2005 Chevy Cobalt
The only burden here is history.
by Eric Peters
Chevy finally has a compact car it can be proud of, one that can go bumper-to-bumper against the best small cars from Japan.
But will buyers give Chevy's thoroughly excellent little Cobalt a chance? Decades of mediocre Cavaliers, so-so Citations, and just plain awful Chevettes have made Toyota , Honda, and other import brands the default choice when many buyers go shopping.
Luring them back to the Bowtie may be as big a challenge as it was finally getting the Cobalt - which replaces the Cavalier in Chevy's product lineup - put together in the first place
Hard to fault
The car itself is hard to fault on any level. Fit, finish and the overall sense of build quality and attention to detail are comparable to class leaders like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Though inexpensive, with a base price of $13,625 for the standard trim level sedan or hatchback coupe, it's neither cheap-feeling nor sparsely equipped. All models come with air conditioning and a cabin filtration system (still an expensive option on the Honda Civic) and the Cobalt's standard 2.2-liter, 145-hp Ecotec four-cylinder engine is larger and more powerful by a significant margin than the Civic's 1.7-liter, 115-hp engine or the Toyota Corolla's 1.8 liter, 130-hp engine.
The Cobalt starts out with price advantage, too. It's about $1000 less than a Civic "Value Package" equipped with air conditioning, and about $150 bucks less than a base Corolla CE with A/C and manual transmission ($13,780). Plus, since Chevy is more strongly motivated to "deal" on its cars than Toyota , the actual out the door price difference between a Corolla and Cobalt is probably going to be significantly more, in favor of the Cobalt.
Driving the Cobalt was surprisingly fun. The extra 15-30 horsepower offered by the 2.2-liter, DOHC Ecotec four made all the difference on the divided two-lane roads I frequently drive, where having the reserves to make a fast pass around a dawdling "Farm Use Only" vehicle doing 40 in a 55 zone is almost as necessary as air conditioning in Phoenix. The car pulls well even at 70 or 80 mph, the range where 110-120-hp economy cars are beginning to feel obviously winded.
The engine doesn't vibrate or buzz, either, And the exhaust system tunes out any unpleasant tinny resonances, both at idle and under load.
I didn't get to drive a Cobalt with the optional four-speed automatic transmission, but with the standard five-speed manual, it was an enjoyable experience that never made me feel like the low man on the economic totem pole.
In addition to its "on paper" horsepower advantage, the Cobalt also benefits from an unusual high-tech feature at this price point: electric-assist (instead of engine-driven) power steering, which means less parasitic draw and more real-world horsepower. The speed-sensitive steering system provides light effort at low speeds, making manuevering the car easier with increasing effort for better road feel on the highway. It also improves the Cobalt's fuel economy potential.
Despite its fairly large (by the standards of this class), high-output engine, the Cobalt is rated by the EPA at 25 city/34 highway - and you can dog the thing pretty hard (as I did) and still put a lot of miles behind you before requiring a pit stop for fuel.
Other niceties include the standard 15-inch aluminum wheels (not steelies with cheap plastic trim covers) and 60-Series Continental all-season tires - enhancements that help give the car a composed, comfortable ride and improve the already very competent handling and driving dynamics of this car.
The cabin on my mid-level LS tester (base price $15,920) did not feel like steerage compared to either a Civic or Corolla or any other import competitor. Far from it, in fact. The dash layout was especially nice, with semi-oval gauges set back in the pod and trimmed with chrome, very comfortable and supportive cloth seats and thoughtful detail touches such as an outside temperature monitor, chrome door pulls (instead of Tonka toy plastic ones), and easy-entry rear doors on the sedan that are cut surprisingly deep into the back quarters. This design makes it easier to jam boxes and other oversized stuff into the back seat area, in addition to giving passengers more entry/egress space.
You can get XM radio, OnStar, even leather seats if you want that (on the top-of-the-line LT model, MSRP $18,195). But the Cobalt's as-it-sits package at $13,625 is both attractive and extremely competitive with anything else currently available in its price range.
If you're at all generous-minded, give the Cobalt a look. This car has a lot to offer and might just rehabilitate your feelings about Chevrolet and General Motors.
2005 Chevy Cobalt sedan
Base price: $13,625; price as tested: $18,195
Engine: 2.2-liter four-cylinder, 145 hp/150 lb-ft
Transmission: Five speed manual, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 180.3 x 67.9 x 57.1 in
Wheelbase: 103.3 in
Curb weight: 2868 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 25/34 mpg (manual transmission)
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, ABS, dusk-sensing headlamps (side-impact and side curtain airbags opt.)
Major standard features: Air conditioning, electric-assist power steering, tilt wheel, AM/FM stereo with single-disc CD player
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles