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With its expressive styling and general all-around competence, the Chevrolet Cobalt competes effectively against the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Ford Focus, an impressive achievement, considering how long the competition has dominated this game.
The Cobalt is the quietest, most refined small car GM has ever built. It's based on a strong, stiff platform, a key element for crisp handling and as smooth ride. The SS models use this to maximum advantage resulting in a dynamic driving experience. If you're looking for inexpensive, high-value transportation with a new-car warranty, the Cobalt is worth a look.
Premium features are available like heated leather seats, XM Satellite Radio, MP3, and OnStar.
Driving the supercharged SS model is an absolute hoot. Quick, responsive handling and brisk acceleration performance along with a sporty sounding exhaust note make the supercharged coupe entertaining to drive, a sport compact that can more than hold its own in the class.
New for 2006 are SS sedan and coupe models with normally aspirated engines. These new SS models fit between the LT and SS Supercharged models. Their price, power and performance and body work are all toned down from the SS Supercharged coupe, but they're sporty cars and possibly the best choice in the lineup, boasting 171-horsepower engines and sports suspensions.
The Chevrolet Cobalt is quite pleasant to drive, especially the SS models. It's quiet for a car that retails for less than $20,000. Chevrolet put considerable effort into special door seals, sandwich steel panels, thick carpets and pads, noise blockers and noise absorbers throughout the front, middle and rear of the car. As a result, normal front-seat conversation is possible at speeds above 90 mph.
If you want enjoyment in your driving you'll have to step up to the SS models.
We drove an LT with ABS and four-wheel disc brakes and found them to be powerful, and progressive, with a good ratio between pedal travel and braking action. The brakes seemed a little mushy on the LS, which comes with rear drum brakes.
The 2.2-liter engine, which is rated at 145 horsepower, was a bit of a disappointment. It was smooth, but never felt truly powerful until it was revving very high. The four-speed automatic doesn't help, with kickdown that reminded us of a rental car.
The supercharged engine in the Cobalt SS Supercharged was another story. We like the way it sounded when it revved and, paired with the manual gearbox, it offered responsive performance.
The Chevrolet Cobalt will satisfy the needs of drivers looking for economy of price, economy of operation, and a nice, quiet ride. We think it's a handsome, well-equipped car. The standard engine could offer more responsive low-end power, however. The Cobalt LS and LT models are the epitome of driving excitement, however. They're not made for that. They deliver four people comfortably, five only in a pinch, on a minimal outlay for fuel and monthly payments. The SS models are fun to drive, particularly the Cobalt SS Supercharged coupe.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in Dearborn, Michigan; Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.