2005 Chevrolet Cobalt Expert Review:Autoblog
Chevy has a lot riding on their new compact sedan. The Chevy Cobalt replaces the relatively ancient Cavalier in the company's line-up. It's also an attempt to move beyond just the economy car title to something more upscale. The $20,600 price tag on our test LT Sedan certainly makes it seem like we're talking upscale, but the Cobalt probably shouldn't try to aim so high.
Before I get a chance to test out the speed sensitive power steering, four-wheel antilock brakes and traction control (in a fresh batch of snow), I have to sit in the thing. Wearing a winter coat, I feel like I’ve just been wedged into a sub-compact. The seat must need adjusting. Wait…my hand can barely fit between the seat and the door to get to the lever to lower it. OK, now I’m a bit lower and the headroom doesn’t bother me but I am still struggling for hip room here.
This will be one of the few times I bust out statistics to prove my point. Because the space squeeze is so prominent, I have to check the interior space against the competition. The Ford Focus is .2 inches less in front hip room but a half inch better in shoulder room. But I’m still thinking this is too tight a squeeze to be identical to the competition. The Toyota Corolla bests the Cobalt in hip room by 2.3 inches and shoulder room by just .1 inch. Compared to the Mazda 3 the Cobalt has 5.3 inches less front hip room and almost two inches less shoulder room.
So I am now satisfied in feeling a bit tight. The interior doesn’t thrill me as much as it does in the SS with all the black and metal highlights. Faux wood just shouldn’t be used in cars of this class. It doesn’t help anything look more expensive. It also takes away from the style of the single bar going across the entire dash. On first look, the vents stick out as the cheapest aspect of the interior and are just flimsy, almost unfinished plastic.
Luckily, the colors are pleasant and all the buttons, steering wheel and other essentials are nice to the touch. I genuinely like the exterior look of the Cobalt, but it is a bit derivative of the Mazda3 and last generation Jetta. We’ll have to see if more time in the Cobalt improves on its first impression.
The Chevy Cobalt might be a little tight inside but it sure is peppy around town. The 145 horsepower engine seems almost powerful for the class. The speed sensitive steering excels on twisty city roads, but is a bear during parallel parking. Isn't there a way to implement this type of steering where it doesn't add an extra revolution of the wheel to turn sharply enough for parking maneuvers?
The engine does make a bit of a light buzzing noise that intrudes in the cabin, but it isn’t horrendous. Luckily, the seven speaker stereo is surprisingly capable and our test vehicle was completely equipped with XM radio, so there are tunes aplenty to cover that engine noise.
During a thorough day of city errands, the Cobalt handled itself competently and with no real complaints. When I pushed it to make the fleeting yellows, it responded with a healthy growl and lurched forward like you’d expect. And even when the rare bus pulled out from a stop unexpectedly, the brakes came to the rescue. That doesn’t mean I still don’t feel cramped in the car. I drove without my heavy winter coat and that seemed to help, but the Cobalt’s cabin still didn’t feel spacious.
I’m enjoying the Cobalt for its ride but the rest of the package hasn’t won me over yet.
There are some interesting contrasts inside the Chevy Cobalt. The color schemes are pleasing and the majority of the plastic that makes up the dash and doors is above par. But in the end, the little things that deal with ergonomics stick out more than the looks.
The best example of the poor layout resides in the three buttons to the right of the gauge cluster. The hazards button, along with the trip info and reset buttons, all reside spread out in this area, shown to the left (click on picture for larger image). Now this isn’t a bad location necessarily, but if you’re driving there’s this thing called the steering wheel that completely blocks the view of these three buttons. Sure, it’s not hard to feel around for them. But hit the reset button instead of the info button by mistake and you lose your trip statistics. Plus, every car I’ve been in recently has a huge hazard button, while the Cobalt’s is tiny and hidden. Not really a safety feature.
The lighting controls on the left side of the steering wheel are similarly hidden but easier to adjust. In an odd twist of fate the easiest controls, radio volume, are also set in the steering wheel. I’ve been using the old fashioned knob on the deck instead though. The rest of the stereo functions are simple enough as are the climate controls.
Cup holders are predictability shallow. No ability to grasp a water bottle here. Sigh.
Buttons, like in the Mercury Montego, for the windows and other controls offer a nice resistance to the touch and don’t feel flimsy. Unlike the Montego, I like the small and curvy door handles. At least they attempt to blend into the door’s shape.
