2009 Chevrolet Cobalt

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
January 5, 2009

Buying tip

The Pontiac G5 has an almost identical mechanical layout to the Cobalt coupe, with a similar price, and you may like the G5's styling better.

features & specs

2-Door Coupe Base
2-Door Coupe LS
2-Door Coupe LT w/1LT
25 city / 35 hwy
25 city / 37 hwy
25 city / 37 hwy

The price is right for the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt, yet most of its competitors offer a better overall value.

The experienced reviewers at TheCarConnection.com picked the best, most useful information to share regarding the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt. TheCarConnection.com's editors have also driven the Cobalt and pass along their observations and advice.

The Cobalt is Chevrolet’s family of compact coupes and sedans, and it returns for 2009 with only minimal changes. Last year, the big news was the expansion of the high-performance SS to the sedan body style, rather than just the coupe, and mid-year, new more fuel-efficient XFE models joined the lineup.

Three trim levels are offered on the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt: LS, LT, and SS. The first two feature a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 155 horsepower, which is up by 7 horsepower compared to 2008. Chevrolet Cobalt SS models are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine.

Chevrolet has applied the efficiency gains of the XFE model to the entire non-SS Cobalt lineup, which means that all models will get a significant fuel economy boost compared to last year's model. Thanks to a taller drive ratio and variable valve timing, the EPA estimates that the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt will get 37 mpg on the highway and a respectable 25 mpg in the city.

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The 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS has a different personality altogether, with 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. Brembo front brakes, stability control, and side airbags, along with a new body kit, are standard on the SS. With a new five-speed manual transmission, it can scoot to 60 mph in about 5.7 seconds.

Performance from the base versions of the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt is quite perky—provided you’re traveling on a relatively straight road. But the Cobalt’s normally aspirated four-cylinder engines are neither as smooth nor as quiet as most other engines in its class. Get to curves and the Cobalt’s electric power steering maintains a light, detached feeling that’s not at all confidence-inspiring. A soft suspension calibration for the base models doesn’t help either, though ride quality is good.

The interior packaging of the Cobalt is a bit odd compared to rivals and, dare we say, a bit retro. The seats are mounted low and oddly proportioned in front, inviting a driving position that’s more reclined than most drivers want, while the backseat is also low and cramped; it's split, and it folds forward to expand the already generous trunk space. The interior overall is quite drab and plasticky, but the instrument panel area itself is very clean, straightforward, 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 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt line.

Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are standard on the 2LT and SS, but ABS is optional on the rest of the line, and stability control isn't otherwise available. Safety ratings for the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt aren’t stellar either. In NHTSA tests the sedan scores just three stars in the side driver category; in other categories the Cobalt gets four and five stars. The IIHS awards the highest rating of "good" for frontal offset impacts and "acceptable" in side impact tests.

The Cobalt has unimpressive resale value and, according to Consumer Reports, one of the lowest rates of satisfaction of any small car, which is another reason to be wary, but the Cobalt's five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty—backed by Chevrolet dealerships everywhere—is enviable.


2009 Chevrolet Cobalt


Even with SS styling now optional across the lineup, the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt is in urgent need of a makeover—especially inside.

For 2009, Chevrolet has changed the model lineup and added an optional Sport Appearance Package to its compact Chevrolet Cobalt. However, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that Chevrolet needs to do more to make base versions of the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt more visually exciting.

Reviewers at ConsumerGuide report that the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt "comes as a 2-door coupe or a 4-door sedan in LS, LT, and high-performance SS trims," while also noting that "the SS sedan is new for 2009." The Chevrolet Cobalt SS is definitely the class standout in the styling department, and The Auto Channel says that it is "dressed up with unique front and rear fascias, slightly lowered ride height and increased track, special rocker molding, standard rear wing...and some great, vivid colors." Reviewers are less kind to the LS and LT trims, though, as Car and Driver rips into the "generic, character-free...exterior design" that they claim is "already a step behind the competition when the car launched in 2005." For those who don't want to shell out the extra money for a Chevrolet Cobalt SS but still want the better styling, ConsumerGuide states that the Sport Appearance Package adds the "fog lights, body cladding, rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tip...[and] polished alloy wheels" from the SS for just $795.

