Fast forward to today and the heralded Super Sport moniker adorns everything from Malibu Maxx wagons to front-wheel-drive Impala sedans. Also among that group is the all-new Cobalt, an everyday two-door transformed into a quick coupe. Like the original in 1961, the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS adds unique tires, special SS badges, and interior enhancements like optional Recaro seats and a pillar-mounted boost gauge. With 205 horsepower, the Cobalt SS pales compared to the 300+ horsepower V8s of ’61, but it more than compensates with capable handling, a 0-60 mph acceleration time of about six seconds, and fuel economy in the mid to high 20s.
Unfortunately, the Cobalt SS doesn’t measure up so well against its competitors. When compared with more contemporary cars including the Dodge Neon SRT-4 and the Subaru WRX, that SS badge seems to lose some of its luster. Today’s lineup of sporty compacts offer more power or better build quality, or both, and in that arena, the fun-to-drive but otherwise disappointing 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS comes up super short.
For its introductory year, the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt is offered in sedan and coupe configurations, with the SS Supercharged Coupe and its $21,995 sticker price (including a $565 destination charge) topping the lineup. Two additional Cobalt SS models will be offered for the 2006 model year, the SS Coupe and the SS Sedan, though neither will be supercharged.
Included with the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged Coupe’s base price are a host of comfort and convenience features, as well as a few that clearly separate this sport coupe from its more mainstream stable mates. Most notable among those unique items is a supercharged 2.0-liter, 16-valve, all-aluminum four-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams. Grunt is delivered aplenty, with 205 horsepower thundering in at 5,600 rpm and 200 lb.-ft. of torque peaking at 4,400 rpm. A five-speed manual transmission directs it all to the front wheels, which like the rears are 18-inch alloys wrapped in 215/45 Pirelli P Zero Rosso performance tires. Buyers of the SS Supercharged Coupe also gain exclusive rights to beefier disc brakes (lower models utilize rear drums), a performance-tuned suspension, a massive rear wing, small front fog lights, and body enhancements that include front and rear air dams and lower side skirts. Inside are steering wheel audio controls; leather seats; an upgraded sound system with an MP3 player, subwoofer, and iPod auxiliary jack; a turbo boost gauge on the left A-pillar; and standard items like power windows, air conditioning, tilt steering, and traction control. Side-curtain airbags can be added for an extra cost, as can OnStar telematics, XM satellite radio, and a power sunroof. There’s also a Performance Package which includes a limited slip differential and Recaro front bucket seats. Available colors include Rally Yellow, Sunburst Orange, Victory Red, and Arrival Blue.
Our test car was dipped in Arrival Blue and was fitted with the Performance Package, OnStar, and side airbags, for a total as-tested price of $24,585 including the $565 destination charge. Though these options added about $2,500 to the bottom line, the Performance Package proves to be well worth its $1,500 price during spirited driving and, at $395, the side airbags are cheap peace-of-mind. If anything, the $695 OnStar package could be axed, bringing the as-tested price below $24,000.
As it turns out, bolting a supercharger to a four-cylinder Chevy engine makes for a world of good times. The result is a potent little motor that pulls hard across the rev range, especially if the driver drops a gear and runs this four banger for all its worth. At the same time, that little motor remains fairly refined. Mated to the engine is a surprisingly precise gearbox, at least given the Cobalt SS’s relatively cheap price point. There are better transmissions out there, such as those bolted to the Honda S2000 and Mitsubishi Evolution, yet each comes on a car that is significantly more expensive. The Chevy’s shifter is well-placed for comfortable, short throws and the clutch offers easy modulation.
On twisty roads and general high-speed runs, drivers will appreciate the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS’s controlled ride. The steering offers a nice hefty feel and is as responsive on the highway as it is around town. Thankfully, dead spots are absent and road conditions are communicated very well. In the corners this front-drive SS exhibits just a touch of understeer and minimal body roll, though the 18-inch Pirelli tires could provide an extra dose of grip. Four-wheel disc brakes work as intended, providing a responsive pedal feel and remaining devoid of fade even after long, spirited downhill runs.
Despite the Cobalt SS’ sporty underpinnings, engineers have found a way to keep the interior comfortable. Up front, seat bolsters hug occupants and largely prevent interplay between knees and the door and center console panels. The somewhat stiff suspension settings allow passengers to feel road irregularities, but the overall ride is less jarring than many competing sport compact cars. Noise is kept to a minimum in the Cobalt SS, though as should be expected the large tires insist on being heard at higher speeds. On a negative note, visibility is hindered by that oh-so-subtle rear spoiler, wide C-pillars, and good sized outboard rear headrests.
Hop into the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS and, at first glance, everything looks pretty good. There’s a simple but attractive dash layout, the front seats offer significant bottom and side bolsters, the shifter is within easy reach, and the steering wheel tilts for maximum comfort. The front buckets are courtesy of Recaro, so it stands to reason that they’d be comfortable and extremely supportive. That’s an affirmative on both counts, aided in part by those bolsters and a lengthy seat bottom that’s good for longer thighs, and adjustable headrests. There are only two side doors, but each opens nearly a full 90 degrees, so provided you’ve got a wide enough parking space, it’s easy for the driver and front passenger to get in and out. Padded armrests on the door are well-placed and round out the list of comfy features.
