The Cobalt was introduced in 2005 as a replacement for the Cavalier. For 2007 it offers a slight horsepower increase to 136 hp, a 3-spoke steering wheel, and one new color. Unlike its predecessor the Cobalt appears to have been designed for maximum passenger room and comfort, the result of a longer wheelbase with shorter overhangs. Our tester was a base LS model with only two options: a 4-speed automatic and alloy wheels. Base price $13,665, EPA MPG estimates 24 city/32 highway.
First Glance: A much-needed redesign
A few years ago I was interviewing Chevrolet's head of interior design for a magazine article. I'd rented a Chevrolet Cavalier at the airport and after being admitted to GM's Tech Center, parked at the front door of the hallowed design studios. After the interview, during which I'd been shown advanced interior concepts and given a pep talk on GM's quality improvements, I headed for downtown Detroit in my rental Chevy. Less than a hundred meters from the studios the entire steering hub fell into my lap, wires and all. Couldn't have happened at a better place.
Since then I've tested a few Cavaliers without any disasters but I was really curious to see how the replacement would stack up. So again I chose a rental car. A 2007 Cobalt LS sedan. I'm pleased to report the hub stayed on and except for a minor rattle, the Cobalt seemed properly glued and welded. In my opinion the previous Chevy compact is better looking but the Cobalt appears to have been designed from the inside out, maximising space for the occupants and giving up the swoopy lines that attract eyeballs yet do little for function. Of course, the Cobalt is not just a redesign but a totally new car. Only the "bow tie" Chevy emblem remains untouched.
In The Driver's Seat: Easy in, easy out, easy in-between
Cobalt's dashboard is simple and easy to use, which aids distraction-free driving (2006 interior with old-style steering wheel shown)Photo © Philip Powell
I seem to begin every review with a discussion of what it's like to climb in and out. Not because I'm any less limber but because so many new models have sacrificed function for style. Tall, long, luxurious... makes no difference. A compact like the Cobalt might be given a little slack in that regard and yet it was easy to access from front or rear. And once inside there was ample room for young families or singles and their buddies. With the manual adjusters and tilt-wheel I had no trouble finding a comfortable driving position. Firm but supportive seats and a clear view up front made for a pleasant experience.
Audio and climate controls offered the kind of simplicity that every car should have. Storage was ample except in one crucial area: the armrest, which sits atop a shallow bin, gets in the way of the handbrake. Now, maybe you'd prefer a place to rest your arm, but I'd rather have quick access to that brake in parking and emergency situations. In an automatic-equipped car, and maybe even in a manual, the solution might be to place the gear lever in the upper area of the console, making space for a shortened handbrake ahead of the armrest.
On the Road: Good enough for a little harmless fun
I expected Cobalt's 2.2 liter four-cylinder "Ecotec" engine to be as smooth and powerful as the best European or Japanese. It was powerful enough but smooth and refined? Not quite. Still, the sound didn't seem overly buzzy, while acceleration was quick during freeway entries and passing at speed was not a problem. Though any GM automatic is a gem, I'd have preferred a 5-speed manual, even in a humble rental car; if Chevrolet were to add that extra gear the Cobalt might show its heels to the competition. Or, depending on chosen gear ratios, improve gas mileage -- Cobalt's EPA figures of 24 MPG city/32 highway can't touch the automatic Honda Civic's estimates of 30/40. The Cobalt is nicely glued to the road, treading that fine line between ride comfort and the "fun to drive" factor. It was relaxing on moderately bumpy surfaces (sorry, no potholes in my neighborhood to put the suspension through all
its paces), but stable when tossed through an empty airport roundabout to, uh, check handling and roadholding. Apologies to About's common-sense viewers who are not interested in such shenanigans, but I did it to assure you that the car is stable if unexpected maneuvers occur. Well, okay, and also to have a little harmless fun.
Journey's End: Hot on the heels of Civic and Corolla
Aside from a few minor complaints, the Cobalt is a pretty darn good carPhoto © Philip Powell
Testing a rental car is different than testing a media car. The former will be similar to what you and I might buy, whereas the latter is loaded with frills aimed at impressing the critics. In this case I'm glad I chose the rental and equally pleased that the Cobalt performed well. It's a huge improvement over its predecessors and almost, but not quite, the equal of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. Single girls and guys will find it meets their needs, while young families can feel safe and secure in a Cobalt. Your local Chevrolet dealer will likely offer a discount sufficient to make you forgive any lack of refinement vs. Toyota/Honda.
I liked the Cobalt. It fit like an old shoe. It was not thirsty at fill-up time. And with a long wheelbase and sensibly short overhangs, the Cobalt offered a decently spacious interior. Complaints would focus on a colourless, plasticky interior, a trunk that's spacious enough but opens through a mail slot, and minor details such as having only one grab handle (on the front passenger's side). It deserves better than rental car status and is a vast improvement over the unlamented Cavalier. "More car between the wheels" is how I'd describe the Cobalt, and that's not just faint praise.