Despite the exterior differences on the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt lineup, once you are behind the steering wheel, the styling story is the same for all Chevrolet Cobalts. The interior of this compact 2009 Chevrolet is functional, but certainly not at the cutting edge of interior design. ConsumerGuide reviewers appreciate the "neat, logical dashboard," although some of "the gauges [are] a tad small and recessed too far into the cluster for easy reading." Kelley Blue Book reports that "the interiors, crafted to offer five-passenger seating, are attractive, if rather basic." On the negative side once again is Car and Driver, where testers deride the "cheap-looking interior" on the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt. Edmunds splits the difference between these opinions, finding that the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt has "a modern feel," but when "compared to the interiors of the Honda Civic or Saturn Astra the Cobalt's design seems rather bland."

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2009 Chevrolet Cobalt


Base versions of the Cobalt aren’t at all pulse-raising, but the Cobalt SS brings a lot of performance for a low price.

Both the LS and LT trims of the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt are your typical, forgettable compact coupe or sedan, with what reviewers generally agree is lackluster performance. The Chevrolet Cobalt SS is a completely different animal, offering blistering acceleration and much-improved handling.

The 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt family offers a pair of fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines. Cars.com says that the "LS and LT models use a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine with new variable valve timing" that puts out 155 horsepower, while the Chevrolet Cobalt SS "uses a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter four-cylinder" making 260 hp.

When it comes to driving excitement, the LS and LT are thrilling in the sense that they'll get you to your destination quicker than if you walked or ran, but that's about it. Motor Trend describes the driving experience in these low-powered Chevrolet Cobalts as "rental-car boredom at its best," although Kelley Blue Book characterizes the Cobalt as offering "reasonably spirited performance." Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com unanimously approve of the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS, though, and MyRide.com points out that the Cobalt is "capable of hitting 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and using up every bit of its 160-mph speedometer." One noticeable difference between the engine on the Chevrolet Cobalt and that of its competitors is, according to Kelley Blue Book, "the exhaust note," which gets loud under acceleration and sounds unrefined.

The 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt offers two transmissions for the LT and LS and just one for the Chevrolet Cobalt SS. ConsumerGuide reports that "all Cobalts have a standard five-speed manual transmission," while "a four-speed automatic is available on the LS and LT." Reviews of both transmissions tend toward the positive, with Cars.com commenting that the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt offers "reasonably spirited performance, even with the automatic transmission." Consumer Guide says that, "turbo or not, the manual transmission has positive shift and clutch action." MyRide.com also praises the "five speed manual [that] offers a no-lift feature and short throws."

Fuel economy is a sore point for previous model years of the Chevrolet Cobalt, and many consumers can't understand why a small, light car gets such low mileage ratings from the EPA. For 2009 Chevrolet has addressed the problem by introducing variable valve timing to its 2.2-liter engine, and the results are impressive. The EPA estimates that base Chevrolet Cobalts with the automatic transmission will get 24 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, while manual transmission versions can expect 25 mpg city, 35 mpg on the highway. Even the high-performance Chevrolet Cobalt SS is no slouch in the fuel economy department, returning 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.

Reviewers have little to say about the Cobalt’s handling. Car and Driver describes it as "competent," because while "the Cobalt doesn't exactly encourage the driver to flog it," at the same time it "has no glaring dynamic flaws." The lack of feedback through the electric power steering system continues to be an issue. The SS is much more capable, and ConsumerGuide calls it "nimble, with little cornering lean and firm steering." ConsumerGuide also reports that braking isn't a concern since the "standard four-wheel disc brakes provide good stopping control."

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2009 Chevrolet Cobalt

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt offers decent comfort levels for a small car but has a long way to go to bring a feeling of refinement and quality.

While working within the constraints of assembling a cheap compact car, the designers at GM have done a decent job of creating a very livable car with a good, smooth ride, although seating comfort isn’t ideal.

Cars.com says that "with front bucket seats and a 60/40-split folding rear seat, all Cobalts seat five occupants," and other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that occupants should have ample room. Kelley Blue Book reviewers claim that "front passengers enjoy good head, leg and elbow room." Consumer Guide agrees, but notes that not everyone will be comfortable, as "the seat cushions are a bit short for best thigh support," the "generous rearward travel gives good legroom for tall occupants." MyRide.com also points out that the Chevrolet Cobalt SS features "deeply bolstered sport seats," though some reviewers find them a bit too confining.

The rear seat of the Chevrolet Cobalt coupe is also wanting for space, and MyRide.com says that "you'll find the rear seat to be quite cramped" and "spacious accommodations are not on the menu here." Consumer Guide contends the story is similar in the sedan, and while it "matches its rivals for head clearance," the "legroom and foot space are tighter than in most competitors."

