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2009 Chevrolet Cobalt

Cobalt coupe "I tell ya, I'm all right now, but last week I was in rough shape, ya know! Are you kiddin'? I got the worst car in the world! Why just once, I'd like to see somebody pass me without pointing to one of my tires. No matter what lane I'm in, it ends in 500 feet. Ya know, the other day, I bought the perfect second car... a tow truck. I mean, every Sunday, I take my family out for a push! I tell ya, I get no respect... no respect at all".

Thank you, Rodney Dangerfield, my hero. He was one of the few comedians to make fun of himself or his fictional family, which made his humor so special to me. I sort of met him one time; he did a performance at The Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, and we were so exhausted from laughing that we could barely talk on the way home. As his encore, he took questions from the audience; I was lucky, he heard and responded to mine. It was instantly forgettable for him, but I'll remember that moment forever!

When we talk about a car getting little or no respect, next to the Trabant, the Chevy Cobalt (and its lesser-known twin, the Pontiac G5) usually comes up. Why does this happen? Is the Cobalt deserving of the bad rap? Does it spend so much time on a service rack that it has more miles on it vertically than horizontally? I thought maybe it was time to mosey on down to the local Chevrolet dealer to find out.

First I checked out the official Chevrolet web site to read what Chevy had to say about the Cobalt and then to virtually "build" one or two. I was immediately impressed that there is no price difference between the 2-door and 4-door models. Prices start at $16,330 for a base LS and soar to $24,095 for the SS. Options and accessories like the Sport Pedals and Performance Air Intake will obviously cost you more. You may also want to buy the $75 Spare Tire option; otherwise the best-case scenario is a can of inflatable tire repair stuff the next time you have a blow-out.

Introduced in 2004 as a 2005 model, the Cobalt is built on GM's Delta platform, which also underpins the Chevy HHR, Saturn Ion, Saturn (Opel) Astra, and Daewoo Lacetti. It has electric power steering, which takes a bit of getting used to. It's not good, not bad, just ... different. The standard 2.2-liter I-4 ECOTEC engine puts out 155 horsepower, same as a 2001 Miata, and the Cobalt SS turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-litre I-4 ECOTEC is a fantastic performance bargain with 260 horses.

Cobalt_SS_dash The 2009 Chevy Cobalt print brochure says the "Cobalt comes with a great selection of interior fabrics and colors." What? According to the same brochure, only gray and ebony are offered, and they are both just lighter shades of black. There are gray cloth, gray Sport Cloth, gray leather, ebony Sport Cloth, and ebony leather choices. That's all, folks, unless you go with the Cobalt SS. The 1LT and higher models have power windows (No more busted knuckles, Nathan!), power door locks, power mirrors, and Sport Cloth seats. The 2LT adds cruise control, 16-inch wheels, ABS, a 4-speed automatic tranny, and remote start.

The Cobalt dash is as hard and hollow as today's plastics can make it, and the one-piece plastic door panels follow suit, with either a cloth or vinyl insert swathing your elbow with luxury. It's very reminiscent of Vegas and Chevettes decades ago. There aren't any door pull handles; your fingers grab a cup on the unforgiving door panel. The poor folks back in coach have it even tougher; there is virtually no arm rest at all and, again, rock-hard panels. Maybe this car should include a first-aid kit for bruises. "Ooh, my arm, it's broken!"

The LS Coupe I sat in had two remote control outside mirrors, both cable-operated, with a rubbery feeling of uncertainty. There is no way the driver could safely, if at all, reach over and adjust the passenger's mirror while driving.

Cobalt cockpit I think a paragraph or two has to be dedicated to the Cobalt SS. If somebody truly wants a sleeper, this is your car, available in two doors or, this year, four. In addition to the 105 extra ponies, you get stability control, ABS with Brembos up front, an upgraded suspension, stainless steel exhaust with a chrome tip, 18-inch wheels, a body kit that includes a spoiler and fog lights, and a 228-Watt, seven-speaker Pioneer sound system.