The worst offenses of the entire interior are the five cent air vents. Could Chevy have spent any less attention to a feature? Most of today’s new vehicles, even the Chevy Aveo, have distinctive vents. These are the lamest I’ve seen in anything I’ve tested in memory.
It’s too bad such a feature was overlooked. Besides the lame fake wood, that is optional, poor button placement and those vents the interior is not so bad. The black design with the brushed steel is actually pretty sleek.
We sure hope Bob Lutz doesn't write a rant about our test in the Chevy Cobalt. We know we're not the Wall Street Journal or anything, but we like to think we have some weight in readers' minds when we review a car. Whether that's true or not is a completely separate matter. There was just one drawback we could find with the Cobalt that was sufficient enough to prevent people from actually plunking down cash to buy one.
That drawback is simply the amount of cash you’d have to plunk down to buy one. In all respects, the Cobalt is a fine little economy car. It doesn’t outdo any of the competition, but it sure doesn’t fall flat either. By holding its own in the categories that count — handling, acceleration, steering, fun to drive factor — the Cobalt wins us over. The cramped cabin got us off on the wrong foot and would lead me personally away from the car, but perhaps perception differs among buyers.
Space will also be a huge factor for those who have extra passengers as the rear legroom is very limiting as shown in the image here. I wouldn’t recommend a rear ride-along for more than a short drive.
Positives were definitely the overall fit and finish, superior stereo and performance. The 24/32 mpg figure is also nothing to sneeze at. The price of the LT without Onstar and XM still pushes close to $20,000 and that just doesn’t compete with everything else out there. I know everyone hates it when I say this, but the Mazda 3 still offers the best value and performance for the money and is considerably more stylish. The Corolla and Civic are more affordable. If the Cobalt could be had for the price of the Corolla, you’d still be facing the quality issues of GM versus Toyota. This is such a tough segment to be in that the Cobalt had to totally blow us away. Instead it shot itself in the foot from the first glance of the sticker.
New Car Test Drive
Chevrolet's newest, coolest small car is a hit.
For those of you who have been waiting for the new Chevrolet small car after a decade of the less-than-wonderful Cavalier, meet the Cobalt, a small car better in every way than its predecessor. This is Chevrolet's attempt to offer the kind of equipment, power, value and price that competes directly against the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Ford Focus.
Chevrolet says the Cobalt is the quietest, stiffest, strongest, most refined small car it has ever built, and after a test drive, we give them high marks on almost all counts. If you're looking for inexpensive, high-value transportation with a new-car warranty, Cobalt is worth a long look.
The all-new 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt is designed to be a premium compact car, complementing the entry-level Chevrolet Aveo, which was introduced as an all-new model for 2005. Cobalt features an expressive design and a dynamic driving experience. Premium features are available like heated leather seats, XM Satellite Radio, MP3, and OnStar.
The 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt comprises four models, the base coupe and sedan ($14,190), the LS coupe and sedan ($16,485), the LT sedan ($18,760), and the special high –performance SS coupe ($21,995).
Base and LS models come with small but smooth- and quiet-riding 15-inch wheels and Continental tires, the LT comes with 16-inch Pirelli tires and alloy wheels, and the SS comes with 18-inch high-performance Pirelli tires and alloy wheels. The base car comes with disc/drum brakes, and the others come with disc/disc brakes with ABS. The 4T45-E four-speed automatic is an option on lower models ($850), standard on the LT, and not available on the manual-only performance SS version.
For a small car, the Cobalt has an option list that is a very complete one: power sunroof ($725); the OnStar system ($695); XM Satellite Radio ($325), a rear spoiler ($275), a radio upgrade to MP3 ($150). The Sport package ($595) includes a brushed metal trim package for the dashboard, white-faced gauges, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, rear spoiler and 16-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli tires.
Safety features include dual-stage front air bags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, rear center shoulder belts, and the LATCH child seat retention system. All but base models come with ABS. Other safety features cost extra. Head curtain side air bags ($395) designed to provide head protection are optional. Also optional: OnStar ($695) whose operators can provide assistance after an accident and will direct emergency crews to your exact location should your airbag go off.
Cobalt is built on the GM Delta platform that it shares with the Saturn Ion and the upcoming Chevrolet HHR retro truck in the U.S. and the Opel Astra in Europe. But with its single-bar grille and bowtie emblem, it looks like a proper Chevrolet small car right down to its shoes and socks.
There are huge plastic bumper fascias on both ends of the car and the body panel fits are extremely tight. So tight, in fact, that there are no rubber trim gaskets around the compound complex headlamps.
