2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Coupe – Test drive and new car review – 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Coupe

27 Nov 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Coupe – Test drive and new car review – 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Coupe
Chevrolet Cobalt

Let’s pretend.

The Cobalt SS is the hot-rod version of Chevrolet’s compact Cobalt, massaged by General Motors’ best performance engineers and powered by a strong turbocharged direct-injected engine. On paper, the SS appears to have all the right hardware — but can you really make a serious performance vehicle out of a car like the Cobalt? Read on.

Base price $24,195, $25,590 as tested, EPA fuel economy estimates 22 MPG city, 30 MPG highway.

First Glance: The new and the not-so-new

For this review, I’m going to ask you to play a game of Make Believe. Chevrolet introduced the turbocharged Cobalt SS coupe in 2008, and they followed up with a four-door sedan for 2009. I love the idea of a Cobalt SS sedan — it’s designed for someone with the brain of a 16-year-old, the responsibilities of a 37-year-old, and the income of a 25-year-old. That’s me in a nutshell.

Needless to say, I’ve been dying to get my hands on one.

However, because the universe hates me, the only Cobalt SS that General Motors had available for me to test was a coupe. You know, the car they introduced last year. Not the new, newsworthy car that they introduced this year. So here’s where the Make Believe part comes in: Let’s pretend that I’m reviewing the Cobalt SS sedan, because as a journalist, that makes me look current, timely, and engaging.

If anyone from About.com’s management team happens to call you on the phone, make sure you use those words to describe me: Current, timely and engaging. Oh, and you might want to throw in the bit about having the income of a 25-year-old.

Not that I didn’t like the Cobalt coupe. Aside from the taillights, it’s a fantastic-looking car, and its shape works well with boy-racer details like the big trunk spoiler (link goes to photo). I had flashbacks to my formative driving years, a time when mullets were cool, blue-collar rock was in, and women found me attractive.

Back then, the car to have was the Chevrolet Cavalier Z24, the spiritual predecessor to the Cobalt SS in terms of aesthetics, if not performance.

In the Driver’s Seat: Performance pedigree

Cobalt SS dashboard — note the turbo boost gauge on the left-side windshield pillar

Photo #169; Aaron Gold

Before I get accused of character assassination for bringing up the Cavalier, let me say that the Cobalt SS was developed by the GM Performance Division, the very same wizards who brought us the amazing Corvette ZR-1 and Cadillac CTS-V. The Cobalt SS is no less a work of art, though granted they had to paint on a much cheaper piece of canvas.

Under the hood is GM’s Ecotec 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, which uses a turbocharger and direct fuel injection to produce 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. For comparison, Volkswagen’s 2-liter direct-injected turbo, found in the GLI and GTI. makes 200 hp and 207 lb-ft. The SS comes exclusively with a stiff short-throw 5-speed manual transmission; those who can’t drive a stick need not apply.

Other upgrades from the regular Cobalt include a stiffer suspension, four-wheel-disc brakes with four-piston Brembo front calipers, 18 wheels with Continental ContiSport Contact 2 summer tires, and quick-ratio steering, which gives you more turning action with less steering wheel movement.

Inside, the SS shares the regular Cobalt’s cheapie black-and-silver dash and easy-to-use control layout, adding a turbo boost gauge and heavily-bolstered front seats. Since we’re pretending I drove the sedan, I can say that the back seat offers decent room and easy entry. In reality, my rapidly-growing 12-year-old, who was 5’7 when I started writing this review but might be up to 6′ by now, said the coupe’s back seat legroom was OK but headroom wasn’t.

Coupe and sedan share a generous trunk. though the coupe’s has a smaller opening.

On the Road: The limitations of front-wheel-drive

Chevrolet Cobalt

If the Cobalt’s engine had opposable thumbs, it could write a book on turbo engine decorum. I love the way the boost comes on in a gradual sweep rather than a sudden rush.

EPA fuel economy estimates are pretty good — 22 MPG city/30 highway; compare that to 24/33 for an automatic non-turbo Cobalt — and I averaged 23.9. You gotta love direct fuel injection. The Cobalt’s electronic stability control system has a Competition Mode with launch control (which modulates power to prevent wheel spin) and No-Lift-Shift (allows gear changes with the accelerator floored).

Fun stuff, if you can get the footwork right.

Unfortunately, the Cobalt SS runs head-on into the limitations of high-power, turbocharged, front-wheel-drive cars. First is torque steer, the tendency of a powerful front-drive car to pull to one side under hard acceleration. In the Cobalt SS, it manifests itself as a sudden lightening in steering effort as the engine climbs past 3,500 RPM.

That’s a real problem, because the SS’ heavy steering requires a heavy grip, and when it suddenly goes light, it’s easy to over-control and steer right out of your lane. The second is wheelspin. The optional limited-slip differential ($495, don’t buy a Cobalt SS without it) prevents the inside front wheel from spinning as you get on the power coming out of a corner.

But the SS has enough power to break both front wheels loose, causing the car to slide. The Cobalt SS isn’t anywhere near as badly behaved as the Dodge Caliber SRT4. but neither is it as neat and tidy as the Honda Civic Si or the Subaru WRX .

Journey’s End: It’s serious. but is it too serious?

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Photo #169; Aaron Gold

You know the guy in class or at the office who takes his work just a bit too seriously? The Cobalt SS is that guy. It’s an incredibly talented car, even with its front-wheel-drive limitations, and once I got the hang of it I was able to drive very fast on some very challenging roads.

But it just didn’t make me grin. To be honest, I had more fun driving a $21,000 Ford Focus .

Cobalt SS pricing starts at $24,195, making it cheaper than the Subaru WRX. Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart. and Volkswagen GLI and a tad more than the Honda Civic Si and the Mazdaspeed 3. It’s a bargain, but it’s not the car I’d buy. Me, I’d go for the Subaru (which handles better) or the Honda (slower, but feels racier), and I wouldn’t argue against the incredibly talented Mazda. They’re simply more enjoyable to drive than the Cobalt SS — and that’s not make-believe. — Aaron Gold

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Chevrolet Cobalt
Chevrolet Cobalt
Chevrolet Cobalt
Chevrolet Cobalt
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