Many years ago, long before The Garage, even before this thing they call the internet, the Grant family was looking for a new car. We wanted something cheap and cheerful that had the space for a young couple to go camping and all the other things young couples do with their car. Mind out of the gutter folks, we were looking for a grocery getter that could also do double time as a track day warrior. We wanted something that was affordable, but didn’t feel cheap. A steed that was quick, but still got great gas mileage. If that wasn’t enough, it had to look cool.
It’s a shame that the 2008 Chevy Cobalt SS wasn’t available way back then, because The General’s littlest SS pretty much fits all of the above requirements.
As I toodled around town in the Rally Yellow SS, more than a few friends and industry types made mention of the Cobalt’s Cavalier roots. These comments were often punctuated by a bit of a scoff. I’m here to tell you folks that GM’s team hit the nail on the head with this car and that there isn’t one iota of Cavalier shake, rattle and roll in this coupe.
On the outside, the base Cobalt has been kicked up a notch with some aero and visual add ons. While some folks think the boy racer rear spoiler is a bit much, I think a taller one might be better. No, I haven’t lost my mind. Add another 3 inches of height and the spoiler would disappear from the rear view mirror and it might even be a little bit more effective on those inevitable track days. At the opposite end of the car, way down low, the chin spoiler is adorned with an actual duck bill type splitter. Somehow this gives me the feeling that the test mules spent a bit of time on the track or that the SCADAPack Grand Am series cars have had some effect on production models.
Lest one think that the look is all for show, the Cobalt SS really moves thanks to a 260 hp Ecotec Turbo that puts power down through a 5 speed manual transmission. The shifter is short and super smooth with ratios that feel just right. Perhaps the coolest part of this set up is the competition mode just like the HHR SS we sampled a while back. Press the traction control button twice, plant your foot on the floor and let out the clutch. For full throttle launches, one keeps the loud pedal down and just operate the clutch, while the electronics look after the rest. While intake air is boosted through the turbo, exhaust gases leave through a very free flowing system. So free flowing in fact that it is pretty common to hear a loud bang out the pipe on hi rev upshifts as unburnt fuel makes it’s way through the system. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to look to see if there was any flame out the pipe to accompany the pop.
Out on the road, the Cobalt SS is firm without being harsh most of the time. During our road trip to the Poconos, the meaty 225/40R-18″ rubber and rim combo did pound a bit when the expansion joints on I-81 got a bit nasty, but that should be an acceptable trade off for a car with such performance. How does it perform? We didn’t get the car out on the track, but on the twisty roads leading to the Francis E Walter Dam it felt composed and surprisingly neutral despite the big ponies going to the front wheels. I’m certain that it would be more than comfortable as a track day weapon and there is no question that it would be a whole bunch of fun.
On the inside, fit and finish is miles away from that Cavalier some people mentioned. The interior is unquestionably Chevy, but it has the look and feel of a traditional import. The cabin is quiet and absolutely free of squeeks and rattles. The heavily bolstered seats are not only just right for a track day, they are so supportive and comfy that even my bad back felt great after a 7 hour drive.
If I were to have any complaints at all, they are fairly minor. The trunk opening is a bit on the small side, but the space inside is cavernous for a small coupe, with lots of room for a couple to go road tripping or even camping. The center console is lacking a covered storage area, meaning there is nowhere to stick the iPod when the car is parked. Perhaps a short armrest would be a nice idea from a convenience standpoint.
Truly, having spent time with the HHR SS, I expected the Cobalt to be a nice little car. I didn’t expect to find that it had this much character, performance and comfort. Dare I say I didn’t expect to fall in love with it, but the Cobalt SS really is a track weapon that does double duty as a killer road tripper.