The coupe bears a stronger resemblance in its shape to the Cavalier than the sedan, which has a new and more modern roofline sweep. The base, LS and LT coupe and sedan models have no spoiler as standard (it's optional), and the SS coupe version carries a huge, tall rear spoiler than certainly makes a design and intent statement.
Cobalt is heavier, longer, wider and lower than most of its direct competitors, its engine is the most powerful base engine in the class, and its interior dimensions and trunk capacity are close to the competition in every respect. After 10 years and 6 million Cavaliers, Chevrolet has learned a few lessons, and that's apparent in the size, shape and equipment of the Cobalt.
Inside the Cobalt, the design theme is simple and straightforward, but far from the el cheapo appointments of the old Cavalier. Materials are better, there are far fewer individual pieces, and the fit and finish on our very early production LT sedan were very, very good, but not perfect, like a typical Honda or Toyota. There's just enough chrome trim here and there on knobs and instruments to brighten things up without a lot of glare from the shiny parts. Instruments are large, well placed, and easy to read, with nice graphic treatment throughout.
Cobalt is unique in the subcompact class in that three completely different seats are offered in base, LS and LT, and SS versions, each with detail changes in foam, padding and trim. There was plenty of fore/aft and rake adjustment for a 6-foot, 4-inch driver, plus seat height adjustment with a ratcheting handle. The LT seats were very comfortable and grabbed us in the fast corners exactly where we needed to be grabbed and held.
In our LT sedan tester, the Delphi AM/FM/CD player carried a complete Pioneer seven-speaker sound system with a huge subwoofer mounted on the left side trunk wall, as well as an XM satellite tuner, so the entertainment factor and sound quality were very high indeed, especially considering the price and class. The heating, ventilation and defroster system worked quickly and intuitively.
Unlike the Saturn Ion, the Cobalt does not use space-eating gooseneck hinges on its decklid, opting instead for simple outside corner hinges and not one, but two hydraulic assist struts. (The hood also has a large single strut, so you don't have to hold up the hood while you find and engage the prop rod. It raises and stays in position by itself.) The trunk is wide and deep with a low liftover height, and almost 14 cubic feet of capacity, more than competitive in the class. In addition, there's a 60/40-split, fold-down rear seat with a trunk pass-through feature.
We found the Cobalt quite pleasant to drive, and almost eerily quiet for a car that costs well under $20,000. Chevrolet has put what feels like hundreds of dollars worth of special door seals, sandwich steel panels, thick carpets and pads, noise blockers and noise absorbers throughout the front, middle and rear of the car, and normal front-seat conversation is possible at speeds over 90 mph.
The Cobalt LT is not the address of driving excitement, however. It's not made for that, but rather for delivering four people comfortably, five only in a pinch, on a minimal outlay for fuel and monthly payments, a transportation appliance in the longtime Chevrolet mold of the Corvair, the Vega, the Chevette, the Monza, and most recently the Cavalier.
If you want to tangle with the Japanese front-drive performance competition on the street, then you'll have to step up to the $22,000 supercharged model, which we view as a very potent competitor with a high-performance parts program already in place.
We thought the Cobalt steering wheel was a trifle small, like the one on the original Ion, but it was connected to one of GM's electric power steering units that has been tailored for good but not sports-car response, with assist tailored for easy parking, and a nice, solid feel that doesn't include a lot of road shock.
We drove an LT with ABS and four-wheel disc brakes and found them to be powerful, and progressive, with a good ratio between pedal travel and braking action.
The 2.2-liter engine, which is rated at 145 horsepower, was a bit of a disappointment. (Note that rating is at 5400 rpm and the torque peak is even higher, at 5600 rpm.) It was smooth, but never felt truly powerful until it was revving very high.
The automatic, a straightforward four-speed instead of the more modern and desirable five-speed automatic, worked perfectly.
Estimated fuel economy is expected to be 24/32 mpg City/Highway for the 2.2-liter automatic, 25/34 with the manual, and 23/29 for the SS model with the supercharged 2.0-liter manual.
The Chevrolet Cobalt will satisfy the needs of drivers looking for economy of price, economy of operation, and a nice, quiet ride. We think it's a handsome, well-equipped car. The standard engine could offer more responsive low-end power, however.
Chevrolet Cobalt coupe or sedan ($13,625); LS ($15,920); LT ($18,195); SS ($21,430).
Options As Tested
curtain air bags ($395); OnStar ($695); XM Satellite Radio ($325); rear spoiler ($275), cigarette lighter ($15).
Chevrolet Cobalt LT sedan ($18,195).
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