GM has a way of getting things right towards the end. Chevy SSR, Pontiac GTO, Buick Regal Sportback, among countless other models were all “good” when they debuted. GM sat on them and then finally made the car they should’ve made in the beginning, right at the end, like the Chevy Cobalt SS.
Welcome to Forgotten Cars where we go into a brief history and background of some models you may not remember. Join us for an automotive trip down memory lane.
At the time of the Cobalt’s inception, Toyota and Honda had demonstrated through sales that people wanted reliable, cheap transportation they didn’t have to worry about. Millions bought Civics and Corollas. GM’s answer to that was the Cobalt, introduced in 2004 as a replacement for the long-running Caviler (and rebadged with Pontiac as the forgettable G5). The Cobalt just kinda rolled with GM’s tradition of offering these motorized expressions of someone throwing their hands up in the air while saying “Welp!” This was basic GM: nondescript styling you wouldn’t think twice about looking at, coarse underpowered engines, etc. Looking at the interior now, it’s a wonder how someone looked at it and said “Yep. This is fine for production.”
Then a weird thing happened. It was 2005 — just a year into the Cobalt’s production — GM decided it wanted in on the tuner scene, and it was the perfect time to get in on it. Chevy was throwing the SS badge on everything , with about six or seven SS models in the lineup. Chevy took a five-speed manual transmission from Saab, bolted a supercharger to its 2.0-liter Ecotech I4, threw a wing on the back so big that any JDM tuner would be proud, and created the Acura RSX Type-S-fighting Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged (along with the Saturn Ion Red Line).
You could only have the Cobalt SS Supercharged in a coupe. A roots-type Eaton supercharger pushing out 12 psi of boost gave the Ecotech engine 205 horsepower. While the crappy quality, mainly on the interior got universal hate, auto publications loved it. Motor Trend called it “the fastest regular-production front-drive car through the slalom we’ve tested in three years,” saying it was faster than a Corvette Z51.
Then in typical GM fashion, 2007 rolls around and the company announces that the Cobalt SS Supercharged has been canceled. In its place was a show-no-go Cobalt SS. You got all the go-fast looks on a coupe or sedan, but the engine left you wanting way more. Power came from a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter Ecotech engine putting out 174 horsepower. Then GM came to its senses again in late 2008. The naturally aspirated snoozefest that was the Cobalt SS was changed to Cobalt Sport because a new model was coming.
Corporate let GM Performance have their way with the Cobalt, and the 2.0-liter Ecotech I4 got reworked. It received direct injection and a turbo resulting in 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. The chassis was returned with quicker steering and larger rear anti-roll bars. They even threw on Brembo brakes and 18-inch wheels with Continental tires. The result was what Patrick George described as the best compact GM ever made. Car and Driver took one down to Virginia’s VIR raceway where it set a front-drive record and was faster than a Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evo MR. Road & Track got it to put down 0.90 g’s on a skidpad.
If the performance didn’t floor you, the price would. With all the engineering that went into making a car like the Cobalt perform like this, you’d think the price would break the bank. But it didn’t. MSRP for the Cobalt SS in 2009 was just $24,095.
Unfortunately, GM declared bankruptcy not long after the car’s debut, and the Cobalt was canceled entirely to make way for the 2010 Cruze. With its short lifespan, the Cobalt SS Turbo models became some of the rarest cars GM ever made. Initially, you could only have the turbo in a coupe, but a sedan version was later released. Just 3,168 Cobalt SS Turbo coupes were ever made, and the sedan is much rarer with just 474 being produced. If you can find one, buy it. Without question, it’s definitely a car I wanna have in my future collection.