cobalt, while those who have no idea what the SS badge means will no doubt be clued in by the car’s GTR-style rear spoiler, 18-inch wheels and front-mounted air-to-water intercooler.
For just such encounters—at the track, of course—drop the clutch at 2000 rpm, modulate the throttle to avoid tire hop, and 60 mph passes in 6.36 seconds. That whips the Civic Si by 1.46 seconds and the Ford Focus SVT by 0.96 second.
At the quarter-mile mark the Cobalt registers 14.91 seconds at 96 mph compared to the Civic’s 15.93 seconds at 87.4 mph and the Focus’ 15.72 seconds at 88.4 mph.
The supercharger comes on song around 3000 rpm and is accompanied by a raspy exhaust note. It may grow tiring over time, but it is certainly in tune with this car’s overall statement.
Handling is another strong Cobalt attribute, where the car posts an average speed of 47 mph through the slalom and 0.87 g on the skidpad. Here, the Civic loses out again, but the Focus nips the SS in the slalom, faster by 0.3 mph. The Cobalt does trump its platform mate, the Saturn Ion Red Line, by 1.1 mph and 0.03 g, thanks mostly to 124 fewer pounds and stickier Pirelli PZero Rosso tires.
This Cobalt is commendably stable through the cones, almost as fun as a Mini Cooper, says one editor. Handling is fairly neutral, with a hint of understeer quickly erased with a bit of trail braking.
Inexplicably, the Ion Red Line beats the 125 feet the Cobalt needs to halt from 60 mph by seven feet.
Like the Ion, the front-drive Cobalt SS handles its 205 horses with minimal amounts of mid-corner torque steer. Steering is nicely weighted, pedal placement is optimized for downshifting and made sweeter still by a direct short-throw Getrag five-speed manual gearbox.
The SS interior stands apart from ordinary Cobalts with two-tone leather seats and door trim, and with SS badges stitched into the seatbacks and on the left side of the dash. Chevy should have taken the lead of the Ion Red Line and made the Recaro seats standard. The stock seatbottoms don’t provide enough thigh support and, for what the Cobalt SS is capable of, it could use more side bolstering, too.
Chevy’s biggest challenge will be to convince sport compact buyers—those already familiar with Japanese pocket rockets—that this late-to-the-game Cobalt SS is a worthy competitor. The Chevy brings with it no real reputation beyond faint memories of the Cavalier.
If Chevy does manage to make this Cobalt a player, the Japanese are poised to throw a few more curves at the SS, namely, the new Civic Si and the MazdaSpeed 3, arriving soon. There is also the likelihood of a new Nissan Sentra Spec V and an SVT Focus; a faster (in a straight line, anyway) Dodge Neon SRT-4 is already here.
For now the Cobalt SS has the power and the reflexes to put Chevy near the front of the class. It may not have earned its street cred yet, but the SS makes a more than compelling argument in GM’s favor.
The Cobalt offers more for the money than any car in its class. The power delivery and transmission are smooth and the car handles beautifully with hardly any roll. It is well-balanced with only a hint of front heaviness. The in-dash computer and audio system make this car so fun to drive I can’t stay out of it. The Recaros are worth the extra money; they are comfortable and keep you in place. Fit-and-finish is good with interior gaps nicely fitted. I do wish GM would use better materials for the interior. Other minor dislikes: some torque steer, which is expected from a powerful front-driver, and the spoiler is a little obtrusive but works with the look of the SS.
Mark Caldwell, via e-mail
I love almost everything about my Cobalt SS. It has plenty of pep and shifts smoothly. The factory boost gauge is a great addition and the high-mounted spoiler gives the car a distinctive look, along with the 18-inch rims. My only complaint is gas mileage. The computer is telling me I’m getting around 22 mpg, and I don’t boost it high.
Kevin Cowart, Oldsmar, Fla.
The Cobalt SS rides great, has smooth power and a nice gearbox. The variable steering is nice and tight at highway speeds and adjusts well to maneuvering in parking lots. The stereo with MP3 is incredible for a stock system. Dislikes include the overly aggressive wing, the inability to get Sirius instead of XM, and the stock seats: They are a tad firm, but tolerable. Also, the trunk is hard to open without using the wing as a handle since it doesn’t pop open very high.
Rob Sharp, Rockville, Md.
I really like the performance of my Cobalt SS, in particular, the short-throw shifter, effortless clutch action and excellent stock stereo. The Z-rated low-profile Pirellis grip the pavement well and look awesome on the 18-inch wheels. The bucket seats are supportive and comfortable, and the perforated inserts allow your back and bottom to breathe. This car is very cool and fun.
Tom Biddlecombe, Huron, Ohio
VEHICLE SPECS AND INFO
General Motors Corp.
100 Renaissance Center
Detroit MI 48207
Customer assistance: (800) 222-1020
Internet address: chevrolet.com
Country of origin: United States
Number of dealers: 4100 (est.)
Base (includes $565 delivery): $21,995
As tested: $23,410
Owners paid; average: $20,947 to $23,610; $22,753
OPTIONS AS TESTED
OnStar system ($695); front and side head-curtain airbags ($395); XM satellite radio ($325)
OTHER MAJOR OPTIONS
Performance package, with Recaro front seats, limited-slip differential ($1,500); sunroof ($725)
Unibody two-door coupe
Wheelbase (in): 103.3
Track (in): 57.1 front, 58.1 rear
Curb weight/GVWR (lbs):2806/3888
Fuel (gal): 13.2
Cargo (cu-ft): 13.9
Front-transverse 2.0-liter/122-cid dohc supercharged I4
Horsepower: 205 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 200 @ 4400 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Fuel requirement: 91 octane (recommended)
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Final drive ratio: 4.05:1
Front: MacPherson struts with coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar
Rear: Semi-independent torsion beam with coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, antiroll bar
Discs front and rear, ABS, aluminum 215/45R-18 Pirelli PZero Rosso
0-60 mph: 6.36 sec
0-100 km/h (62.1 mph): 6.75 sec
0-quarter-mile: 14.91 sec @ 96 mph
20-40 mph (second gear): 3.0 sec
40-60 mph (second gear): 2.7 sec
60-80 mph (third gear): 4.5 sec
60 mph-0: 125 ft
490-foot slalom: 47.0 mph
Lateral acceleration (200-foot skidpad): 0.87 g
INTERIOR NOISE (dBA)
Full throttle: 77
Steady 60 mph: 65
EPA combined: 25.36 mpg
AW overall: 21.32 mpg
True Cost to OwnSM
Average cost per mile: $0.50
After one year: $8,178
Five-year total: $15,370
Published Date: 6/20/05