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Test drive: 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged

Chevrolet performance for the younger generation

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By Colin Hefferon

Picture of 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

There's no mistaking the Cobalt SS for anything else.

Colin Hefferon
Ah, to be in my 20s again. That's the target market for the new Chevrolet Cobalt SS coupe, the hot-rod version of the Cavalier's long-overdue replacement. With a strong supercharged engine and a 5-speed gearbox borrowed from the Saab 9-5, the Cobalt SS is the car that Chevy hopes will make young folks like me...er, like you forget both yesterday's Camaro Z28 and today's Dodge SRT-4. MSRP: $21,995; Warranty: base 3/36,000; powertrain 5/60,000.

First Glance

It's obvious the Cobalt SS has taken more than a quick dip in the gene pool of its predecessor, the Cavalier. The family resemblance is there and that's not necessarily a bad thing because the Cavalier was a good looking automobile in its day. But the Cavalier's face had been lifted so many times the signature bowtie looked like a G-string. Although the Cobalt SS doesn’t break any new design ground, it's nonetheless a good-looking, though thoroughly conventionally-styled, automobile.

My test car was an arresting “rallye yellow” with a big wing on the trunk lid. While the wing probably looks cool as hell to anyone under 25, I found it a pain in the butt as it severely interfered with my rearward vision.

Completing the boy racer look (the SS targets males ages 18-25) are relatively restrained body color extensions, which come standard on the SS.

It also comes with 215/45R European-sourced performance tires and 18" alloy wheels. They look great and perform even better.

The trunk is enormous - 13.9 cubic feet - but the opening is quite small. With the high lift-over, not many objects much bigger than 14" TVs will fit inside. What's needed is a Euro-style hatch where the rear window and the trunk lid lift together.

In the Driver's Seat

Picture of 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

The Cobalt's smartly designed dash.

Colin Hefferon
Built in Lordstown, OH, the Cobalt represents a quantum leap forward from the ancient Cavalier both in terms of engineering sophistication and build quality. I thought the interior fittings and trim were first rate. While it's still too early to tell if they will have the durability of a Civic or a Corolla, the Cobalt seens as if it will give those cars a run for their money.

There's a whole bunch of sporty-looking titanium-faced sports gauges on the well-thought-out dash. The pressure gauge for the Eaton supercharger (which I'll talk about in a moment) is tucked up in the left corner of the dash where the driver can keep an eye on it.

The Cobalt SS comes only as a 2-door, which shouldn't be a problem for the target market. If the front seat occupants scrunch up a bit, there's ample room in the back for two limber bods. Both front seats have multiple adjustment but no power controls.

The SS comes standard with a 228W Pioneer CD/MP3 sound system with seven speakers including a 10" sub-woofer. While there's nothing wrong with this system, the sub-woofer doesn't seem to generate the kind of low-end power called for in a car appealing to the SS's targeted demographic. I definitely see an opportunity here for the aftermarket.

On the Road

The Cobalt uses GM's Delta platform, which first appeared on the '03 Saturn Ion (not a very promising genesis for what is actually quite a competent chassis). The 2-liter engine features a supercharger, an engine-driven pump that force-feeds air into the cylinders to boost power. The results: 205 hosepower, 200 lb-ft of torque and terrific performance, without the delay (or lag) typical of turbocharged cars like the Dodge SRT-4. A silky Swedish-built 5-speed manual transmits this power to the ground through the front wheels.

I didn't get a chance to test Chevy's boast of a 145 mph (235km/h) top speed, but I did find the SS mighty quick in the 0-60 mph and 40-80 mph speed ranges. GM claims 0–60mph times in the sub-6 second range and I have no reason to doubt that number. My major complaint had to do with the anemic exhaust note. This thing targets young people, and the young'uns seem to like noise, right? Well, your mom's Odyssey has a meaner exhaust sound than this thing. Come on, Chevy, how much would a couple of echo cans cost?

The Cobalt SS's extra soundproofing, moulded sound pads and triple door seals do a great job of keeping out road noise. Now all we need is a nice raunchy exhaust note to complete the soundtrack.

Journey's End

Picture of 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Cobalt's slick profile. And that huge wing.

Colin Hefferon
The SS offers great bang for your buck. I loved its terrific all-round performance. It goes like stink, corners like its on rails and the brakes are so strong you'll feel like you've driven into a trough of wet cement (er, not that I know what that feels like).

However, with the standard sport-tuned suspension (including a big front roll bar and stiff springs), the ride on city streets can be harsh.

My major gripe is the incomprehensibly wide turning circle. Don't try to do a quick U-ee on a normal width city street because you'll embarrass yourself and hold up traffic. I've driven five-ton trucks that didn't require much more road to turn on.

Finally, in rain and snow a contemporary traction control system, which transfers power to the front wheel that has grip, is essential for a powerful car like this - but it's not available on the SS. A $1500 "performance package" gets you a limited-slip differential which will help, but a powerful front-drive car really needs a proper traction control system.

Even so, the Cobalt SS is such a terrific car at a fair price that I think it's got to be a contender for bargain-priced performance car of the year. And that sounds good to ears of any age.

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