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2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Cobalt Is Just The Element Chevy Needs

Published Date: 1/17/05
BASE PRICE: $21,995
POWERTRAIN: 2.0-liter, 205-hp, 200-lb-ft supercharged I4; fwd, five-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT: 2806 pounds
0 TO 60 MPH: 6.5 seconds (est.)

So there we were,driving along in a Chevy Cobalt SS with road racer John Heinricy sitting in the passenger seat, when it occurred to us, “Why is road racer John Heinricy sitting over there and an amateur, apex-missing schlub driving?” We were, after all, snaking along some very interesting, twisting mountain roads. So we asked Heinricy if he would like to drive.

“Sure,” he said.

Heinricy was up to the task and would, in fact, be driving in the Grand-Am finale only a few days hence. In addition to race victories too numerous to list, Heinricy is a career engineer at General Motors, spending most of his time with Corvettes and Camaros, and now wears the moniker, “Director of High Performance Vehicle Operations.” That may be the most fun you can have at GM without embezzling from the pension fund.

Heinricy went right to it. He was obviously much more comfortable seeking the handling limits of this front-driver than we had been, probably because he had helped set those limits. Our Cobalt SS was the supercharged, top-of-the-line Cobalt, aimed at the fast-growing sport compact segment formerly owned by Honda/Acura. Chevy is attacking that segment with formidable hardware on this model, throwing the parts catalog at the Cobalt in much the same way Dodge is with its SRT-4 and Ford did with its splendid SVT Focus.

The Cobalt SS uses the same Ecotec powerplant as the Saturn Ion Red Line, a 2.0-liter supercharged four-cylinder that makes 205 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque and drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual. Normally that much power going through the fronts means torque steer, but in addition to equal-length halfshafts, our car came with the optional limited-slip differential, a rarity among small front-drivers and worth its weight on the option box. All SS models get 18-inch wheels (we remember when the Corvette got 16-inch wheels just about 15 years ago!), 215/45 tires and Recaro seats so grippy we felt like a hardball socked into a baseball glove. The SS stickers for just $21,995.

For several miles on the twisty road Heinricy let the tires slip into a little understeer here, a little oversteer there (more under than over). Nailing the throttle out of each corner, he described an arc through the corners that seemed obvious to us only when he expertly threaded it. The SS has a high entertainment value.

When Heinricy handed the car back to us, there was brake dust coating the brakes and heat waves pouring from underhood. Our ride had been instructive, and we now felt more comfortable tossing the SS through turns. We wound up having a much better time with it than we might otherwise have had.

How does the Cobalt SS stack up against the competition? It will easily be the closest the former maker of the Cavalier has ever come to acceptance in this highly competitive, highly style-conscious slot. The SS is fun, tossable, safe, and with a nicely done aero kit, even racy looking. We would have no problem cruising the NOPI Nationals parking lot in this, maybe even drag racing a few punks at red lights in Atlanta.

But the Focus, while lacking any significant power since the SVT model died, still has a suspension that is more sophis*ti*cated and responsive than the Cobalt’s front-strut, twist-beam-rear setup; the Dodge SRT-4 still has 25 more horsepower stock, even more when you add Stages I, II and III parts; and competitors from the 175-hp Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V, which also has a limited-slip, to the 200-hp Acura RSX aren’t going to roll over and die just because the Cavalier replacement decided to pay attention to performance this time. And there will certainly be kids who ask their parents to add 10 grand to get the mighty and fearless Mitsubishi Evo, Subaru WRX STi and Volkswagen Golf R32, all three of which outpower and outperform this entry.

Getting “respect on the scene” isn’t easy for anyone, but Chevy is ready to have at it with the Cobalt SS.

That’s not all Cobalt has to do, of course. While it no longer has to sell to the very bottom of the market, thanks to the miserable Chevy (Daewoo) Aveo, the Cobalt must still please a huge swath of subcompact buyers, the vast majority of whom don’t know or care what a limited-slip diff limits. So there are more econocar-conscious coupe and sedan versions of the Cobalt as well.

The base Cobalt coupe and sedan each costs just $14,190, including destination. With those models you get the same all-new Delta platform shared with the rest of the Cobalt line, the Saturn Ion, and in a slightly altered form, the Euro-market Opel Astra. All Cobalts are built with loads of sound-deadening for the passengers. Thus, money that would normally have been “saved” went into special acoustic-absorbent steel, quiet engine mounts and hydraulic bushings. Even the base Cobalt gets antiroll bars front and rear.

The base model also shares the 2.2-liter, 145-hp, 155-lb-ft Ecotec four with the LS coupe and sedan as well as the LT sedan. The LS and LT models come with four-wheel discs with ABS and a progressively more grand list of features. You can even get XM satellite radio in a Cobalt, which is just as entertaining here as it is in a Cadillac.

Will Chevy now make a profit in the small car business? We bet yes. The problem is, even the small car business isn’t so small anymore.

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Courtesy: AutoWeek
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