Driven: 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Coupe

By Steven J. Ewing

December 09, 2008

When General Motors introduced the first Chevrolet Cobalt SS for 2005, it was praised within the sport compact scene for its supercharged power and relatively cheap price point, though the car didn’t really have the overall refinement to make it something extra special. Thus, Chevy has gone back to the drawing board and come up with something it can really be proud of. This latest addition to the Cobalt lineup was tuned and tested on Germany’s Nürburgring and finally has the power and poise to be taken seriously as a true performance car.

The old Cobalt SS used a supercharged version of GM’s 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder, and while at 205 horsepower it was more powerful than comparable Volkswagen GTI and Honda Civic Si models, those overseas competitors were ultimately more engaging cars to drive. That engine was heavily reworked and now uses the turbocharged, direct-injected setup found in the Chevy HHR SS, Pontiac Solstice GXP, and Saturn Sky Red Line, meaning this Cobalt is good for 260 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. GM says that the SS will sprint from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 5.7 seconds, and having tried a few such runs ourselves with the help of the Cobalt’s launch control system (it holds the engine’s revs at 5000 rpm and minimizes wheel spin upon takeoff), we feel comfortable agreeing with this sub-six-second time. The no-lift upshift feature built into the five-speed manual transmission allows for rapid gear changes without any loss in power, too. And yet, when driven with care, it’s syill possible to get 30 miles per gallon on the highway.

Cobalt SSAround town, the SS’s suspension does a respectable job of softening up any potholes or pavement irregularities. However, this is not to say that the suspension feels soft during hard cornering. We noticed good amounts of grip during quick maneuvering exercises, but because all 260 horsepower runs through the front wheels, torque steer has a tendency to show itself—especially when accelerating hard out of a turn (our test car’s limited-slip differential aided in this area a bit). The SS rides on some pretty attractive eighteen-inch wheels with 225/40ZR18 tires, behind which lies a set of Brembo brakes measuring a healthy 12.4 inches in the front and 11.5 inches out back.

The interior, sadly, is a place where the Cobalt SS really falls short versus its competition. Our biggest gripe is that the steering column has no telescopic function, and a few of us found it difficult to adopt a comfortable driving position. A smaller-diameter, thicker wheel would be nice, as well. Beyond that, the rest of the interior doesn’t stand apart from what you’d find in a base Cobalt, with the exception of SS stitching on the seats and an optional LCD performance display mounted to the A-pillar ($295—an analog boost gauge comes as standard fare). Pricing for the Cobalt SS starts at $23,425 for either the coupe or sedan, though our car’s optional LSD, performance display, and larger wing brought the as-tested price to $24,550.

There’s a lot to like about the Cobalt SS—tons of power and decent road manners and for many, its blown rental car charm may shine through its adolescent styling and bargain-bin interior. Still, we commend GM for putting out a worthy contender in the sport compact segment, as it gives us a reason to find more merit in the aging Cobalt.

Engine: Turbocharged inline-4, 2.0 liters, 16v
Output: 260 hp/260 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 5.7 seconds (est.)
Weight: 2975 lb
Fuel Economy, city/hwy: 22/30 mpg
Price as Tested: $24,550