2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE. Click image to enlarge

Related articles on Autos

First Drives

2005 Chevrolet Cobalt

Test Drives

2007 Chevrolet Cobalt LT
2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Day-by-Day Reviews

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
2007 Chevrolet Cobalt LT

2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Manufacturer’s web site

General Motors of Canada

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Photo Gallery:
2009 Chevrolet Cobalt

Ottawa, Ontario – It’s common for automobile manufacturers to “refresh” a model that’s been on the market for a few years since its last major redesign. This gives the company something new to promote, even if the changes to the car or truck are relatively minor. In these uncertain financial times, what better way to get consumers’ attention than to introduce a more fuel-efficient version of a car? That’s what Chevrolet is hoping to accomplish with the new Cobalt XFE.

The odd model designation stands for “extra fuel efficiency,” and while that makes it sound like you’ll find some advanced technology at work to turn this car into a hybrid-fighter – well, that’s not what you get.

What Chevy has done is take its basic Cobalt LS and add taller gearing and low rolling resistance tires to create a car it says is 13 per cent more efficient in city driving, and eight per cent more so on the highway than a comparable 2008 Cobalt LS.

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE. Click image to enlarge

The entry-level LS seems a good choice for the XFE designation, too, as it comes with little in the way of standard convenience items. To wit: my test car had manual windows, locks and mirrors; in fact, the optional air conditioning in my car was the only nod to comfort (though in the cool weather that arrived the same week I had this car, heated seats would have been more welcome). The point here is that fewer extras mean less weight, which translates into less fuel needed to move the car.

The 2009 Cobalt LS XFE comes with a starting price of $15,325. My tester added air conditioning ($1,150); anti-lock brakes ($600); front and rear side impact curtain airbags ($395); and GM’s OnStar communication system ($395). With $1,225 for freight and the $100 A/C excise tax, the total came to $19,190.

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE. Click image to enlarge

Back to basics, so to speak: the Cobalt XFE uses the same 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine as other models (save for the turbocharged SS), and while this is a decent motor, it’s also not the most efficient in its class. It’s a little on the coarse side, too, probably owing to its rather large (for a compact) displacement; most compacts do the trick with 2.0-litre-or-smaller engines.

The five-speed manual that’s standard on every non-SS Cobalt (that car uses a five-speed too, but it’s a different gearbox) is the only one available with the XFE trim. Opt for an LS with automatic, and you lose this car’s economy adders. I can’t help but wonder if that might be a mistake, given how many compact buyers choose automatic transmissions.

Unfortunately, the manual transmission is not much fun to use. The shift linkage is rubbery and the clutch vague; ergonomically, the shift lever itself seems positioned for the tall driver who will move the seat way back in its tracks. Everyone else will wish it was two or three inches further forward.

An upshift indicator light on the dash tells the driver when to shift for optimal economy. Follow the car’s advice, and GM says you should be able to achieve its EnerGuide fuel consumption ratings of 8.0/5.4 L/100 km (city/highway). Drive as the car suggests, though, and you’ll be doing two things: upshifting before the engine even reaches 2,000 rpm; and annoying everyone behind you, as you tortoise away from traffic lights. Drive the car normally – as in, keep up with traffic – as I did, and you’d probably achieve something similar to the 9.5 L/100 km average that I managed, in mostly city driving. (Interestingly, the car’s on-board fuel consumption computer gave me a much more optimistic average of 8.4 L/100 km.)

That 9.5 L/100 km average is only slightly better than the 10.2 L/100 km I achieved in the last Cobalt I drove, an LT automatic model.

The tall gearing means that the motor lopes along at just over 2,000 rpm in fifth gear at 100 km/h. That is great for fuel economy, but it also makes for lazier acceleration. This is mostly noticeable on the highway: where many compacts can get out of their own way in top gear at highway speeds, this Cobalt asks for a downshift before it will move away with any urgency.

In other ways, the XFE is standard-issue Cobalt. The styling, inside and out, is sensible and utterly functional, rather than stylish. Interior space is good up front, and if rear-seat headroom is good, leg and elbow room are tight. Comfort is so-so all around. The front seat backrests are shaped oddly, and don’t offer much support, while the back seat is hard and the bottom cushion too low.

The trunk is a decent size, its 394-litre capacity besting that of other compacts, including the Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. Naturally, the back seats fold down, and doing so creates a generous opening into the passenger compartment.

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE. Click image to enlarge

If the ride is a little soft for my liking, most drivers will find it very comfortable, and the Cobalt is surprisingly agile for a model that, visually, at least, saves all its excitement for the awesome SS model. The low rolling resistance tires offer a decent amount of grip, so even if aggressive cornering elicits lots of body roll, the tires and compliant suspension will hang on willingly.

With all of the current talk of complicated hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles, it’s nice to see a simple attempt to create a more efficient version of an existing model. The lack of an automatic transmission option with the economy-adders does seem like an oversight, though. The Cobalt XFE might be enough to bring shoppers into Chevy showrooms, but whether they like what they see enough – and believe what they read, with respect to fuel consumption numbers – to leave with one is another story.

Pricing: 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE

Base price: $15,325

Options: $2,540 (air conditioning, $1,150; anti-lock brakes, $600; front and rear side curtain airbags, $395; OnStar, $395)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,225
Price as tested: $19,190
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt

    Related articles on Autos
    First Drives
  • 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt
    Test Drives
  • 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt LT
  • 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS
    Day-by-Day Reviews
  • 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
  • 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt LT
  • 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

    Competitors
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Dodge Caliber
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Ford Focus
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Honda Civic
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Hyundai Elantra
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Mazda3
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Mitsubishi Lancer
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Nissan Sentra
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Pontiac G5
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Subaru Impreza
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Suzuki SX4
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Toyota Corolla
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2009 Volkswagen Jetta

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • General Motors of Canada
  • Connect with Autos.ca