Omit the spoiler (available on all Cobalts), and it would take practiced eyes to differentiate the SS from the other trim levels. But at least the seats are unique, offering premium cloth with an "SS" logo and color combinations of ebony/gray, ebony/red, and ebony/ebony. Sorry, no ebony/ivory option; Paul & Stevie would be disappointed. Chevy claims a 0-60 time of 5.7 seconds; Car and Driver got a very respectable 70-0 mph stopping distance of 160 feet with the SS. Impressive, though I believe safety features such as better brakes should be available all across the car line, not just for a select model or two. What's next... "Seat Belts of the Rich & Famous?"

Then there's the Cobalt XFE (eXtra Fuel Economy). Introduced in April 2008, just in time for $4-per-gallon gas, this model comes with an engine recalibrated for economy (that nevertheless produces the same 155 horsepower), 15-inch reduced-resistance tires, and a higher top gear in the required manual transmission. This option is available only on the base LS and slightly higher 1LT Trim levels, but not on the automatic transmission-equipped 2LT. The XFE gets 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway, which is better than the Chevy Aveo5 and Honda Fit.

And let me say some great things about the Cobalt's standard Driver Information System. At the touch of a switch on the steering wheel, 15 different pieces of vehicle and temperature info are at hand, including air pressures for each tire. The one item that really impressed me was the "Vehicle Average Speed" readout. Teenagers, beware. Also, the hood and trunk lid were held up by struts, not prop rods or springs.

Cobalt 4 door If anybody reads my bio here, they'll see that I worked at the Nissan plant in Tennessee when it opened. NMMC had a Vehicle Evaluation System (VES) that recorded and scored cars based on quality demerits--the more flaws, the higher the score, like in my golf game. Unfortunately, walking around the outside of the Cobalt raised red flags and points everywhere. Body panel gaps were inconsistent, the front bumper stuck out approximately 3/16ths of an inch from the fender (though we were able to push it back in a bit), and every new Cobalt I saw on the lot had the trunk corner raised higher on the driver's side than the passenger's. On the metallic-paint cars, the bumpers looked as if they had been sprayed using a different color chart. The discrepancy is even visible in the official brochure! The plant manager should be fired for accepting this rubbish from a supplier, unless the problem is an internal one--in which case he or she should still be fired.

Cobalt 2-doorThis car could have had been named the 2009 Nighthawk and looked appropriate for the name. I saw cues dating back to 1977, like the Coupe's rear side windows. Build quality was similar to the Nighthawk; I almost cut my finger on a metal burr inside the totally unfinished trunk lid's rough edge. The door window frames are too wide to be classy and too thin to be "limousine" style--I think they just look cheap. The headlights are too big, and the rump is too high. I can't understand the optional second tachometer/boost gauge, mounted on the A-pillar, available on the Cobalt SS. All Cobalts have a speedometer, tachometer, and fuel meter. If Chevy wanted to add more gauges, what about oil pressure and engine temp?

I just couldn't drive this coupe. I wanted to get out of it and far away; it evoked too many bad car memories. Since I had no intention of buying one, why waste the time and fuel?

Chevrolet_Cruze_(1) I really, really wanted to see and say more nice things about the Cobalt, but I found the same "build it cheap, and they'll trade up later" philosophy that got GM where it is today. And until GM designs and builds a better car, I just don't have much sympathy for them. Poor design and sloppy craftsmanship do not a good car make. I actually preferred the older Cavalier.

But there is hope on the horizon. Within the year, we should see the 1.4-liter, 140-horsepower turbocharged Chevy Cruze start to replace the Cobalt. However, the challenge is just beginning, since the Cruze will be built on the new Delta II platform at the same Lordstown, Ohio, plant that makes the Cobalt (and that infamously built Cookie the Dog's Owner's Monza Wagon). I hope build quality and attention to details are improved. And can you puhleeze! take those little GM badges off of the cars? Then maybe ... just maybe ... you'll get a little more respect.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)


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Big Three small cars just can't seem to pull it all together in one package; fuel economy, reliability, driveability. The Focus came close - but fuel economy and reliability weren't class leading. It drives well, rides nicely, handles like a much more expensive car. I hear its been cheapened for the 2008 model year, though.

