If asked to name an economical, front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder compact car, chances are the average person would come up with an import, probably from Japan. However, the competent Chevrolet Cobalt was an example of America's ability to build a decent compact automobile as well.
True, the Chevy Cobalt didn't really upset the pecking order in the compact car world; the imports, by and large, still offered better driving dynamics and interior build quality. However, the Cobalt did offer some variety. It was available as a coupe or sedan and in a variety of trim levels. Chevy also offered a specialized SS model that was, in later years, quite impressive from a performance standpoint.
Although the Cobalt wouldn't be our first choice for a used small car, it offers respectable performance and an affordable price. As such, it may merit consideration from bargain hunters, but likely won't be on the radar for more discerning small car shoppers.
Used Chevrolet Cobalt Models
There was just one generation of the Cobalt, which ran from 2005-10. It was succeeded by the Chevrolet Cruze for 2011.
The Cobalt itself replaced the long-running Chevy Cavalier, which was both smaller and of much poorer quality. The Cobalt was available as a coupe or sedan. Trim levels (depending on body style) consisted of base, LS, well-equipped LT, luxury-themed LTZ, Sport and high-performance SS.
The base and mid-trim models have mostly stood pat through the years. Apart from the SS and short-lived Sport trims, all Cobalts were powered by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder that initially made 145 horsepower (increased to 155 hp for '09). Transmission choices consisted of a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. Even with the base engine, the Chevy Cobalt provided decent acceleration along with excellent fuel economy.
Lower and midlevel trims were typically equipped with air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control and a stereo with CD player. Upper trims may have leather upholstery, an upgraded Pioneer stereo, a USB port, a sunroof and remote start. Rear disc brakes and ABS were optional except on the highest trim levels. Side curtain airbags were optional.
The most significant changes for non-SS Cobalts were the addition of standard side curtain airbags for '08, the debut of the bare-bones XFE (extra fuel economy) model that same year, and the aforementioned boost in power for the base engine.
The SS was available initially only as a coupe with a 2.0-liter supercharged four that made 205 hp, matched to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. A sport-tuned suspension, bigger wheels and sport seats were other SS perks. For 2006 the SS line was expanded to include a coupe and sedan powered by a 2.4-liter, 171-hp version of the base 2.2-liter engine. The supercharged coupe was still available, and was called the SS Supercharged to avoid confusion with the lesser SS trims.
For '08, the lower SS versions were dropped, though their 171-hp engine saw duty in the new, one-year-only Cobalt Sport. That year, the SS Supercharged was replaced by a turbocharged SS (just called the SS) making 260 hp. The following year, an SS sedan joined the lineup. These turbocharged SS models were the most desirable of the SS run.
Small Chevrolet cars have never been known for the quality of their interiors, and the Cobalt didn't do much to change this. In editorial reviews, the car received negative commentary for its hard plastics, inconsistent build quality and limited storage. On the positive side, the Cobalt's interior was nicely insulated from road and engine noise, and the front seats were very comfortable. The SS was the bright spot of the line, boasting eye-popping acceleration and truly impressive handling.