2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Review

Could a front-drive Chevrolet be a performance bargain?

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Review

If you’re looking for a pocket rocket on a shoestring budget, the turbocharged Chevrolet Cobalt SS finally takes the fight to established class-leading performance economy cars like the Mazda Mazdaspeed 3, Volkswagen GTI, and Honda Civic Si. And now you think we’ve lost it, as the Cobalt SS starts at $24,000, about $500 more than the Mazdaspeed 3, $1000 more than the GTI and $2000 more than the Si. “And the Cobalt has a terrible interior,” you say. Yes, I agree it could use some attention, but after a day at the track, I can definitely say, that’s fine with me.

FAST FACTS

1.

No lift-shifting makes for a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds

2.

8 minute 22 second Nurburgring lap time is fastest for a FWD car

3.

New turbocharged engine gets 55 hp over outgoing model

ZERO TO 60 IN 5.7 SECONDS

First, you can buy the car in silver, white, or black and without the over-sized rear spoiler. And this year it also comes in sedan form – even better for not arousing suspicion from the 5-0. You’ll need a subdued color because the speeds the SS are capable of are simply amazing. No, that isn’t a misprint – read on. For instance, it’s possible to put the reworked traction control system into “Competitive Driving” mode. Hit the traction control button twice, and the driver information screen will say you’re in that mode – if you’re stopped, it will also flicker over to “Launch control.” You don’t need to utilize brutish muscle-car driving techniques here: simply depress the clutch, hold down the throttle, and the car maintains a rev limit of just under 5000 rpm. Keep your foot on the gas, take out the clutch, and you’ll see the speedo hit 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, the quarter mile in 14.1 seconds, and keep pulling up to a top speed of 160 mph… if you so choose. To achieve those numbers, GM also included a “no-lift” shift function: simply stand on the gas when accelerating, and if you can shift quickly enough, it will hold constant boost pressure between gears. Neat. See… I told you the interior didn’t matter much.

TURBO 4 MAKES 55 MORE HP THAN OUTGOING MODEL

Credit for the performance is the car’s turbocharged 2.0L Ecotec 4-cylinder engine. It replaces the old model’s supercharged motor, and gives 55 more horsepower. The same engine, if you’re curious, is offered in the Saturn Sky Red Line roadster and Pontiac Solstice GXP. It’s torquey (260 ft-lbs at 2000 rpm), light (aluminum block and heads), and well-balanced (premium fuel isn’t required.)

NURBURGRING TUNED SUSPENSION

GM has also sought to cure the old car’s not-as-good-as-it-should-be handling by honing the car around “the” race track, Germany’s 13 mile long Nürburgring. They managed a lap of 8 minutes and 22 seconds, which is over twelve seconds faster than the previous fastest front-drive performance car, the Mazdaspeed 3. How’s that for bragging rights?

Once on-track, it’s easy to see how the SS is so fast. The heavy steering and gearbox are a little annoying on the street, but on the track they provide weighty feedback and a sense of direction. GM’s Performance Division says that the car’s FE5 suspension “includes specific stabilizer bars, spring rates, and damper tuning to complement the high-output turbocharged powertrain and mitigate torque steer.” I’m inclined to agree. With its limited-slip differential, torque steer is non-existent on-track, and only rears its ugly head on the street when driving on severely rutted roads. It will also manage 30 mpg when you decide to settle down, which is impressive economy from a tuned, turbocharged motor.

THE VERDICT

Still, there is that interior. Some may like the A-pillar-mounted boost gauge, shiny black or red inserts on the seats, and silver trim. I don’t. The Pioneer seven-speaker stereo is nice, however. But when looking at the grain of plastics and overall quality of where you’ll be spending your time, you begin to wonder how Mazda, Honda, and Volkswagen all offer much nicer interiors in their performance cars for less money.

If you’re interested in getting into grassroots motorsports, the Cobalt SS is a great way to go. It offers more than enough performance at a wallet-friendly price tag, and should be less expensive to maintain and upgrade over time than its competition. The SS does take the fight to the competition, but surprisingly, it’s because the car is much more track-focused than the others. We may find value and reason to choose it, but be certain that you won’t begin to get the most from it unless you take it to the track.

PLUS Genuine performance bargain Limited slip differential means better traction and no torque steer Nurburgring-tuned suspension and fastest FWD lap time
MINUS More expensive than competition Overly showy interior with cheap plastics Heavy steering for the street

Related Reading

SS homepage Cobalt announcement Cobalt around the Nurburgring

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