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One of the most difficult categories for Chevrolet — in the sea of difficult categories the company must navigate — is the compact car segment. Without question, of all the domestic manufacturers, and particularly among those of General Motors, Chevrolet consistently has the toughest markets to crack.
Playing in the mainstream of the mainstream, Chevrolet’s chief competitors, for nearly every car in its lineup, are Honda and Toyota. Somewhere along the line, the car buying public decided those two manufacturers could do no wrong (until recently in the case of Toyota). Consequently, practically whatever manner of car that came forth with their badges affixed to their noses and rumps immediately becomes sales successes.
Just as Camry and Accord are perennially the best-selling mid-size cars in America — routinely leaving Malibu in the dust — Civic and Corolla rule the compact segment, leaving Chevrolet to try formulation after formulation to find a way to compete. The scattered carcasses of the vanquished include Citation, Cavalier, Prizm, and most recently, Cobalt.
All were introduced with promises of a superior competitive set, and ultimately all were conscribed to the pantheon of the discarded. In fact, their ultimate failures to dethrone Civic and Corolla have been so miserable; their very names were considered liabilities and deemed unfit to be worn by their succeeding models.
As the most recent entry, and the subject of this overview, the Chevrolet Cobalt, upon its introduction, was Chevrolet’s most capable offering for the compact category ever. (OK, aside from Prizm, which was a rebadged Toyota Corolla). Still though, largely because of imperfections baked in during the planning and specification stages of the car, the Cobalt still wasn’t competitive enough to overcome the Toyota and the Honda.
Because of so many mis-steps over the years in this category, there’s something of a stigma attached to compact cars wearing Chevrolet’s bowtie badge. So strong in fact has been this prejudice, that even when Chevrolet offered a rebadged version of the Toyota Corolla, one of the market’s quintessential compact cars, (marketed as the Chevy Prizm from 1998 to 2003), the Toyota-badged car easily outsold the Chevrolet-badged car — even though the two were virtually identical!
Clearly, it’s about more than just the product itself.
That said, if you were looking for a reliable used car at a very reasonable cost, Chevy’s compact car stigma would actually work in your favor here. You see, despite the market’s perception of the car, the Chevrolet Cobalt was actually a decent little ride and rather nicely equipped too. Cobalt survived through but one generation before being supplanted by the 2010 Chevrolet Cruze, General Motors’ current great light hope.
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2005 – 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt
Introduced in 2004 as a 2005 model, the front-wheel driven Chevrolet Cobalt was in every way an improvement upon its predecessor, the Chevrolet Cavalier. Of course, given the fact the Cavalier had been on the market since 1981, with only one significant update some ten years before Cobalt was introduced, made that something of a non-accomplishment.
At that point, almost anything would’ve been better than the Cavalier.
Base models featured, as standard equipment, a CD-based stereo audio system, A/C, a height adjustable driver’s seat, a rear seat with split-folding capability, and 15-inch steel wheels. To that mix, the LS added cruise control; a power package for the windows, locks and mirrors; keyless entry; a seats upgrade; alloy wheels; an expanded interior lighting array; and antilock brakes.
The Cobalt LT sedan was the top of the line. That car came loaded with leather upholstery for the nicer seats from the LS, an upgraded seven-speaker Pioneer sound system, distinctive interior and exterior chrome trim pieces to set it apart from its lesser siblings, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The high performance SS coupe featured leather seats with color-keyed perforated inserts, a more sporting-oriented trim kit, a slightly lowered and more firm suspension system, a boost gauge for the supercharger mounted on the A-pillar near the driver, and 18-inch alloy wheels with lower profile performance-oriented tires.
Satellite radio, traction control and stability control were optional across the board, except for the supercharged SS model, which got stability control and traction control included in its base price. ABS was standard on every Cobalt, except base models. Side curtain airbags were optional. Further, every Cobalt except the base models got OnStar as an elective as well.
Powering all Cobalt models (except the SS) was a 145-horsepower, 2.2-liter inline four-cylinder engine, which developed 150 ft-lbs of torque. The SS model ran a 205-horsepower, supercharged 2.0-liter inline four that made 200 ft-lbs of torque. Five-speed manual transmissions were standard on all Cobalts, except LT models. A four-speed automatic was an option for all except the LT (where it was standard) and SS (where it was not available).
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2006 Chevrolet Cobalt
For model year 2006, the Cobalt lineup was further expanded and certain trim levels were renamed. The base model was redesignated the LS, and an LTZ model was slotted in above the LT in the sedan mix. A non-supercharged SS sedan and coupe were introduced, causing the supercharged SS coupe to be renamed the SS Supercharged.
So, for 2006, the sedan was designated in LS, LT, LTZ and SS nomenclatures while the coupes were labeled LS, LT, SS and SS Supercharged.
LS models were equipped like the 2005 base models, with the CD-based stereo audio system, A/C, a height adjustable driver’s seat, a rear seat with split-folding capability, and 15-inch steel wheels.
The LT got what was previously designated for the LS; cruise control; a power package for the windows, locks and mirrors; keyless entry; an upgrade for the seats; alloy wheels; an expanded interior lighting array; and antilock brakes.
The LTZ was equipped like the ’05 LT; leather upholstery for the nicer seats from the LS, an upgraded seven-speaker Pioneer sound system, distinctive interior and exterior chrome trim pieces to set it apart from its lesser siblings, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
To the LTZ’s kit, the SS added a more powerful 171 horsepower engine, a firmer sport-tuned suspension system, unique fascias, 17-inch alloy wheels with lower profile performance tires, and a rear spoiler.
