The front-wheel-drive Cobalt is powered by a 2.2-liter version of the competent Ecotec series of engines shared with several Pontiac and Saturn models, as well as overseas GM products. The four-cylinder design features an aluminum block and head, topped with a twin-cam valvetrain. It's rated at 145 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 155 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, which means it packs a heavier punch than most its rivals, particularly noticeable around town. Like most four-bangers in this class, however, the Cobalt tends to thrashiness when pushed. Not so the top-of-the-line SS. Equipped with a Roots-type Eaton supercharger and an intercooler, as well as a steel crank and forged pistons, the SS pumps out 205 horses and 200 lb-ft of torque. Even though it displaces only 2.0 liters, it sounds much bigger thanks to its bad-to-the-bone exhaust rasp. A five-speed manual is standard in all models except the LT, but the vast majority of Cobalt owners no doubt will opt for the acceptable four-speed automatic.
Behind The Wheel
If the Mazda3 is the sportiest car in the compact class, then the Cobalt slots in at the pampering end of the dynamic spectrum. There's nothing exotic about its suspension--MacPherson struts at the front and a twist beam at the rear--but after critics savaged the Ion for its rough, noisy performance, Chevrolet engineered the Cobalt with plenty of sound-deadening and chassis-strengthening material. The result is a ride that's solid, supple, and relatively isolated. Although by no means a driver's car, The Cobalt is quiet and refined by the standards of the class. The SS, however, is different, more-exciting story. To corral the additional 60 horses generated by the supercharged engine, the SS is graced with a sport-tuned suspension that allows it to carve corners like an autocross ringer. A Quaife limited-slip differential and Recaro seats are optional.
The Cobalt is a godsend for "buy-American" small-car shoppers and a legitimate alternative for more broad-minded consumers--especially when Detroit revs up the rebate machine, as it often does when sales wane. In addition to the car's inherent goodness, the Cobalt comes with a generous five-year/50,000-mile powertrain warranty. To minimize service costs, the Cobalt is fitted with the GM Oil Life System (GMOLS) that carefully monitors vehicle use to ensure maintenance is performed only when needed, extending oil-change intervals. The engine also features an innovative cast-in oil-filter housing on the Ecotec engine that eliminates throwaway oil-filter cans. The bad news is that Cobalts have already started flooding into rental-car fleets, which is bound to accelerate depreciation and undermine resale value like the Cavalier before it.
The Cobalt elevates General Motors' entry-level position with a well-conceived, thoughtfully designed coupe and sedan that offers a range of personality and performance.