2008 Chevrolet Cobalt Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 8, 2008

The Cobalt is cheap and comfortable, and it performs reasonably well, but it's past its prime.

The experienced reviewers at TheCarConnection.com picked the best, most useful information to share regarding the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt. TheCarConnection.com's editors have also driven the Cobalt and pass along their observations and advice.

A new high-performance 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS model is the big news for the Cobalt, Chevrolet's family of front-wheel-drive compact sedans and coupes. Other Cobalt models return for 2008 with only minimal changes. Three trim levels are offered on the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt: LS, LT, and Sport. The first two feature a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, which produces 148 horsepower. A 171-horsepower, 2.4-liter four is offered on Cobalt Sport models.

The standard Cobalt coupe and sedan have unimpressive fuel economy, but late in the model year, GM is introducing eco-minded changes to the basic 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt LS and 1LT models--bringing fuel economy up to 25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway.

The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Coupe has abundant power on tap from a 260-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that shares much of its fundamentals with the engine in the Pontiac Solstice GXP. With a new five-speed manual transmission, it can scoot to 60 mph in about 5.7 seconds. Brembo front brakes, stability control, and side airbags, along with a new body kit, are standard on the SS.

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With either engine or transmission, the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt delivers perky performance, although the engine is neither as smooth nor as quiet as most other cars in its class. The Cobalt has a comfortable ride, but its vague handling--possibly due to the electric power-steering system--doesn't make it especially fun to drive. The driving position is low, and the front seats are oddly proportioned, while the backseat is also low and cramped; it's split and folds forward to expand the already generous trunk space. The interior is quite drab and plasticky, but the instrument panel area itself is very clean and well designed.

Last year's Sport package becomes the Performance Appearance Package and is available on 2LT models; it includes a rear spoiler, 16-inch aluminum wheels, stainless-steel exhaust with chrome tips, fog lamps, white-face gauges, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob. XM is installed free of charge across the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt line.

Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are standard on the 2LT, Sport, and SS, but ABS is optional on the rest of the line, and stability control isn't otherwise available. The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt has unimpressive crash-test results, though. Even with standard side-curtain airbags for 2008 (side-thorax bags aren't available), the Cobalt got only three stars out of five--the lowest score typically awarded--from the federal government in side-impact protection for front occupants. The Cobalt got four and five stars in the other categories. In insurance-industry tests, the Cobalt scored "acceptable" in side impact and "good" in the other categories.

The Cobalt's five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty is attractive, but the Cobalt has one of the lowest rates of satisfaction of any small car, according to Consumer Reports, which is another reason to be wary.

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2008 Chevrolet Cobalt

Styling

The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt elevates its styling game only on the kitted-up SS version.

The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt is Chevy's entry into the compact-car segment. Launched in 2005, the Cobalt replaced the Cavalier, and it's built on the same front-drive Delta platform as the Saturn Astra.

For 2008, Chevrolet offers many different flavors of Cobalt, and the styling ranges from mild to sort of wild, depending on the particular model. ConsumerGuide notes that the Chevrolet 2008 Cobalt comes as a two-door coupe or four-door sedan. Edmunds briefly describes the complicated offering from Chevrolet: "Cobalt is available in compact sedan and coupe body styles, each split into LS, LT and Sport trim levels. Additionally, the Cobalt SS is a coupe-only model for 2008." Cars.com adds, "Both body styles feature a horizontally split grille with a gold bow tie badge." Edmunds calls the styling plain “unless you upgrade to the Sport or SS model.” The top-of-the-line SS version of the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt has by far the most flamboyant styling, described by The Auto Channel as "dressed up with unique front and rear fascias, slightly lowered ride height and increased track, special rocker molding, standard rear wing, 18-inch twin five-spoke forged aluminum wheels, SS badging and some great, vivid colors." Other models are less gussied up, however, leading Car and Driver to describe the 2008 Chevrolet as "forgettable and uninspiring."

All Cobalts share a common interior styling that includes "attractive gauges and a full-featured stereo head," Edmunds says, giving "the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt a modern feel." However, "compared to the interiors of the Honda Civic or Saturn Astra,” they add, “the Cobalt's design seems rather bland." Car and Driver is less kind, reporting that it has a "dashboard design that tries to ape the previous-generation Volkswagen Jetta but comes up short." ConsumerGuide gives a mixed review of the little Chevrolet, 2008 model, citing a "neat, logical dashboard," but adding, "Some testers find the gauges a tad small and recessed too far into the dashboard for easy reading." Cars.com notes "some cheap-looking controls," but ConsumerGuide is pleased with the "neat, logical dashboard."