The SS Supercharged coupe continued as it was from ’05 with its supercharged engine, an even firmer suspension than the standard SS car’s, leather seats with color-keyed inserts, the A-pillar mounted boost gauge, and 18-inch alloys wearing high performance low profile tires.
Satellite radio and ABS were options for all — save LS, side curtain airbags were available across the range, and every 2006 Cobalt except the LS could get OnStar. LTZ and SS Supercharged models got stability control and traction control as standard features.
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2007 Chevrolet Cobalt
With all that action in 2006, 2007 was a pretty quiet year for the Cobalt. Chevrolet product planners specified revised audio systems and a new three-spoke steering wheel. Remote start was made available for the Cobalt’s upper trim levels.
2008 Chevrolet Cobalt
The supercharged engine was replaced with a turbocharged powerplant for 2008. With that, the SS Supercharged model’s nameplate faded away. This caused Chevy’s product team to have to rename the SS sedan Cobalt Sport. That model became the first (and only) sport-oriented Cobalt to get the four-speed automatic transmission as an option.
Stability control finally trickled down to the LT model for 2008. Traction control was specified to all models for which an automatic transmission and ABS were paired. Satellite radio was made standard across the board, as were side curtain airbags.
LS and LT models running the five-speed manual transmission were equipped with recalibrated engines and low rolling resistance tires to improve their fuel economy and were thus designated XFE for “Xtra Fuel Economy”.
On the completely other end of the spectrum, the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the 2008 Cobalt SS easily eclipsed the output of the supercharged 205-horsepower/200 ft-lb SS engine, with its 260 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque.
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2009 Chevrolet Cobalt
For 2009, the sedan got the turbocharged SS engine. For the normally aspirated Cobalt models, the 145-horsepower, 2.4-lliter was dropped in favor of a 155-horsepower, 2.2-liter four-cylinder, which made 150 ft-lbs of torque.
For model year 2009, just as in 2008, the trim designations ran pretty much in parallel between the coupe and the sedan. The LTZ model was dropped in 2008 and the Sport model was dropped in 2009 (in favor of a sport appearance package). Thus the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt’s trim line went; LS, LT and SS for both the coupe and sedan.
Standard features on the LS included 15-inch steel wheels, OnStar telematics, A/C, a tilt steering wheel, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, and a trip computer. An AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite radio/auxiliary audio input jack head end unit fed four-speaker stereo system.
The 2009 LT added power windows, mirrors and door locks, remote keyless entry, a nicer set of front seats and a center armrest.
Options packages added an automatic transmission, traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes, remote start, a cargo net, cruise control and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
The LT trim level also featured a sport appearance package that laced the Cobalt with a rear spoiler, foglights, 17-inch alloy wheels and lower profile tires, sport-oriented front and rear fascias, Bluetooth hand-free telephone operation, and a set of white-faced sport instrumentation gauges. The sport appearance package’s leather-wrapped steering wheel hosted remote audio and cruise controls.
The 2009 SS models got the turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels with high performance low profile tires, a lowered and firmer sport-tuned suspension, Brembo front brakes, distinctive SS exterior and interior styling cues, more heavily bolstered sport seats upholstered with a faux suede fabric, Bluetooth hands-free telephony, and the ubiquitous A-pillar mounted Cobalt SS turbo boost gauge. A limited-slip front differential was optional for the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS.
Full-length side curtain airbags were standard on all 2009 Chevy Cobalts. Most came with a front-disc and rear-drum brake configuration; SS models ran performance-tuned four-wheel disc brakes, with the front calipers provided by Brembo. ABS was optional for LS and LT Cobalts, but standard on the SS iterations of the car. If an ABS-equipped model was ordered with an automatic transmission, traction control was included at no extra cost.
2010 Chevrolet Cobalt
With the new Chevrolet Cruze already visible on the horizon, Chevrolet sent the Cobalt into 2010 with no significant changes.
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Summary Chevrolet Cobalt
Though it was nicely equipped, had decent engines and hosted a genuinely superlative performance model in the blown SS versions (particularly the SS turbo models) the Cobalt was hamstrung big time by the continual practice of the old GM of neglecting the interiors of its cars. Given that’s where pretty much everybody who buys a car drives the car (and yes, we know this is obvious—even though the management team at GM didn’t seem to at the time) the interior of a car is paramount to the perception of the car buying public.
In this regard any Corolla, Civic, Sentra or Focus from this period is going to feel almost like a luxury car compared to the Cobalt. Chevrolet’s choice of hard and shiny plastics for the interior, as well as the uninspired overall design of the passenger cabin did the Cobalt absolutely no favors. And yes, when it came to ride and handling, all four of those cars were better than the Cobalt too. However, few offered the normally aspirated Cobalt models’ power. And none had a version that would run with the turbo Cobalt SS.
Of course, most people shopping in this category aren’t as much concerned with performance as they are with getting to and fro in reasonable comfort and with good fuel economy. Because Civic, Corolla, and Focus are so well respected for these attributes, comparably exceptional deals exist for pre-owned Cobalts. You’d do yourself well to take a serious look at this car for basic transportation needs.
Yes, there were some recalls over the years, so you’ll want to run an Internet search for Chevrolet Cobalt recalls, listing the model year of your interest. You’ll also want to make sure you subject any used car you feel good enough about to actually buy to a rigorous pre-purchase inspection by a trusted professional mechanic, familiar with the make and model of your choice.
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