Yesterday, we told you the 2008 Chevy Cobalt SS was a walloping good time. But how does it stack up when you’re not going fast? Let's find out.
Exterior Design: ***
The 2008 Chevy Cobalt SS, even in four-door form, makes us smile for some reason. To know how easy it is to take a plain vanilla econobox and turn it into a car with a much more handsome proportion, providing just a hint of the performance that lies underneath, without resorting to a SEMAgasmic display of leftover go-faster-looking parts, is quite an achievement. Certainly it's still a small car with a tall cabin and dodgy-looking lighting elements, but when lipstick's applied, it kinda makes ya want to pucker up a bit for the little pig.
Interior Design: ***
The two-tone, Alcantara sport buckets in the front and rear are magnificent. Grippy, firm, supportive – fantastic. It’d take something badged “Recaro” to be better. General space is good all around for the segment, even for the back seat passengers. The patented Jalopnik Knock Test revealed a bit of rattle in the dash here and there, mainly from the painted trim; in normal driving situations though, the car is solid as a rock. We would have appreciated a center console or armrest, but such is not the case. The dash layout is simple to the point, the three-spoke steering wheel is thick and feels good in hand. The cabin is mercifully pretense-free, without superfluous gaudy lighting and silly gadgetry. Get in, be comfy, go fast.
Select Sport Mode, come to a complete stop, drop it into first, peg the throttle and the revs stick to 5,100 RPM. Dump the clutch smartly and your take offs look like stage starts at the WRC. Keep the accelerator stuck to the floor and, without lifting, stab the clutch, grab the next gear and lift off the clutch. Aside from inciting a manic grin you'll pull down 0-to-60 MPH runs in 5.7 seconds. That's not just remarkable; it's down right silly. Make sure you do this on a straight line, otherwise, woe and torque steer be upon thee.
One word: Magnificent. No, wait, two words: heart-stopping
On the freeway the car is smooth and composed, abrupt lane transfers are as confident as the heaviest German luxo-barge. If you slow down and hit the surface streets, the suspension is so tightly sprung you can feel the road grain. If you hit any of the rough stuff you'll probably be in need of a new set of kidneys. This isn't a car for Grandma.
Surprisingly competent considering the beam axle in the back. If you drive like a sane person, even at the limit of adhesion, the Cobalt will reward with flat cornering and predictable understeer. However, if you hit a corner at speed, stab the monstrously powerful brakes, yank the tiller and goose the gas you're going to be pushing way into the grass.
A notchy five-speed manual transmission with evenly spaced gears and strong synchros. Combined with no-lift-shift the gearbox makes you feel like a superhero. That being said, it is still a cable-shifted box, and no matter how hard any company tries to improve it, there will always be certain sense of remoteness.
This Cobalt SS convinced us that we want a USB port in our next car. Plug a USB stick, an iPod, or an MP3 player loaded with your favorite goodies into the dash mounted slot and immediately the system detects its presence, then goes about playing whatever you've got stashed on there, no fussing, no struggle. We got particular enjoyment from a remastered copy of War of the Worlds played during some nighttime mayhem.
Does the boost gauge count? Other than that there aren't a whole lot of toys on the Cobalt SS.
If you're after a hugely entertaining compact, front-drive four-door with the tendency towards mischief and malice, this is the car for you. The problem is, at $24,095, the Cobalt SS is only $900 cheaper than a 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX; a car that’s faster, has much better handling and is eminently more practical.
As you drive it, you know at some point you're going to slip up and give the car a chance to throw a tantrum. The Cobalt SS is akin to a Tasmanian Devil in a cat carrier; destructively dangerous energy pent up in a container barely able to restrain its manic intensity, you know you're going to get mauled eventually, but you can't help but poke your finger through the cage.