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2008 Chevrolet Cobalt

Performance

The base 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt has ordinary performance, but SS models are quick, with responsive handling.

The pedestrian versions of the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt offer exactly that: pedestrian performance. The SS model, though, has scorching straight-line acceleration and much-improved handling.

All 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt models are powered by four-cylinder engines, observes ConsumerGuide. Of those, Car and Driver reports base models "are powered by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder with 148 horsepower. Moving upward yields a 2.4-liter version of the same engine with 171 horsepower." Car and Driver adds that the 2.0-liter Chevy Cobalt base engine is "responsive and predictable, but lack[ing] pizzazz." Kelley Blue Book agrees with other assessments of the Chevrolet 2008 Cobalt handling, calling it "well-assisted" and "confident." Though they also feel the Chevrolet Cobalt "engines lack refinement and quiet operation" as commonly available from the competition, the 2008 Chevy does at least offer "good acceleration and passing power." ConsumerGuide chides Chevrolet for an engine that can "moan unpleasantly when accelerating," though they note it can "cruise calmly enough."

At Chevrolet, 2008 sees the introduction of the most powerful Cobalt ever, the new SS. Edmunds reports that the mini hot rod Chevrolet, 2008 version, with its 260-hp turbocharged engine, "boasts some of the best performance available in this segment." Edmunds reviewers were impressed with the power in the SS 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt trim, describing it as providing "respectable acceleration, smooth ride [and] excellent performance." With a five-speed manual transmission, it can scoot to 60 mph in about 5.7 seconds. ConsumerGuide reports that it makes the SS "much easier to drive than the old SS Supercharged.”

ConsumerGuide reports that a five-speed manual transmission is standard on all 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt models, and a four-speed automatic is optional on all but the SS. They also comment, "With the automatic transmission, acceleration is adequate but not as lively as 171 hp might suggest." Car and Driver calls the five-speed manual "easy to shift." When test driven by reviewers for Cars.com, the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt proved itself with a "reasonably spirited performance, even with an automatic transmission."

Edmunds states that the "2.2-liter and 2.4-liter engines get virtually the same fuel economy, with 2008 EPA estimates of 22-24 mpg city and 31-33 mpg highway," and adds that manual-transmission models yield higher numbers; a new version offers as much as 25/36 mpg.

As for ride and handling, "the ride is surprisingly good, with only larger bumps and holes causing trouble," writes Cars.com, a sentiment found to be unanimous by TheCarConnection.com. ConsumerGuide reports, "Cobalts absorb most bumps quite well and feel stable over swells and dips." However, Edmunds describes the handling as "dull." Motor Trend criticizes the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt’s "electric power steering" as being "linear but lack[ing] tactility," but The Detroit News compliments its "comfortable, compliant ride" and "excellent chassis dynamics.”

ConsumerGuide states, "Stopping control is good, but models equipped with rear drum brakes have spongy brake-pedal feel."

The handling of the SS is widely praised, with ConsumerGuide describing it as "nimble, with little [body] lean and firm steering."

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2008 Chevrolet Cobalt

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt gets by with good interior space, but trim quality and rear-seat room are not up to par.

The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt has good seating space in front and less comfy chairs in the back. And while assembly quality is good, materials are a little inexpensive-looking.

ConsumerGuide describes the 2008 Chevrolet's accommodations as "typical compact-car space and comfort," adding that the "seat cushions are a bit short for best thigh support, but generous rearward travel gives good legroom for tall occupants." Cars.com writes that "with front bucket seats and a 60/40-split folding rear seat, all Cobalts seat five occupants," noting that "higher-than-usual seating positions are intended to give sedan occupants a more commanding view of the road." Of the coupe model, Cars.com says, "Backseat space is awful, with marginal headroom and virtually no legroom unless the front seat is well forward. Getting in and out is a battle." Edmunds agrees, commenting "seat comfort is another area where the Cobalt generally falls short, although the SS model's sport seats are first-rate." However, ConsumerGuide doesn't think much even of the SS model's seats: "Seat room and comfort in all models trail class rivals, even in sedans."

Trunk space in this 2008 Chevrolet is more highly regarded; ConsumerGuide states, "Both body styles have usefully shaped trunks with good room that's expandable via folding rear seatbacks," although they warn, "Strut-type lid hinges don't steal space, but the trunk opening is too small for really big cargo." Cars.com points out, "Occupants can access the trunk area from inside the car," which can be convenient on long road trips, in addition to greatly increasing usable cargo space. Edmunds calls interior storage in this Chevrolet 2008 model "deficient," while Consumer Guide reports, "Interior storage is subpar, with a smallish glove compartment, center console, and door pockets."

