What's New for 2009
Minor styling and trim changes make up the bulk of what's new for the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt. The turbocharged SS Cobalt coupe debuted last year, and this year sees the addition of an SS sedan. Both models share much of their hardware, though SS coupes receive a new reconfigurable information display. Last year's Sport trim level and its 2.4-liter engine have been dropped, but a Sport Appearance package is newly available on LT trim levels. Luckily, the base 2.2-liter engine is now more powerful and fuel-efficient thanks to variable valve timing. OnStar, Bluetooth and an iPod-compatible USB port are now available on 2009 Cobalt models in LT trim or higher.
Believe it or not, but the Chevrolet Cobalt is one of the top five best-selling compact cars month to month and occasionally outsells the Ford Focus, one of its main competitors. And with roughly 40 compact cars to choose from for 2009, that means the Cobalt is quite popular, even if names like Civic and Corolla seem to grab more headlines.
Affordability is easily the Cobalt's strongest selling point, as the base model is priced just over $14,000 -- again directly in line with other popular compacts. It also has strong performance potential via the turbocharged SS model, which comes equipped with an impressive 260-horsepower engine. Standard OnStar and an available USB port and Bluetooth further enhance the 2009 Cobalt's appeal. Buyers looking for a quiet commuter car that gets decent fuel economy will want to opt for the XFE package that combines a modified engine computer, manual transmission and low-rolling-resistance tires in an effort to squeeze a few more mpg out of the Cobalt's 2.2-liter engine.
However, competitors like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3 offer similar fuel economy wrapped in a more attractive package. Those cars also have nicer interiors and higher-quality materials throughout. Seat comfort is another area where the 2009 Chevy Cobalt generally falls short, although the SS model's sport seats are first-rate. In fact, the SS is the best car in the Cobalt lineup.
Overall, as big as the sales numbers happen to be (which are certainly padded via sales to rental fleets), the Cobalt LS and LT are simply adequate transportation and are not up to par when compared to cars like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3 and Mitsubishi Lancer. All are better-looking, more fun to drive and offer a noticeable step up in terms of interior comfort and quality.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt is available in compact sedan and coupe body styles, each split into LS, LT and SS trim levels. Standard features on the LS include 15-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, OnStar, air-conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, a 60/40-split rear seat, a trip computer and a four-speaker stereo with CD/MP3 player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The LT adds power accessories, remote door locks, upgraded front seats and a front center armrest. On top of that, the LT allows more options like the 2LT Package with an automatic transmission, traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes, remote vehicle starter system, a cargo net, cruise control, body-color side moldings and 16 inch aluminum wheels.
The LT trim level also allows you to order the new Sport Appearance package that includes a rear spoiler, front foglamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, reworked front and rear fascias, Bluetooth, white-faced sport gauges and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with remote audio and cruise controls. Other notable individual options on the LT include a Pioneer sound system, USB port, sunroof and a remote start feature. Finally, the SS adds a turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels, an exclusive sport-tuned suspension, Brembo front brakes, unique exterior and interior styling cues, sport seats covered with a suedelike material, Bluetooth and a turbo boost gauge. A limited-slip front differential is optional for the SS.
Powertrains and Performance
With the demise of the Cobalt Sport, the car now has only two engine options: a 2.2-liter inline four-cylinder and a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4. The 2.2-liter engine is normally aspirated and powers LS and LT models with 155 hp and 150 pound-feet of torque. The standard transmission for LS and LT models is a five-speed manual, with a four-speed automatic available as an option. The base manual is badged the XFE, which indicates its extra fuel economy. As it is, the XFE gets 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined. The automatic-equipped LS and LT achieve 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined.
The SS features the more potent 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that makes an impressive 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is the only transmission offered on the SS. In testing, we launched a Cobalt SS coupe from zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. Fuel economy doesn't suffer much either, as it rates 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined.
Full-length side curtain airbags are standard on all Cobalts. Most Cobalts have a front-disc/rear-drum brake setup; SS models have performance-tuned four-wheel disc brakes. Antilock braking is optional on the LS and LT and standard on the SS. ABS-equipped models with automatic transmissions come equipped with standard traction control.
In frontal government crash tests, both Cobalt body styles received four out of five stars for driver protection and a perfect five stars for passenger protection. In side impacts, the Cobalt sedan got only three stars for front seat passengers and five stars for the rear. The Cobalt coupe yielded four stars for the front and rear seats. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset crash test, the Cobalt sedan received the highest score of "Good," while in side crash tests, the Cobalt sedan received the second-highest score of "Acceptable." If your local car rental shop has Cobalts to rent, keep in mind that Cobalts sold to fleets might not come standard with side curtain airbags -- without the side airbags, the Cobalt scored the lowest "Poor" rating in the IIHS side test.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside, attractive gauges and a full-featured stereo head unit give the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt a modern feel. Still, the design is plain unless you upgrade with the Sport Appearance package or the full SS trim. Interior materials quality is also disappointing, even at this modest price level, as is front seat comfort. The same goes for the rear seat where the bench is flat and low. The SS model's front sport seats, though, are so good that they remind us of the Recaro seats in the old SS Supercharged, even though they're made by GM's Performance Division this time around.
The 2.2-liter engine provides adequate power for just about any situation and can feel somewhat lively compared to other compact sedans with smaller engines. Commuters will enjoy the 2009 Chevy Cobalt's smooth, quiet ride, but the car's handling is less impressive. The suspension allows too much body roll and the electric steering is slow, and doesn't offer a good feel for the road. XFE-badged Cobalts fare even worse with the lack of grip from the low-rolling-resistance tires that significantly lengthen stopping distances and limit cornering ability.
It's only in SS trim that the Cobalt comes into its own as a legitimate driver's car. Acceleration is impressive -- Chevrolet says the SS will sprint from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds -- and braking and handling are top-notch. The Cobalt SS may not be the most refined sport compact on the market, but we can't argue with its performance, which rivals that of pint-sized powerhouses like the Mazdaspeed 3.