Nice stealth reference to Caddyshack, btw.

Nice article...but the photos put me to sleep.
Nice front end..last time I saw a mouth like that it had a hook in it...

Seriously, it would be fun to put one next to a strippo Civic/Suzuki/Rabbit and note the differences.
A few years back I sat in a co-worker's civic and was surprised how cheap it was..I expected better from the much vaunted Honda.

Anyway, I suspect a side by side comparison would probably tell us why it gets no respect.

R.I.P Rodney...

I'd always heard the Cobalt was pretty good. At least, a lot of the tuner-boys seem to like it as a platform. I'd consider it myself if I were in the market for a smaller car I could do some performance tuning on in the future.

The infamous Monza Wagon put me off GM for a couple decades. When I was shopping a couple years ago, I looked at the Cobalt SS--and believe me, it took a real act of will to bring myself to look at anything built at Lordstown!--and I kinda liked what I saw. Had it been available as a four-door--a requirement that asserted itself while I was comparing--I probably still would have gotten the GTI, but the Cobalt would have been competitive.

My suspicion is that the Cobalt has kind of taken the place of the Dodge Neon in the "cheap, domestic, and a bit of fun if tweaked a little" market, which, for a variety of reasons, is incredibly frustrating to me. That said, it is nice of GM to come up with a slightly interesting compact car after decades of snoozers. It's just a pity that build quality is about what you would expect.

If I had the time, money, and lack of common sense, this is what I would do:
Take the turbo LNF engine from the Cobalt SS and stuff it into a Honda Civic SI chassis. Then I'd take the external bits from the Civic Hybrid (lip spoiler, wheels, etc...) and paint it mist green. This would be the perfect modern sleeper: 260 HP, 500 lbs lighter, and could probably pass in the HOV lane.

...i've read that the cobalt SS handles remarkably well for an FF platform...

I made part of the dash support frame for this car for 1.5 years before getting laid off. I always took pride in doing my job seriously and in making the pieces I was responsible for as best as possible. In one 8 hour shift I would toss several thousands of pounds of steel, one sheet at a time, into my press, to make my part of the main support beam. I worked at a factory in a small town here in Missouri making these parts. I can't comment about the rest of the car or how it was made, but I made my part quite well...anything I had thought might be questionable, I wouldn't hesitate to stop the press and get it checked out because I didn't want to be turning out poorly made parts. I can at least say that the dash support frame, particularly the "beam" as we called it (the main support beam which also houses the ductwork for the A/C and heater) and the rest of the pieces welded to it made in our press room was well made. You don't hear about the the people who work in the small factories which supply parts to the major manufacturers.

i like the first generation dodge intrepid lurking in the first picture

@ Leigh: Ah, the LH (Last Hope) series! Yes, nice cars!

A car lust for a 94 dodge intrepid , please!

Couple thoughts... first, the SS. It is indeed a bargain, and I think you left off one pertinant piece of information regarding it's performance: It's ring time. Here's a link:

That thing HAULS serious ass. I like that. It's unfortunate in order to get all the go-fast bits you have to get the 18" rims and bodykit though. You commented on it being a sleeper, but at least in my eyes, they stick out like sore thumbs. I know what they are, and how fast they are the instant I see them.

Now... this thing really really REALLY reminds me of the SRT4. We have the neon, which handled well, was efficient, and fun to drive, with a HORRIBLE interior, and then they just boost it to produce a ton of power. Indeed, a fun car, but honestly... for 24 grand I think I'd spring for a used Infinit G35. :P Anyway, good job GM, if you keep building stuff like this, and spend a bit of time on making the interior not totally suck, I think you could turn things around.