The CarConnection.com finds that the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt doesn't receive high marks for quality of materials, either. Edmunds cites, "bargain-bin interior materials" and "mediocre fit and finish." Car and Driver agrees, pointing to "shiny, poorly grained plastic." But ConsumerGuide takes a more positive view, reporting that while "Hard plastics dominate the cabin...many surfaces are textured so that they don't look cheap." And in terms of noise in the Chevrolet 2008 Cobalt, ConsumerGuide reports, "Wind rush and most road noise is relatively low for the class," but does adds that the "2.2- and 2.4-liter engines moan unpleasantly when accelerating but cruise calmly enough."

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2008 Chevrolet Cobalt

Safety

The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt scores well enough in crash tests, but some models omit important safety gear.

The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt scores reasonably well in federal and industry-sponsored crash tests, but star ratings vary by body style and seating position.

The Cobalt two- and four-door models get identical front-impact scores from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): four stars for the driver, five stars for the passenger. The two-door gets four stars for driver-side impacts; the four-door gets three stars for that position. The two-door gets four stars for passenger-side impacts, while the four-door gets five stars. Got it?

As Car and Driver reports, "Dual front airbags, curtain side-impact airbags, and tire-pressure monitoring are standard across the Cobalt lineup," and "Stability control and four-wheel disc brakes are standard on the Sport and SS models and are not offered on any other Cobalt models."

OnStar emergency services are standard on the 2LT and Sport and optional on the LS and 1LT variants of this Chevrolet 2008 model, reports Car and Driver. Also, models with an automatic transmission and optional anti-lock brakes get traction control as standard equipment.

Finally, ConsumerGuide states, "Visibility is a bit restricted to the right rear in sedans," pointing out that the "tall spoiler on the SS really restricts the view out back."

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2008 Chevrolet Cobalt

Features

The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt offers great value in base versions, but better equipment boosts its price quickly—and some of the latest tech features aren’t available at all.

For 2008, Chevrolet offers a Byzantine array of trim levels. The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt comes in five different varieties, most of which are available with either two or four doors.

According to Car and Driver, the LS trim level, at $14,585, is the bottom-of-the-line model and is available on the coupe or sedan. For 2008, Chevrolet's LS trim level includes a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine with 148 horsepower; a five-speed manual transmission; air conditioning; curtain airbags; 15-inch steel wheels with wheel covers; automatic headlights; front disc and rear drum brakes; an AM/FM/XM Satellite Radio/CD stereo system with auxiliary input and MP3 capability; manual windows, locks, and mirrors; four-way manually adjustable front seats; folding rear seats; and cloth upholstery.

Spending $15,295 buys the Chevrolet 2008 1LT Cobalt model, which is also available in coupe or sedan form. It includes all of the standard equipment of the LS model, as well as power door locks with remote keyless entry, sport cloth upholstery, front and rear floor mats, a front-seat armrest, and power-adjustable body-colored side-view mirrors.

A Chevrolet 2008 2LT version of the Cobalt costs $16,590, and also comes in coupe or sedan form. It includes everything from the 1LT and adds anti-lock brakes, a cargo net, cruise control, body-color side moldings, 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, and OnStar convenience and emergency services.

One step down from the top of the Chevrolet 2008 Cobalt range is the Sport model, which costs $19,870. It includes everything from the 2LT and adds a 171-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, 17-inch aluminum wheels, a more powerful Pioneer stereo system with seven speakers, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, a stainless-steel exhaust system with a chrome tip, front and rear body-color fascias, rocker-panel ground effects, white-faced gauges, a trip computer, a rear spoiler, stability control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, and a leather-wrapped shift knob. The 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt in this form is a pretty nice car, but spending an extra $3,000 will buy a serious performance machine, the SS.

The SS model costs $22,995 includes as standard equipment a 260-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine, new front and rear fascias, new side sills, a rear spoiler stability control, 18-inch forged aluminum wheels, a sport suspension, sport seats, the seven-speaker Pioneer stereo, and other SS trim details. It will also blow the doors off of any other Cobalt--and many other cars costing a lot more money, for that matter, reports Car and Driver.

According to Edmunds, options available on the LT and Sport are a sunroof, remote ignition, leather upholstery, and an in-dash six-CD changer. And for the SS coupe, options include the sunroof, a limited-slip differential, and larger rear spoiler--"wing" is really a more appropriate word for it. Bluetooth and a navigation system are not offered.

Drivers who must have this car with two extra doors need only wait a little longer because a Cobalt SS sedan is in the works for the 2009 model year.

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