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The Chevrolet Cobalt SS Never Got the Respect It Deserved

When I heard about the supercharged Chevrolet Cobalt SS, I didn’t take it very seriously — this was in 2005, a time when the idea that GM could build a decent track car seemed about as likely as Donald Trump becoming our next President. How good, I figured, could a performance Cobalt possibly be? It was a Cobalt, for cryin’ out loud.

Then the GM Performance Division — prebankruptcy, when there was such a thing — put together a little track event at Willow Springs’ Horse Thief Mile, and they invited me along.

Horse Thief is a roughly-E-shaped track on the side of a hill: You go up the hill, turn 180 degrees, come down, turn another 180 degrees and go back up, then back down, then back up, back down and cross the hill to start all over. Depending on which way you run it, the curves are either increasing-radius or decreasing-radius, and we were running in the decreasing-radius direction. Gravity meant you were really booking into those downhill turns. The star attraction of the day was the Trailblazer SS, a stiffened-up version of a two-ton, softly sprung SUV. See the Chevrolet Cobalt models for sale near you

“What do you think?” The GM PR guy asked me after an orientation ride in the ‘Blazer.

“I think we’re going to friggin’ die,” I said.

The Trailblazer SS turned out to be pretty impressive — we’ll talk about that in another installment, kids — but Chevy had a few other cars for us to sample, including a mule of the soon-to-be-introduced 7.0-liter GTO, a ’72 Chevelle with a freshly-built crate motor and a 205-hp supercharged Cobalt SS.

And that turned out to be the amazingly awesome super surprise of the day.

After a few laps in the Cobalt, I got my first inkling that I had misjudged General Motors. The Cobalt SS was quick, responsive and predictable. I’ve never been a great track driver, and I was even less great back then, so the Cobalt SS was right up my alley — a car that did what you asked and gave only gentle rebukes when you asked for the wrong thing. I came away from that drive convinced that the Cobalt SS Supercharged was the perfect car for an aspiring racer — a great way to learn good habits.

That day was a turning point for me, in which my view of GM’s performance cars did a complete 180 — and looking at the cars that have come from GM since, including the C6 and C7 Corvette, the CTS-V (all of them) and the latest-gen Camaro, I’d say I was right.

In 2008, Chevy swapped the Cobalt SS’s supercharged engine for a 260-hp turbocharged unit. They also introduced a 4-door sedan version; at the time, I described it as a car for “someone with the brain of a 16-year-old, the responsibilities of a 37-year-old and the income of a 25-year-old.” (In other words, me.) For me, the SS turbo didn’t quite do it — more power meant more torque steer. But the chassis continued to excel at being excellent, and I had a great time whipping it around my favorite curvy roads. It wasn’t quite as good as the Mazdaspeed3 or the WRX, but it was pretty close. And from GM, pretty close was pretty great back then.

Oh, and there was a non-forced-induction version of the Cobalt SS. You know how our mothers taught us that if we don’t have anything nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all? Let’s move on.

In the decade or so since I first drove the SS, Chevrolet has replaced the Cobalt with the Cruze, allowing us look back and laugh at the Cobalt in the same way that the Cobalt allowed us to laugh at the Cavalier. But the fact is that the Cobalt SS was one of the best sport compacts of its time — a car that deserved comparison with greats like the Dodge Neon SRT4, the Subaru WRX and the Mazdaspeed3. And it came from the company we least expected to turn out a decent sport compact. If the Cobalt SS doesn’t deserve our respect, what car does? Find a Chevrolet Cobalt for sale

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  1. See these for less than $10k pretty often on AutoTrader – seems like a great track day car, especially the Turbo model. Pay $6-$8k and not have a care in the world if you accidentally run it off track…sounds like fun,

  2. I love my turbo Cobalt! I drove the supercharged one when it came out, and was impressed, but didn’t feel the need to buy one. Then I got to drive a couple of turbo ones around SoCal and I was hooked. I picked up mine used in 2010 and still have it. Sure, the interior is cheap, but it ran with cars costing multiple times what I paid for it when I took it to the track. 

  3. From being their target market when this was new, I can honestly say this thing was not on my radar due to it’s low quality interior. Really, just dreadful even for the time. Cruze was much better. 

    • The Cruze is a great all-around car, but there’s no sport version. I love the feel of the Cobalt SS, the power and handling. The seat and steering wheel feel great inside, but the rest of the interior is cheap garbage. I have one and I’m glad I get all the fun without having to pay for a better interior.

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