2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Review – not your average compact rental car

Friday May 29th, 2009 at 4:55 PM
Posted by: anson

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS
>> By Anson Tse | >> Photos by Derek Mau

Pros

  • Zero lag turbocharged engine that goes
  • Well balanced chassis that pushes front wheel drive handling to the limit
  • “No lift” shift algorithm
  • Incognito appearance

Cons

  • Cheap plastic interior panels
  • Sub par craftsmanship
  • Incognito appearance


I regularly get issued a Cobalt when I go the airport rental counter. To set things straight, this is something that I usually am not very happy about. When I learned that the SS version was available I had to give it a try. Afterall, this car was tuned by GM on the Nürburgring in Germany and set the compact class record of 8:22.85. I’ve had the opportunity to drive several competitors in this class which include the European Ford Focus RS and VW GTI R32 during my days as an engineer at Ford. I can tell you first hand that those cars are no slouches by any means.

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Driving Impressions

You won’t appreciate this car by simply looking at it. Driving it slowly around the parking lot drive will reinforce the notion that there’s nothing special going on. It’s only when you start pushing the car when you’ll notice that this is not an ordinary Cobalt. The surprising thing about the Cobalt SS is that it’s very civilized, but it steps up to the challenge when asked and does so without a sweat. The Cobalt SS is clearly targeted at for those who would like to take on the import tuner crowd while remaining fairly anonymous.

Cobalt SS turbo boost gauge mounted on A-piilarThe Cobalt SS that I evaluated was a coupe, Chevy also offers the SS package with the sedan version. This is not one of those lame all show, no go sport appearance packages. It is very clear where Chevy spent time developing the SS package. The hard work has already been done with this one– high performance Brembo brakes, 18″ forged aluminum wheels, and upgraded suspension. Power starts off with a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine with direct injection and continuously variable valve timing. Chevy then adds a twin scroll turbocharger and air to air intercooler that manages to build up to 20 PSI of boost. The result is more power and gobs of torque without a hint of turbo lag. How much you may ask? 260 HP and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, while achieving 22 MPG in the city and 30 MPG on the highway. I managed to get a combined total of 24 MPG with a 5 speed manual transmission, which is pretty good considering it consisted of some very aggressive driving. For those who prefer automatics, the SS package is offered with a 4 speed automatic, but most people who are interested in this car will opt for the manual. The only notable interior additions that the SS package gets you are the performance seats with the embroidered SS logo and the AutoMeter boost gauge that’s integrated to the A-pillar which are welcome touches to an otherwise bland Cobalt interior.

Build

The Cobalt suffers the most from hard plastic interior panels. Choice of interior materials is what consumers will solidify in their minds as either a cheap car or nice car. The Cobalt uses extensive amounts of the shiny hard plastic on instrument panel, center console, and door panels. It’s obviously a cost cutting move that the General made since the SS shares these pieces with the standard Cobalt, but criticism still remains… it looks and feels cheap. The overall fit and finish was good, but the fit of a few of the interior trim pieces could have been slightly better. On the outside, the margins and panel fits are far from perfect, especially where the bumper fascias meet up with the sheet metal, which earns a couple more bad marks against an otherwise decent looking coupe. The car was free from squeaks and rattles, but certainly lacks the solid feel that you get from the VW Rabbit, Ford Focus, and Saturn Astra, all of which were engineered in Germany.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics

The Cobalt suffers the most from its utilitarian interior styling and hard plastic interior panels. The choice of interior material is what consumers will define as either a cheap car or nice car. Functionally, it has a good deal of amenities for a car in this class. However, it’s clear that Chevy could only do so much to improve the interior for the SS. Overall seating position is very good and there is a wide range of adjustments to fit different sized drivers. Visibility is also good especially since the B-pillar is so far back. You’ll have no problems when you’re looking over your shoulders.

Chevy Cobalt SS interior

This car is very easy to drive…I’ve driven a gamut of factory high performance cars with upgraded clutches and I have to say that clutch effort is surprisingly easy and linear considering that it has been beefed up to handle the torque that flows through the 5 speed gearbox. The performance people at GM certainly did an excellent job here to make it very street friendly, while giving the driver no-nonsense performance when asked to. The 5 speed cable shifted gearbox provides fairly clean shifts, although quick downshifts from 4th to 3rd requires a bit of precision from the driver to avoid going into in 5th.

The SS features upgraded seats with a mesh type fabric and suede like inserts that work well with the extra side bolsters to keep you firmly in place. The foam is denser and more consistent with high performance racing seats provide support and comfort. I wish more manufacturers made seats which were like this.

premium cloth seats with signature SS stitching premium cloth seats with Ultralux inserts Cobalt SS instrument cluster

The interior cabin noise levels are very good, the SS does well with wind noise and engine noise at all speeds. The side benefit of a turbocharger is that it acts like a second muffler. The turbocharged Ecotec engine in the Cobalt SS is very civilized; there is none of the thrashiness that plagues even the best 4 cylinder engines that hail from Japan. The Cobalt SS lays down power without the ruckus that one would otherwise expect and reinforces its civilized manners.

Performance

Straight line acceleration is a hoot, torque steer is reasonable. 0-60 takes a scant 5.4 seconds. That will take down a lot of car with twice as many cylinders. The car I test drove had the optional $495 limited slip differential which is well worth the cost in my opinion. Chevy has the no-lift shift feature, which allows you to keep your foot firmly planted on the gas while you hit the clutch and shift. This is only designed to work under full acceleration when the engine is near or at the red line but before you hit the rev limiter. Do it right and you’ll hear a nice pop from the exhaust. Try this on a normal car and you’ll see your engine quickly race to the red line and bounce off the rev limiter. The beauty of this turbo setup is the low end torque. This means less downshifts when you need to accelerate on the highway since the engine is capable of putting down power in the lower RPMs. With this little 2.0 liter, you won’t lack any passing power.

Stopping power is equally impressive, not that surprising with the 4 piston Brembo calipers upfront and single piston GM brakes in the rear. While I did not have the opportunity to drive this car on a track, I’m fairly certain that this hardware setup will provide fade free braking power. Pedal effort is progressive but not too firm. The brake booster is tuned for linear feel and travel as opposed to an aggressive bite that one might expected from a performance package.

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4 Responses to 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Review – not your average compact rental car

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  3. Ion says:

    Good review except for the fact they never made an automatic SS Turbo or Supercharged Cobalt. Only the 2.4L “1SS” Sport model came with an auto, and it was not the same car. While still better than a base Cobalt, its suspension was not as taut and it had a naturally aspirated 2.4L LE5 motor versus the 2.0L LNF turbo. Also had an F23 Getrag 5-speed versus the Turbo’s Saab F35 5-speed. :)

  4. Jordan says:

    With gas prices on the rise many Americans are adding small cars to their consideration list. Import brands like Honda and Toyota have long held the dominant position in the subcompact category, but what about buyers who prefer to shop the domestic brands? Enter the Chevrolet Cobalt, an American take on the small car.

    While previous small General Motors like the Chevy Cavalier might give you pause, the Chevrolet Cobalt is a different animal. Good fuel economy, attractive styling and high value make the Cobalt worthy of consideration.

    A quick look at the average number of days a Cobalt sits on the lot (around 60) suggests that good deals can be found if you make dealers compete. Tip: When you go into the dealership, use these magic words: “out the door price.” It is the price you will pay after all fees, taxes, incentives, etc. The other prices are generally teaser rates. If you want the real deal, use this process: http://tinyurl.com/lqzesq





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