2006 Chevrolet Cobalt
With its expressive styling and general all-around competence, the Chevrolet Cobalt competes effectively against the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Ford Focus, an impressive achievement, considering how long the competition has dominated this game.
The Cobalt is the quietest, most refined small car GM has ever built. It's based on a strong, stiff platform, a key element for crisp handling and as smooth ride. The SS models use this to maximum advantage resulting in a dynamic driving experience. If you're looking for inexpensive, high-value transportation with a new-car warranty, the Cobalt is worth a look.
Premium features are available like heated leather seats, XM Satellite Radio, MP3, and OnStar.
Driving the supercharged SS model is an absolute hoot. Quick, responsive handling and brisk acceleration performance along with a sporty sounding exhaust note make the supercharged coupe entertaining to drive, a sport compact that can more than hold its own in the class.
New for 2006 are SS sedan and coupe models with normally aspirated engines. These new SS models fit between the LT and SS Supercharged models. Their price, power and performance and body work are all toned down from the SS Supercharged coupe, but they're sporty cars and possibly the best choice in the lineup, boasting 171-horsepower engines and sports suspensions.
The 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt is available in an array of distinctive trim levels in two body styles: two-door coupe and four-door sedan. Three different engines are available with suspensions tuned to match.
The LS, LT, and LTZ models are powered by a 145-horsepower 2.2-liter engine and use the FE1 suspension.
The LS ($13,900) sedan and coupe come standard with air conditioning, automatic headlights, electric rear defogger, tilt steering column, CD player, and a driver information center. They have wind-up windows, manually operated mirrors, and cloth upholstery with height-adjustable front seats and a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat. LS models have a body-color grille and door handles and come with front disc/rear drum brakes and 15-inch wheels and tires. LS comes standard with a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic ($850).
The LT ($16,200) sedan and coupe get power windows and door locks, anti-lock brakes, 16-inch alloy wheels. LT comes standard with a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic. The LTZ sedan ($18,400) is a premium model that comes standard with the automatic, upgraded audio and premium trim.
SS ($18,200) coupe and sedan get a 171-horsepower 2.4-liter engine, the FE3 sports suspension, 17-inch wheels and high performance tires. It also gets upgraded cloth, special body-color trim and other upgrades. SS models are available with the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
SS Supercharged coupe ($21,400) features a 205-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, the high-performance FE5 suspension, and 18-inch wheels with high-performance tires.
Options include power sunroof ($725); OnStar ($695); XM Satellite Radio ($325), a rear spoiler ($275), a radio upgrade to MP3 ($150). The Sport package ($595) includes a brushed metal trim package for the dashboard, white-faced gauges, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, rear spoiler and 16-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli tires.
Safety features include dual-stage front air bags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, rear center shoulder belts, and the LATCH child seat retention system. All but the LS models come standard with anti-lock brakes (ABS). Head curtain side air bags ($395) designed to provide head protection are optional. OnStar's operators can provide assistance after an accident and will direct emergency crews to your exact location should your airbag go off.
The Chevrolet Cobalt is built on GM's Delta platform, which it shares with the Saturn Ion and Chevy HHR retro truck as well as 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.
Body panel fits are extremely tight. So tight, in fact, that there are no rubber trim gaskets around the compound complex headlamps.
The Cobalt coupe bears a resemblance in its shape to the old Cavalier it replaced, while the sedan features a more modern roofline sweep. The SS coupe and sedan models have a small rear spoiler, while the SS Supercharged coupe carries a huge, tall rear spoiler than says it's a serious sport compact.
Cobalt is longer, wider and lower than most of its direct competitors and its interior dimensions and trunk capacity are comparable for the class.
Inside the Cobalt, the design theme is simple and straightforward. Materials are decent and the fit and finish is good and comparable for the class. 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 uses different seats in the different trim levels, each with detail changes in foam, padding and trim. We found 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. Even better were the leather-trimmed seats in the SS Supercharged.
The available Pioneer seven-speaker sound system with the Delphi AM/FM/CD and XM Satellite Radio delivers good sound and includes a huge subwoofer mounted on the left side trunk wall.
The heating, ventilation and defroster system worked quickly and intuitively.
The LS comes with manually operated windows. We don't mind this, but it takes a lot of cranks (about four and half) to wind the windows up. The urethane steering wheel that comes on LS and LT models feels cheap. The leather-wrapped wheels on LTZ and SS models are much nicer.
The sedan trunk is wide and deep with a low liftover height, and almost 14 cubic feet of capacity, more than competitive in the class, though the opening to the trunk seems relatively small. Cobalt does not use space-eating gooseneck hinges on its decklid, opting instead for simple outside corner hinges and two hydraulic assist struts. The coupe has a very small trunk opening, making it difficult to fit a thick suitcase. A 60/40-split, fold-down rear seat with a trunk pass-through feature adds utility to both sedan and coupe.
The Chevrolet Cobalt is quite pleasant to drive, especially the SS models. It's quiet for a car that retails for less than $20,000. Chevrolet put considerable effort into special door seals, sandwich steel panels, thick carpets and pads, noise blockers and noise absorbers throughout the front, middle and rear of the car. As a result, normal front-seat conversation is possible at speeds above 90 mph.
If you want enjoyment in your driving you'll have to step up to the SS models.
We drove an LT with ABS and four-wheel disc brakes and found them to be powerful, and progressive, with a good ratio between pedal travel and braking action. The brakes seemed a little mushy on the LS, which comes with rear drum brakes.
The 2.2-liter engine, which is rated at 145 horsepower, was a bit of a disappointment. It was smooth, but never felt truly powerful until it was revving very high. The four-speed automatic doesn't help, with kickdown that reminded us of a rental car.
The supercharged engine in the Cobalt SS Supercharged was another story. We like the way it sounded when it revved and, paired with the manual gearbox, it offered responsive performance.
The Chevrolet Cobalt will satisfy the needs of drivers looking for economy of price, economy of operation, and a nice, quiet ride. We think it's a handsome, well-equipped car. The standard engine could offer more responsive low-end power, however. The Cobalt LS and LT models are the epitome of driving excitement, however. They're not made for that. They deliver four people comfortably, five only in a pinch, on a minimal outlay for fuel and monthly payments. The SS models are fun to drive, particularly the Cobalt SS Supercharged coupe.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Dearborn, Michigan; Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.