@Zane, John B. - I took a peek at the Cobalt a couple of years ago, and I thought to myself, "cheap, cheap, cheap." I couldn't believe they had the nerve to try selling these for $17K and up. $12K is more like it. I've seen lots of Kias and Suzukis with better build quality, and that was just peeking in the windows and giving it the once-over. I can only imagine how unpleasant the thing is to drive.

We just bought a brand-new 2009 Toyota Corolla. Base model. No power anything, except mirrors - and those were the ELECTRIC kind, not the cheap-ass cable kind. For a car without power accessories, it's a very, very nice small sedan, perfect for up to four people.

The Corolla also has electric power steering, and we love it. Just enough resistance and one less pulley on the serpentine belt. Very nice. Handles like a sports car, yet rides like a much larger sedan (a mini-Camry?). Same 195-65R15 tires as the '99 Honda Accord we traded in. 36 MPG WITHOUT special options packages and WITH automatic transmission (for the missus, who can't drive stick). All for around $17K.

Until Detroit can produce a car that matches the Corolla for quality, they will continue to suck. But they won't, because they don't want to build compact cars. At all. They'd rather sell you another SUV, or a (gag me) crossover (aka a "never-getting-laid-again-mobile").

@Ron - people everywhere wrongly blame (UAW) line workers for the shoddy quality of Detroit products. You all just make what you're given to make by higher-ups, and as you said, you do the best job you can. It's not your fault the Cobalt is a POS. Stick any number of you guys in a Toyota plant, and you'll make Camrys or Corollas at least as good as anything currently being sold.

Corners cut in design mean a crappy finished product. It's just that simple.

@SP - I'd agree with you that poor design is not the fault of the assembly line workers. Poor fit and finish, and poor workmanship, however, falls entirely on them.

Go back and read my Monza Wagon piece. That car left the plant with screws missing. At the time I owned that car, I knew a lot of people who worked at the plant where it was built, and some of them used to *brag* about how little they actually worked while at work, about sticking empty Coke cans in the doors, and such. They weren't doing the best job they could by any means.

In my opinion, the secret to quality is everybody involved with the vehicle must take pride in his or her work. Being one's own inspector is a way to do that. If you design, build, or accept a crooked steering wheel, the fault comes back to you. If you put the steering wheel on crooked, the mistake reflects on you. It's that simple.

Two years ago, I ordered a new Ranger to replace the one I had for over 12 years. When the new truck arrived, it had a paint defect on a large plastic part under the headlights - it was visible at night under a streetlight. That truck should have never been allowed to leave the factory in that condition.

To make matters worse, the dealer said they could not fix the truck until I bought it, and they would do it their way by sanding the plastic and repainting it, which would have been a disaster. I've seen their work - overspray would have been everywhere. So I walked away from the truck, the dealer, and probably Ford forever, over something that should never had been allowed out of the plant in the first place.

The part should never have been approved, and the person who installed it never should have used it. The line workers should have the power to refuse bad parts. At Nissan, a technician can shut down the line if there is a problem, and they are a non-union plant. Nissan is frequently the most productive plant in the country.

Japanese cars aren't perfect. But they show a sense of pride all the way from design to construction to delivery. Virtually all of the technicians at Nissan had never built a car or truck before they were hired there. But they had and have the aptitude and the drive "To build the highest quality vehicle sold in North America" (The company slogan).

I don't see that commitment on every American vehicle or at every American plant, just an entitlement mentality that's killing our domestic car industry.

...i've spoken with parts suppliers to both the domestic three and local import plants, and they've noted a consistent difference in the quality specifications of orders by both camps - domestic manufacturers are willing to accept much higher defect rates in order to save a few cents, while the the import plants refuse to compromise quality in their orders...

@TCG - Couldn't fix it until you bought it? Famous last words. I should know. They do even worse than that with used cars. You do your best to spot all the defects before signing the deal, they do their best to make it look as if it were fixed, and you find a whole bunch of other stuff the hard way after the sale. No more. It's only factory certified for me from now on.

