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2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged Review

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Byte Bite: Chevrolet has a winner in the sport-compact class with its Cobalt SS Supercharged coupe

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Chevrolet

The Cobalt is the newest compact Chevrolet, and it is not merely a re-skinned Cavalier. It's a completely new car, built on GM's worldwide ``Delta'' chassis architecture. There are six models in the Cobalt lineup, base and LS versions of both body styles, a premium-appointed LT sedan, and the SS coupe. Other than being a Chevrolet and having four wheels, the Cobalt has little in common with the phased-out Cavalier.

None of the Cobalt varieties illustrate this better than the SS Supercharged coupe, a fitting addition to Chevy's ``Super Sport'' high-performance line. The Cobalt SS is no pretender, with flashy exterior styling hiding mundane mechanical bits offering low levels of performance. It's the real deal, with 205 supercharged horsepower under the hood, a finely-tuned suspension, and a degree of refinement not expected from an American entry in the sport-compact class.

Where the other Cobalt models use GM's 2.2-liter twin-cam, 16-valve aluminum alloy ``Ecotec'' four-cylinder engine in 145-horsepower tune, the SS coupe has a 2.0-liter supercharged and intercooled version with 205 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. Fittingly, it's matched to a heavy-duty five-speed manual gearbox only. All models share the basic suspension design, with struts in front and a torsion-beam rear axle. Attention to detail shows in the use of hydraulic ride bushings and standard stabilizer bars in all models, and all feature long travel to maximize comfort. The SS is tuned a bit more firmly, but is in no way uncomfortable.

The first time I drove a Cobalt SS Supercharged was at out local automotive journalist association track day. It was one of the stars of the day, on the track, with its grippy suspension, fine handling characteristics, and willing, torquey power. But oftentimes a car with top-notch track performance does not work so well in the real world. Race tracks are smoothly-paved and well-maintained. Public roads are neither. Fortunately, the Cobalt SS is built for both environments. I've just finished a week with one, and its suspension tuning and power characteristics, solid build quality, and comfort work very well, around town, on the highway, on minimally-maintained secondary roads, or on the track. And it got plenty of approving looks and comments.

2006 Update: The SS idea apparently looked so good that Chevy is expanding the lineup for 2006. Both an SS coupe and sedan will be offered. Notice that that's ``SS,'' not ``SS Supercharged.'' They will have much of the same styling additions as the SS Supercharged coupe, and the same first-rate FE3 suspension tuning. But power will be from a 2.4-liter, 171-hp Ecotec. A bit less power, same suspension, lower price and insurance? Sounds like a good deal from here. The SS Supercharged coupe will stay the same - don't mess with a good thing.

APPEARANCE: Chevrolet is striving for a unified look to its cars, and succeeding. The look consists of rounded corners and edges with angular accents, and is well-illustrated in the Cobalt sedans and coupes. The coupe has a sporty fastback shape, but is not a hatchback. It is, appropriately, much sleeker than the sedan, and the rear is raised for a sporty wedge profile. At the front, the contemporary Chevrolet grille complete with bowtie logo sits between large, bright faired headlights and underneath a slightly sculpted hood. Moderate fender flares and a strong shoulder line define the sides, and Corvette-inspired taillights are featured at the rear. The SS adds a typical aero kit, with a flat airdam front bumper fascia complete with projector-beam foglamps and an auxiliary intake for the intercooler, side sill extensions, and a faux diffuser and oversized exhaust tip at the rear. And then there is the obligatory oversized rear wing, which, as usual with such, blocks the all-important rear view.

COMFORT: As quick as it may be, the Cobalt SS Supercharged is no cramped, Spartan race car inside. The design motif is best describes as American with European and Asian influences - which, come to think of it, could describe the entire car. The SS gets special styling, with body color matched perforated leather inserts in its comfortable and supportive front sports seats and a unique instrument cluster featuring a boost gauge on the left-hand A-pillar. The steering wheel has a thick leather rim, and both it and the shift lever are positioned well for serious driving. The pedals are plain rubber, maybe not as trick looking as metal and rubber ones, but offering much better foot grip, especially in damp weather. Access to the rear seat is average for a two-door coupe, with room adequate for two medium-sized adults. Trunk space is good, but access is hampered by the small opening. On the other hand, a large fastback hatchback opening would have degraded chassis rigidity.

SAFETY: Like all Cobalts, the SS Supercharged has standard dual stage front airbags and optional side-curtain airbags. The passenger compartment is protected by a strong safety structure, with the roof capable of withstanding 1.5 times the car's gross weight rating and front and rear crumple zones. The rear structure is designed to withstand a 50mph impact to help protect the fuel tank.

RIDE AND HANDLING: There is really no secret to the optimum suspension setup. All it takes is a rigid chassis structure, for predictable response to suspension inputs, enough suspension travel to deal with expected road irregularities, tires large enough to provide the necessary traction but not too large, as then they increase drag and decrease performance, and springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars tuned to work with each other and allow the necessary suspension movement, and no more. This merely takes careful design and a large amount of testing and refinement, and so has often not been done completely, especially in affordably-priced cars. Chevrolet is to be commended for not only finishing the job in the Cobalt SS's suspension design and calibration, but for doing that job very, very well. There is enough suspension travel to deal with everyday potholes and bumps, and the springs, shocks, and stabilizer bars work together to keep the sticky 215/45 WR18 Pirelli P-Zeros in contact with the pavement at all times - in comfort. No harshness, no limited-travel ``race suspension'', just a setup that works on the track or on the street, and that does not preclude use of the car for long highway trips. Some high-performance sport-compacts are one-dimensional thrill machines that beat you up; the Cobalt SS is a balanced and comfortable ride that just happens to be very quick in both acceleration and handling.

PERFORMANCE: If there's no replacement for displacement, an engine can also be ``enlarged'' by forced induction. Power, after all, is produced by the combustion of fuel and air. More air plus more fuel equals more power, and in the Cobalt SS Supercharged, more air is obtained through an Eaton M62 Roots supercharger that delivers up to 12 psi of boost. With 205 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 200 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm, the 2.0-liter version of the Ecotec engine makes 40 percent more horsepower and 33 percent more torque than the 2.2-liter naturally-aspirated engine in other Cobalt models. Because of the additional strain imposed by the blower, the engine's internal parts are significantly strengthened, with a forged steel crankshaft, stainless steel intake valves, and sodium-cooled exhaust valves just some of the modifications. The engine needs to be revved a bit for the best performance - it's a little weak below 3,000 rpm and then just builds from strong to stronger, with a torque surge that feels more like its coming from a big V8 than a small-bore four. The five-speed gearbox is a good match, with slick, quick linkage and well-chosen ratios. Despite its performance potential, the Cobalt SS Supercharged is relatively frugal on fuel. With a not particularly light right foot, I got a 23.5 mpg average with mostly traffic and backroad driving.

CONCLUSIONS: Chevrolet has a winner in the sport-compact class with its Cobalt SS Supercharged coupe.

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged Coupe

Base Price			        $ 21,430
Price As Tested			$ 23,410
Engine Type			dual overhead cam, 16-valve 
				  supercharged and intercooled
				  aluminum alloy inline four-cylinder
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			205 @ 5600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			200 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		103.3 in. / 180.5 in.
Curb Weight			2806 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		13.7
Fuel Capacity			13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement   	   91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P215/45 WR18 Pirelli P-Zero
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				   antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				   semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		23 / 29 / 23.5
0 to 60 mph				6.1  sec (mfg)

Side head curtain airbags		$ 395
OnStar system				$ 695
XM Satellite radio			$ 325
Destination charge			$ 565