Designing a compact car these days seems to be getting more challenging for manufacturers with each new generation. compact cars are renowned for their fuel efficiency, inexpensive sticker price and conservative styling, but a growing number of enthusiasts are beginning to expect more performance.
Chevrolet's Cobalt manages all of this despite a design that is growing ever closer to the end of its lifecycle. Although the Cobalt is available as a sedan or a coupe, the biggest news for 2009 is limited to the sedan. From best-in-class fuel economy to best bang-for-the-buck performance, the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt comes in a wide variety of models to satisfy just about anyone's driving desires. With highway fuel economy of 37 miles per gallon, the Cobalt XFE is the most fuel-efficient car among compact sedans, while the Cobalt SS offers 260 turbocharged horses for pure driving pleasure.
With fuel costs becoming a main buying point, buyers should welcome the all-new Cobalt XFE. Available on the base Cobalt LS only, the XFE (Xtra Fuel Economy) package increases fuel economy through a few engineering upgrades and adjustments. Despite a slight bump in horsepower (from 148 to 155) in the XFE's 2.2-liter I-4, the Cobalt XFE benefits from taller gear ratios in its five-speed manual transmission as well as recommended shift points lower in the RPM range. low rolling resistance tires and recommended shift points lower in the RPM range. In the end, the 2009 Cobalt XFE's 37 highway mpg beats out all major competitors including the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Ford Focus, while the 25 city mpg are right about average for the class.
While the Cobalt XFE focuses on improving fuel efficiency, Chevrolet designed the new Cobalt SS sedan to handle just about any racetrack including the famed NÏ‹rburgring - where the Cobalt circled the 13-mile road course in 8:22.35 minutes. Joining the spunky Cobalt SS coupe, the sedan model provides the practicality of four doors without sacrificing any performance. Under the hood, the 2009 Cobalt SS comes with a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter I-4 rated at 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to provide a 0-60 mile per hour time of 5.7 seconds. Like the Cobalt XFE, the SS uses a five-speed manual transmission as its sole gearbox but is engineered to maximize performance by utilizing higher gear ratios than the base Cobalt. With EPA fuel economy estimates of 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, the Cobalt SS is more fuel efficient than its main competitors such as Mazda's MazdaSpeed3 and the Dodge Caliber SRT4.
The Cobalt SS features numerous exterior updates to improve aerodynamics and handling as well as helping to distinguish it from lesser Cobalt models. From aggressive front and rear fascias to unique rocker panels and decklid spoiler, the SS definitely stands out from the rest of the crowd. Up front, the conventional grille is replaced with diamond-mesh inserts, which not only provide a menacing look but also helps feed more air to the intercooler. The 18-inch, split five-spoke aluminum wheels are unique to the SS and come wrapped in low-profile Continental performance tires.
Like most sports cars, the SS doesn't just look good, but it performs well, too. For optimized handling capabilities, Chevrolet equipped the performance-tuned Cobalt with SS-specific stabilizer bars, spring rates and damper tuning for tight cornering. Despite being front-wheel drive, torque steer was nonexistent even during wide-open acceleration. Other than acceleration, braking is one of the most important aspects of a performance car, and the Cobalt SS delivers. With four-wheel vented disc brakes and BremboÂ® four-piston, fixed calipers up front, the Cobalt SS helps ease all that power to rest. Helping to further increase safety, GM's proven StabiliTrak electronic stability control system is standard.
Inside, both cars came equipped in base form. Although the XFE had crank windows and manual door locks, the standard XM satellite radio and OnStar service helped give it a more luxurious feeling. The seats were comfortable and provided adequate support and adjustments, while the split-colored instrument panel helped break up any possible monotony. As expected, the SS had all the possible power features and came filled to the brim with standard conveniences including SS-embroidered seats with added lateral support, a turbo boost gauge mounted on the A-pillar and a reconfigurable performance display.
With a starting MSRP of $15,010, the 2009 Cobalt XFE not only gets better fuel economy than all of its competition, but it costs less than most of them, too. To help reduce weight, all 2009 Cobalt models come standard with a tire inflator instead of a spare tire. The car we tested came with the optional spare tire ($75), anti-lock brakes ($400) and protection package (floor mats and body side moldings) ($180) for a total MSRP of $16,325. The Cobalt SS sedan we tested had a higher base price ($23,435), but every penny of that premium is instantly worth it the first time a MazdaSpeed3 or Dodge Caliber SRT4 is left looking at the Cobalt's rear end.