After that, things start to go awry. Starting up front, there’s no center armrest for storage or resting an arm on a long drive, and the steering wheel lacks a telescoping function, though given the price point that’s more of a quibble than a complaint. Move back to the rear seat to discover a rather inhospitable environment that is technically designed for three adults, yet in reality two children would be pushing comfort levels. Getting in is a challenge because the front buckets come without quick-release buttons, and between finding space to open the large doors, getting the front seat moved forward, and then contorting to access the rear seat – well, you’ve really got to want to sit back there to make it worthwhile. Once seated, rear passengers are subjected to tight quarters, a rather straight backrest, diminutive and hard side armrests, and claustrophobic plastic surroundings accented with mismatched grain patterns.
That rear seat splits and folds, allowing access to the trunk. However, a significant amount of cargo space is absorbed by the Pioneer subwoofer and a support beam running below the parcel shelf. Furthermore, the trunk opening is small, and reaching deep into the cargo hold means leaning over a potentially dirty rear fascia – it’s hard to look cool in your new SS when covered in road grime. Elsewhere, storage includes four cupholders and a few provisions for riders up front, while it’s suggested that any rear seat passengers come with big pockets or a backpack.
How does the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS’s power compare to the Subaru WRX, or the new Honda Civic Si? The Cobalt SS comes with a supercharged four-cylinder that puts out 205 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque. In comparison, the 2005 Subaru WRX features a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that generates 227 horsepower and 217 lb.-ft. of torque, while the 2006 Honda Civic Si uses a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter motor good for 197 horses and 139 lb.-ft. of torque.
What’s the number one reason to consider buying a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS? The powertrain. There’s enough power here to have fun at any speed, and the transmission is a surprise at this price point. And even after some heavy flogging, we achieved 26.4 mpg.
How can the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS be improved? The rear seat is a good starting point, though that would require significant, cost-prohibitive changes. However, adding some useful armrests, a bit of rear seat storage, and allowing for easier access back there would definitely help. Points could also be gained by improving build quality. Upon close inspection, we discovered misaligned dash panels, loose faux alloy trim, a trunk that didn’t sit equally flush on both sides, large gaps around the headlights, and wavy bodywork above the windshield frame. Maybe none of these points is terribly significant, but when you’re busting tail at your first job to make the payments, you expect the crew who put your car together to have worked just as hard.
Test Vehicle: 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged Coupe
Price of Test Vehicle: $24,585 (includes a $565 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: Supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 205 horsepower at 5,600 rpm
Engine Torque: 200 lb.-ft. at 4,400 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Curb Weight, lbs.: 2,991
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 23/29 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 26.4 mpg
Length: 180.5 inches
Width: 67.9 inches
Wheelbase: 103.3 inches
Height: 55.5 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 42.0/32.2 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 38.7/35.7 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 13.9 cu. ft.
Competitors: Dodge Neon SRT-4, Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Tiburon GT, Mazda 3s, MINI Cooper S, Mitsubishi Eclipse GT, Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, Saturn Ion Red Line Quad Coupe, Subaru WRX, Volkswagen GTI, Volkswagen Jetta GLI
2nd Opinion -- Wardlaw
Clearly, the Chevrolet Cobalt SS is no errand-running sort of car. That's what I did with our Arrival Blue tester during an extended lunch hour, and I did not enjoy myself. Unlike other small, speedy vehicles that make any run to the corner market fun -- like a Mini Cooper S, for example -- the big, clunky, cheaply-outfitted Cobalt SS struck me as the anti-thesis of nimble. Nimble cars are fun to drive. The lumbering Cobalt SS seemed happiest going fast in a straight line.
But take my opinion with a large grain of salt, for I did not venture out to my usual driving loop in the Malibu mountains. In Malibu, the Saturn Ion Red Line, which shares many of the Cobalt SS's hardware, was an impressive machine. And those who perform errand running should take note that the Saturn has rear access doors that make daily living a whole lot easier. The Cobalt's big doors are a pain in the butt in a tight parking lot. Aside from my non-plussed attitude about the driving experience, the Cobalt SS's interior let me down. If I'd dropped almost $25K on a new set of wheels, I'd be pretty mad that the cheap silver plastic trim was coming off within the first few thousand miles. Those Recaro seats are serious gear though, quite comfortable unless you're clutching the Cobalt through rush-hour traffic, but the car was noisy no matter the speed or road surface. But dude, this is a huge step up from the old Cavalier.
After the Cobalt SS left us, I had an opportunity to hit the Streets of Willow Springs road course in one. It was stock, and was clearly in its element at speed on the straights and screaming through the turns. But the inside front tire lights up pretty easily, the tail wags if you're anything but smooth, and the car rolls around like a balance ball at Gold's Gym. It's fun, but it's work.
I know, I know. The Cobalt SS has been lauded by the press since its debut, and some folks inside Chevrolet prefer to ram around in this car over the Corvette. But I'm not hooked. I can't figure out why most GM products seem to come out of the oven half-baked, like the recipe used to create them was five or ten years old, but that's usually the case. Around the time IT geeks were raking in the cash getting everyone prepped for Y2K, this car would have been a revelation. Today, we've had a chance to sample the Dodge SRT-4, Ford SVT Focus, and the Mini Cooper S. But the real death sentence for this $25K Cobalt? The 2006 Honda Civic Si. Unless Chevy can figure out a way to match the Civic Si's quality, safety, and sheer driving pleasure for a significant discount in price, it's game over. -- Christian J. Wardlaw
Photos courtesy of General Motors