Cobalt is built on the GM Delta platform that it shares with the Saturn Ion and the upcoming Chevrolet HHR retro truck in the U.S. and the Opel Astra in Europe. But with its single-bar grille and bowtie emblem, it looks like a proper Chevrolet small car right down to its shoes and socks.
There are huge plastic bumper fascias on both ends of the car and the body panel fits are extremely tight. So tight, in fact, that there are no rubber trim gaskets around the compound complex headlamps.
The coupe bears a stronger resemblance in its shape to the Cavalier than the sedan, which has a new and more modern roofline sweep. The base, LS and LT coupe and sedan models have no spoiler as standard (it's optional), and the SS coupe version carries a huge, tall rear spoiler than certainly makes a design and intent statement.
Cobalt is heavier, longer, wider and lower than most of its direct competitors, its engine is the most powerful base engine in the class, and its interior dimensions and trunk capacity are close to the competition in every respect. After 10 years and 6 million Cavaliers, Chevrolet has learned a few lessons, and that's apparent in the size, shape and equipment of the Cobalt.
Inside the Cobalt, the design theme is simple and straightforward, but far from the el cheapo appointments of the old Cavalier. Materials are better, there are far fewer individual pieces, and the fit and finish on our very early production LT sedan were very, very good, but not perfect, like a typical Honda or Toyota. There's just enough chrome trim here and there on knobs and instruments to brighten things up without a lot of glare from the shiny parts. Instruments are large, well placed, and easy to read, with nice graphic treatment throughout.
Cobalt is unique in the subcompact class in that three completely different seats are offered in base, LS and LT, and SS versions, each with detail changes in foam, padding and trim. There was plenty of fore/aft and rake adjustment for a 6-foot, 4-inch driver, plus seat height adjustment with a ratcheting handle. The LT seats were very comfortable and grabbed us in the fast corners exactly where we needed to be grabbed and held.
In our LT sedan tester, the Delphi AM/FM/CD player carried a complete Pioneer seven-speaker sound system with a huge subwoofer mounted on the left side trunk wall, as well as an XM satellite tuner, so the entertainment factor and sound quality were very high indeed, especially considering the price and class. The heating, ventilation and defroster system worked quickly and intuitively.
Unlike the Saturn Ion, the Cobalt does not use space-eating gooseneck hinges on its decklid, opting instead for simple outside corner hinges and not one, but two hydraulic assist struts. (The hood also has a large single strut, so you don't have to hold up the hood while you find and engage the prop rod. It raises and stays in position by itself.) The trunk is wide and deep with a low liftover height, and almost 14 cubic feet of capacity, more than competitive in the class. In addition, there's a 60/40-split, fold-down rear seat with a trunk pass-through feature.