Review and photos by Haney Louka

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LS Coupe
Click image to enlarge

With the new Cobalt, Chevy had a tough job on its hands. On one hand, the aged Cavalier, Cobalt’s predecessor, had fallen way behind its competitors in almost every category that mattered, relying on huge discounts to keep inventory flying out the door. There’s no question the General had to develop a competent car with more going for it than just price.

On the other hand, buyers still expect big discounts and a hefty price advantage relative to the imports – a well-equipped Cobalt is a tough sell with a twenty-something price tag.

And there is a third hand here. In Canada, Chevrolet markets and sells the Optra, a car that is similar in size and price to the Cobalt, but which has a distinctly imported character due to its Korean origins. To differentiate the Cobalt, General Motors needed to make it appeal to domestic-oriented buyers.

After spending a week with the new Cobalt, it’s clear to me that Chevrolet has accomplished its goal. Yes, it’s vastly improved over the Cavalier yet it retains a domestic flavour. And it’s still cheaper than the imports, if we’re talking about the drive-away price and not the number on the window sticker.

So is the new Cobalt for you? It depends on whether the Cobalt’s strengths are a match for your priorities.

Standard equipment

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LS Coupe

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LS Coupe

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LS Coupe
Click image to enlarge

My test example was a two-door Cobalt LS Coupe with five-speed manual transmission. For a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $19,795, buyers get a 2.2-litre Ecotec engine (more later), folding rear seat, 15-inch alloy wheels, power windows and locks with keyless entry, A/C, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, and CD stereo.

Add the $420 rear spoiler, and the as-tested price becomes $20,215 before dealing. And dealing there is. As I write this, the GM employee discount brings the price down to about $18,000, and that’s before additional incentives and negotiation are factored in.

While the sedan and coupe share the clean new face of the Cobalt, I prefer the look of the sedan in profile or rear-view. The coupe, particularly in my tester’s conspicuous ‘rally yellow’ paint, exhibits somewhat bulbous hind-quarters and throws the car’s proportions off. The undersized 15-inch alloys that are standard-issue on the LS don’t help the oversized sheetmetal either.


Nicer interior

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LS Coupe

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LS Coupe
Click image to enlarge

Inside, the execution has been more successful. While appearance and fit-and-finish are much improved, there is still abundant use of hard plastics throughout. But the layout is clean and pleasing to the eye. Faux-metal trim adorns the centre stack, which houses straightforward audio and HVAC controls.

Seating fabrics are decent, but the seats themselves are flat and lack thigh and lateral support. Rear seat occupants are treated to more space and comfort than expected, and the oversized doors (were they lifted from a Monte Carlo?) make it relatively easy to get in and out. Those same doors, however, make getting out after parking in tight spaces a challenge.

The dash contains but three dials – speedometer, tachometer, and fuel gauges – and the coolant temperature can be displayed only digitally after navigating through other information on the display.


Driving impressions

Mechanically, the Cobalt again shows that it’s light years ahead of the old Cavalier. While it’s still powered by a 2.2-litre Ecotec four-banger, power and torque are each up 5 to 145 hp and 155 lb-ft respectively. But more importantly, the Cobalt’s powertrain is quieter and smoother and goes about its business without fuss. Its engine is perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the Cobalt. While not overtly sporting in nature, it packs gobs of torque and makes getting up to speed a cakewalk.

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LS Coupe
Click image to enlarge

The five-speed shifter in my tester took some getting used to. It’s positioned farther back on the centre console than I would have liked, and the shift throws are long. Second gear especially feels like it should be located by a back-seat driver.

Suspended on MacPherson struts in front and a semi-independent torsion beam rear axle, the Cobalt has a big-car ride that soaks up the bumps. As such, body motions are a little larger in magnitude than they could be and damping seems a half-step behind. It’s just not a buttoned-down performance-oriented ride.

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LS Coupe
Click image to enlarge

Guide the Cobalt into a corner with gusto and the steering reveals itself as responsive yet lacking in feel. There’s not a lot of communication in general between pavement and pilot, and that underlines the Cobalt’s mission. But coming back on the gas as the road straightens out does reveal the most endearing quality about the Cobalt versus its competition.

The front-disc, rear-drum brake set-up proved adequate for everyday driving, although the pedal feel was a little squishy. From a dollars and cents standpoint, rear drums actually have an advantage over discs in that they’re not only cheaper, but they are sealed and thus not susceptible to picking up grime from the road and seizing up over time.


Shopping Around

In the economy segment, the bottom line is what sells. Here is a list of vehicles that can be had well-equipped for $15-20K:

  • Chevrolet Optra

  • Dodge SX 2.0
  • Ford Focus
  • Honda Civic
  • Hyundai Elantra
  • Kia Spectra
  • Mazda3
  • Mitsubishi Lancer
  • Nissan Sentra
  • Pontiac Pursuit
  • Saturn Ion
  • Smart Fortwo
  • Suzuki Aerio
  • Toyota Corolla
  • VW Golf


Verdict

Chevrolet’s long-overdue replacement for the Cavalier has found itself one step closer to the imports in the areas of overall performance and refinement, but still isn’t a contender when measured against those criteria. It does, though, retain traditional domestic values – lots of space, lots of power, and a low price – that are sure to keep sales strong.


Technical Data: 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt LS Coupe

Base price $15,495
Base price (LS) $19,795
Options $420 (rear spoiler)
Freight $950
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $21,265
Type 2-door, 4-passenger coupe
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine 2.2-litre inline-4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 145 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque 155 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission five-speed manual
Tires P195/60R-15 all-season
Curb weight 1,281 kg (2,824 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,623 mm (103.3 in.)
Length 4,580 mm (180.3 in.)
Width 1,725 mm (67.9 in.)
Height 1,415 mm (55.7 in.)
Trunk capacity 394 litres (13.9 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 9.5 L/100 km (30 mpg Imperial)
  Highway: 6.1 L/100 km (46 mpg Imperial)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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