As for NEW cars with defects. No excuse. Sounds like some foreman was trying to push product out the door to make numbers. Paint, after all, is usually done by robots. Humans make too many mistakes. Again, the line workers only get part of the blame, at most. These people are supervised, I hope, and the supervisors should ultimately shoulder the blame for poor product.

The white plastic panel had two runs on the passenger's side, and extremely rough "orange peel" texture on the driver's side. Whoever or whatever painted the piece was too close to the passenger's side, causing the runs. They also told me that all the Rangers were that way. (Ha!)

I wanted a new piece, painted before it went on the truck, to avoid overspray. They laughed at me, saying "It has a three-year warranty, and would get chips anyway". I could see me returning the brand new truck to the dealer multiple times for satisfaction, being inconvenienced and dissatisfied every time until I gave up. Been there, done that, especially with the Pontiac T1000 I wrote about.

I didn't mention that I waited 11 weeks for the truck. Ford only took six weeks to build my SuperCrew, and they got it right, except for drafty windows.

I've learned to have it right before I sign. Yes, I've been stung before, and have learned from false promises. If it ain't right, they can keep it. And they did, for seven months... the truck was a 5-speed. Oh, and the $500 deposit check? I didn't sign it, they didn't notice when they took it, so they had nothing at the time of "delivery".

It's a shame you didn't drive the Cobalt; it actually drives better than the interior and pedestrian looks would imply.

When I bought my Mustang (traded it for a dead Bronco II actually) I was assured it had gone through an x-point safety check. Of course, before I drove off, I decided to check some things. Turned out the reverse lights didn't work. I told the dealer and they, literally, said "Sorry, you already signed the papers."

Thank you Randall; I had driven a Chevy HHR before, and since both architectures are the Delta platform, I felt I had a good enough feel for the car.

@ Steaming Pile: Your Corolla does not handle like a sports car. In fact, I can't think of ANY toyota product that handles like a sports car right now.... they simple make appliances. Honda used to have some element of motorsport that trickled down into it's products, but even they have become bloated, heavy, and fat. The new civic is heavier and larger than my accord. The new FIT is heavier, fatter, and larger than before. But seriously, if you really think your Corolla handles well, go drive a Cobalt SS. Again, the interior might be hard plastic garbage, but your Corolla cannot do this, and the Cobalt can:

Well, the Corolla handles quite well for a $17,000 car. We're happy with it. "Sports car" is perhaps too much, but it's fairly tight, unlike the last 'murkin car we had the displeasure of driving. Let's just say it definitely WAS Grandpa's Mercury. Mushy ride, vague (at best) steering, and ridiculous control layout - too many features, none of which were done very well. My son's Focus is the same way in some respects. Compared to that, a Corolla IS a sports car, and so was the Accord we traded for it. I hated that floaty feeling so much, I was glad to be back in the Accord after our vacation. How Americans continue to tolerate stuff like this...well...a lot of us don't. Me, for instance. I never drove an itty bitty two-seater or a Corvette or a fat-ass Mopar, so perhaps my perspective is skewed a bit.

As for compact cars putting on weight, I noticed that too. Our Corolla takes the same size tires as our '99 Accord did. I guess when you're already meeting the appallingly low expectations of CAFE, there is no incentive to expend any effort to save weight while maintaining structural integrity. Crash tests, on the other hand, do provide plenty of incentive to make the new models like tanks - uust meet that 35 MPG highway number, and it's all good.

I think it's fair to say that a lot of today's cars (And some trucks) handle LIKE sports cars. I've made that comment here about our Tribute... it impressed me so much on the test drive that I kept it overnight for the family to approve of the Merlot color, then wrote a check for it the next day.

This isn't to say that they ARE sports cars, but go drive a sports car from the '60s or '70s. Somebody here said driving a '66 Mustang is like driving an old beat-up pickup truck by today's standards - I agree. The most disappointing new car I ever drove was a brand new 1974 Corvette... Dad's '71 Buick Centurion drove about the same.

Most anything on the road today will out-handle many sports cars from days gone by, and will be much more comfortable and reliable.

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