It’ll be a long time coming, but sooner or later, the public at large will realize that GM really has screwed together some decent automobiles of late. The base Cobalt is a case in point–sure, its Cadavalier predecessor was so bad they had to drop the name altogether for the economy car’s replacement, but this new one is actually a competitive car.
And although Joe Consumer has yet to recognize the many good qualities of the Cobalt, GM hasn’t given up on it yet. In fact, they’ve proliferated the model line. Taking a page from Honda’s wildly successful Civic, which earned serious street cred by both being an excellent canvass for rice-rocket tuners and by offering straight-from-the-factory performance in the Si models, Chevy has unleashed an SS option for the Cobalt coupe.
SS, for the uninitiated, stands for “Super Sport,” and since the early 1960s the best & brightest Chevys have worn that badge. The Cobalt SS is one of a wave of SS models for 2006, including hotted-up versions of the TrailBlazer and redesigned Impala. From our time with this little screamer, we’d say this might well be the best of the bunch.
It all begins with a supercharged 2.2-liter Ecotec four, breathing out a hefty 205 horses. This is a wildcat of a motor; the boost gauge on the A-pillar might look gaudy, but the engine deserves it. Chevy says the package makes for a 6.1-second 0-60 time; we have no reason to doubt that. If you’ve driven a Neon SRT-4–or just read last month’s review–you’ll have a feeling for the driving experience. Otherwise, imagine a Civic on methamphetamines. And think fun.
It’d be a whole lot less fun, though, if the chassis and suspension weren’t up to the task, however. Fortunately, they are–this little car really does feel at home on the road course. A rigid superstructure is where it starts, upon which fat sway bars, stiffened springs and shocks, and 18″ rims with 215/45 rubber complete the deal. We did take it out on a track, and were impressed with its tracking, stability, and tossability. The layout is front-wheel-drive, so of course there’s some understeer to deal with, but at least the torque steer has been dialed out to an impressive degree. All told, this car would compete well with anything in its class, on the track or off.
It’s also fun to look at–especially if you’re in this car’s under-30 demographic. Older drivers might find the tall spoiler and ground effects somewhat hokey, but the kids love that stuff these days. The round taillights do lend a bit of Corvette to the rear view, though, and the rims are slick enough to pass for aftermarket. The overall profile is wedge-shaped, which itself speaks to the Cobalt SS’s mission.
The interior has its share of joy too, with color-matched leather inserts in the seats and a thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel. The switchgear and controls are better than ever before, and everything is ergonomically placed for spirited driving. Perhaps most surprising is the amount of space inside, for both passengers and cargo–although the hatchback that you’d expect from the fastback shape is absent, meaning loading bulky items is hard if not impossible.
It’s also a lot of fun to get a good deal–and here the Cobalt SS shines. At $21,430 to start (without incentives…), and about $23,000 as tested, you get a lot of car for the money. For once, the hot hatch, import tuner, and general pocket-rocket segment has credible competition from Chevrolet. While Ford’s Focus SVT (now mourned since its 2004 passing) and Chrysler’s not-named-a-Neon SRT-4 have shown that Detroit can turn out a fiery & fun four-banger, Chevy previous efforts have been lackluster at best. No longer. Now, the purveyors of the Corvette and a multitude of capable yet somnolent SUVs, has given us a compact to be proud of. God bless America.