What's New for 2010
The 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt remains unchanged from last year, except for a few swaps of standard and optional feature content.
Model year 2010 likely marks the end of the line for the Chevrolet Cobalt nameplate. If all goes according to plan, GM plans to replace its compact sedan with the all-new Cruze. Not surprisingly, Chevy's abandonment of the model has resulted in a halt to the Cobalt's development as well. In all probability, this is why the Cobalt returns this year with little or no improvements or added features.
Despite being a carbon copy of last year's model, the 2010 Chevy Cobalt will still be a fairly popular model with consumers and rental fleets. The car's broad appeal stems from its affordable base price and respectable fuel economy -- two pretty important things for an economy-minded car -- as well as its smooth and quiet ride. The Cobalt also comes in sedan and coupe body styles and can be had in the genuinely fun-to-drive 260-horsepower SS trim level.
However, the 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt is pretty much stuck with the same list of faults that the car had at its 2005 debut. The interior tops our list of complaints. From the cramped rear seats to the liberal use of cheap and ill-fitting plastics, the look and feel of the Cobalt's cabin pales in comparison to the many choices in this segment. In general, you'll never escape the feeling that you're driving a cheap car.
This isn't the case with other compacts like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda 3 and Mitsubishi Lancer, as each bests the Cobalt in terms of interior and exterior styling, materials quality and construction. They also deliver comparable fuel economy and more driving enjoyment. The lone exception to that would be the Cobalt SS coupe, which should be seriously considered by driving enthusiasts for its impressive performance. However, the rest of the buying public will likely be happier with one of the above alternatives.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt is available in compact sedan and coupe body styles, each split into XFE, LS, LT and SS trim levels.
The base XFE (extra fuel economy) model includes 15-inch steel wheels, OnStar, a tilt steering wheel, a 60/40-split rear seat with a trunk pass-through, a trip computer and a four-speaker stereo with CD/MP3 player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. XFE models achieve slightly better fuel economy by using low-rolling-resistance tires along with taller transmission gearing. Most LS and LT models can also be XFE-badged, but must be specified with the 15-inch wheels and manual transmission.
The LS trim level is nearly identical to the base XFE, but adds air-conditioning. The LT adds full power accessories, upgraded front seats and a front center armrest. A second LT trim level -- the 2LT -- has the above equipment plus 16-inch alloy wheels, antilock brakes and cruise control.
The Cobalt LT coupe has the widest choice of available options, including the MyLink package, which adds 16-inch aluminum wheels, antilock brakes, Bluetooth, a USB port for the audio system and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls. The Sun and Sound package adds a sunroof and a premium Pioneer seven-speaker sound system. LT coupe buyers can also opt for the 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. Most of these add-ons are available on the LS or LT trims as individual options. Leather upholstery with heated front seats is available on the Cobalt 2LT only.
Finally, the SS kicks the standard features into overdrive with a turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels shod with performance tires, an exclusive sport-tuned suspension, Brembo front brakes, unique exterior and interior styling cues, a sunroof, sport seats covered with a suedelike material, the premium Pioneer stereo, Bluetooth and a turbo boost gauge. A limited-slip front differential and sport pedals are optional for the SS.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt XFE, LS and LT models are powered by a 2.2-liter inline four-cylinder that's good for 155 hp and 150 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual is the standard transmission, with a four-speed automatic available as an option for the LS and LT. Fuel economy with the manual is 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. Opting for the XFE raises highway fuel economy to 37 mpg. The automatic-equipped LS and LT achieve 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined. We managed to accelerate a base model XFE from zero to 60 mph in a respectable 8.5 seconds.
The Cobalt SS gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes an impressive 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, but the only transmission available is a five-speed manual. In testing, we launched a Cobalt SS coupe from zero to 60 mph in a blistering 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 (ABS) is optional on the LS and LT and standard on the 2LT and SS. ABS-equipped models with automatic transmissions come equipped with standard traction control. Side airbags and stability control aren't offered.
In frontal government crash tests, both Cobalt body styles received four out of five stars for driver protection and a perfect five stars for front passenger protection. In side impacts, the Cobalt sedan got only three stars for front seat passengers but 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."
It's worth noting that the XFE-badged Cobalts, while fuel-efficient, suffer in terms of braking. Stopping from 60 mph required a very long 146 feet -- no doubt a side effect of the XFE's low-rolling-resistance tires' lack of grip. The Cobalt SS, with stickier tires and ABS produced exceptional braking figures, needing just 115 feet to stop.
Interior Design and Special Features
In lower trim levels, the Cobalt's interior leaves little doubt that it is an economy car. Besides a rather dated and bland cabin design, materials are as bargain-basement as you'll find. Hard plastics abound, and some of these elements seem to have been assembled in the dark. Panels have uneven gaps and tend to emit audible groans and squeaks when pressed.
Comfort fares a bit better, despite the flat, featureless seats. The front seats are adequate for long drives, but rear passengers may take issue with the low and flat seat cushions. On a positive note, the Cobalt does a good job of insulating occupants from the outside world with a smooth ride and quiet cabin. The Cobalt also gets a thumbs-up for its simple and logical layout for the stereo and air-conditioning controls.
Upgrading to the Cobalt SS or springing for the Sport Appearance package will spice up the interior, and we're particularly fond of the support from the sport seats. The range-topping trim levels also add plenty of attractive interior accents and gauges, but even these suffer in terms of material quality and fitment.
The performance from the 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt's base 2.2-liter engine is rather peppy when compared to that of other small-engine compacts. Day-to-day commuting is also made much more tolerable thanks to the Cobalt's compliant suspension and quiet cabin. But drivers looking for excitement will be disappointed. Handling is hampered by an abundance of body roll and a slow and numb steering feel. XFE-badged models compound the handling woes with the inclusion of low-rolling-resistance tires that limit cornering ability and lengthen stopping distances.
Buyers seeking any level of athleticism from the Cobalt line would best be served by the SS trim. The turbocharged engine significantly improves acceleration, as do the upgraded suspension and brakes for cornering and stopping. Among sporty compacts, we rank the 2010 Cobalt SS almost as high as the staff-favorite Mazdaspeed 3.