Full 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt Review
What's New for 2005
The Cobalt is a replacement for the aged Cavalier and like its predecessor it's available in both coupe and sedan body styles.
Chevrolet is no stranger to the small-car game. In 1981, the GM division unveiled its answer to the growing number of imports hitting the scene, the Cavalier. The philosophy behind the car was simple: Give customers with limited budgets a well-appointed, reliable car that offers a variety of configurations to suit their needs. Unfortunately, Chevrolet pushed the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" idea a bit too far with the Cavalier. Its first major redesign didn't occur until 1995, a whopping 12 years into its life cycle. By the time the car saw some major revisions, the competition had already outclassed it on nearly every level. The 1995 model, though attractively styled, was still saddled with an ancient platform, and suffered from poor chassis dynamics, crash test scores and an overall lack of refinement. Undaunted, Chevy stuck with the Cavy for another decade. Styling tweaks through the years did little to keep the car fresh, but buyers kept coming back as Chevrolet offered generous rebates and incentives. Recent years have been progressively more difficult for Chevy's small car, as larger and larger rebates have been required to maintain sales volume. Clearly, a major change was needed. The answer was a completely new car -- so new that a name change was in order. Chevy is pinning its hopes on the new Cobalt to win back small-car buyers who demand first-rate accommodations. Rather than stick to one small car to fill a wide array of shoes, Chevy decided to split the market between the Aveo, which serves buyers with a more limited budget, and the new Cobalt, which is positioned as a more upmarket choice. Based on the Delta architecture used for the Saturn Ion, the Cobalt features a conservative and uncluttered appearance inside and out. Though we're still not sold on the coupe's quad round taillamps, the overall look should offend no one. Inside, materials quality, styling and comfort are all light-years ahead of the Cavalier. Reflective of the more upscale positioning, the Cobalt comes loaded with equipment. All but the base models feature keyless entry, antilock brakes and power windows. Coupe and sedan body styles are available, with a sporty SS coupe filling the top spot with a 205-horsepower supercharged engine. Other Cobalts come with a solid-performing 145-hp, 2.2-liter four-cylinder carried over from the Cavalier. The vehicle's stiff structure does wonders for noise and vibration control, and makes for a solid-feeling ride regardless of terrain. Even the doors close with a solid "thunk." Chevy is taking a bit of a risk in aiming the Cobalt at higher-end small cars, but after driving the Cobalt, we think it will succeed. The car is well equipped, competitively priced and, most importantly, very well engineered. Ride and handling is right up there with the class standards, and overall build quality is impressive. The new Cobalt may not have what it takes to overthrow the best-in-class economy sedans and coupes, but it is much closer than any Chevrolet small car has ever been.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Cobalt is available as a two-door coupe or four-door sedan. Coupes come in base, LS and SS trim, while sedans come in base, LS and LT versions. Base models feature a standard CD player, air conditioning, a driver-seat height adjuster, a split-folding rear seat and 15-inch wheels. The LS adds cruise control; power windows, locks and mirrors; keyless entry; upgraded seats; alloy wheels; upgraded interior lighting; and antilock brakes. The LT sedan comes loaded with leather seats, a seven-speaker Pioneer sound system, unique interior and exterior chrome trim and 16-inch alloys. The SS coupe features leather seats with color-keyed perforated inserts, unique trim, performance suspension, an A-pillar mounted boost gauge and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Powertrains and Performance
A 2.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder powers all Cobalts, except the SS. With 145 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque, the engine compares favorably with most others in the class. It's made entirely of aluminum and boasts dual-overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder for maximum efficiency and power. The SS coupe features a 2.0-liter supercharged Ecotec that's good for 205 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. The standard transmission is a five-speed manual with a four-speed automatic available as an option. The automatic is standard on the LT, and not available on the SS.
Antilock brakes are optional on base models, and standard on all other Cobalts. Head-protecting side curtain airbags are optional across the board. Each seating position has a three-point seatbelt standard, and all but base models can be equipped with OnStar telematics. The Cobalt has not yet been crash tested.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Cobalt features a modern and stylish interior. Materials quality is competitive with that of other economy cars, and everything is screwed together with care. Chevy's efforts to provide a solid and quiet ride have paid off -- the Cobalt feels more substantial than typical small cars. Though a few plastic bits here and there are of questionable quality, the overall impression is one of a premium compact car.
The Ecotec four-cylinder is a thoroughly modern and refined engine that provides good power and a smooth delivery. Handling is quite good for a car in this class, with reasonably good manners in corners and a compliant ride around town. In addition to a broad power band, the SS delivers better steering feel and handling response without a noticeable loss of ride quality.