Trunk space in this 2009 Chevrolet gets much more love in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com; Consumer Guide states that "the trunk has good room that's expandable via folding rear seatbacks." Cars.com agrees and appreciates that "the trunk can be accessed from inside the car." Interior storage is nothing to sneeze at either, according to Kelley Blue Book, which reports that "in many recent vehicles, a large glovebox door opens onto a constricted storage space, but the Cobalt's glovebox is ample in size."

The interior of the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt emphasizes practicality over substance, and its budget-car heritage is clear in the build and materials quality found on the Cobalt. Edmunds in particular disapproves of the "bargain-bin interior materials" and "mediocre fit and finish," while Car and Driver finds fault with the "shiny, poorly grained plastic." Not all reviewers are cut from the same cloth, however, and Consumer Guide reviewers feel that the "textured surfaces and tasteful cloth fabric look good for the class."

With respect to ride quality, the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt, especially in its base trims, does well. Cars.com says that "the ride is surprisingly good, with only larger bumps and holes causing trouble," and Kelley Blue Book declares it "a surprisingly good ride." ConsumerGuide agrees, reporting that the "Cobalt's stout body structure allows even base models to have a comfortably controlled ride, even on patchy pavement," and they claim that "the SS is fairly stiff, yet it's not bone-jarring as might be expected from a factory-tuned performance car."

Ambient noise isn't a major problem in most driving situations for the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt. ConsumerGuide reports that "wind rush and most road noise is relatively low for the class," but many reviewers also point out that under hard acceleration, the harsh engine noise intrudes into the cabin, especially with the 2.2-liter powerplants.

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2009 Chevrolet Cobalt


The 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt offers decent crash-test ratings, but it lacks some standard safety equipment.

Small and cheap isn't usually the recipe for safety. That said, the Cobalt performs acceptably—though not especially well—in crash tests. Safety equipment is about what’s expected, but no more.

In independent crash tests, the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt garners middle-of-the-road ratings, though NHTSA scores vary somewhat depending on body style. Both the Chevrolet Cobalt coupe and sedan earn four stars for front impact driver protection and five for front impact passenger protection, but when it comes to front side impacts, the Chevrolet Cobalt coupe earns four stars and the sedan only three. However, in the rear side impact test, the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt sedan outscores the coupe five stars to four. In IIHS testing, both body styles earn the highest possible rating, "good," for frontal offset impacts and an "acceptable" rating for side impact protection.

The 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt offers most of the usual safety features that consumers expect, at least in the higher-end trims—too bad these items aren’t standard. Cars.com states that "antilock brakes are standard on 2LT and SS models and optional on LS models," while "Cobalts with the automatic gearbox and antilock brakes also have traction control." Consumer Guide also reports that "traction control, [an] antiskid system, and curtain side airbags" are all available on the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt. Dual front airbags and a tire-pressure monitor are included on all 2009 Chevrolet Cobalts as well.

One crucial characteristic of a vehicle that will help reduce the risk of accidents is driver visibility, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the Chevrolet Cobalt excels in this regard. Kelley Blue Book says that the Cobalt features a "high seating position for a more commanding view of the road, and all-around visibility is impressive." However, the view from the Chevrolet Cobalt SS models isn't as impressive, and ConsumerGuide claims that "the tall spoiler on the SS coupe really restricts the view out back."


2009 Chevrolet Cobalt


The addition of Bluetooth and iPod capabilities brings the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt into the 21st century.

For Chevrolet, 2009 brings a number of new features to the Cobalt that improves its standing in the tech-heavy feature department. But as you might assume for a small, economical vehicle, a navigation system isn’t on the options list.

The standard features on the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt vary across the trim levels, but ConsumerGuide says that buyers can expect to find one year of OnStar service, "air conditioning...AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, digital-media player connection, [and] satellite radio" on every Chevrolet Cobalt. The new USB port for iPod connectivity in the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt is a welcome addition for music lovers. Moving up to the LT trim level brings a "keyless entry system, cruise control and power windows and mirrors," according to Kelley Blue Book. Meanwhile, ConsumerGuide reports that the top-of-the-line Chevrolet Cobalt SS gets a "leather-wrapped steering wheel w/radio controls, cruise control, Pioneer sound system, [and] wireless cell phone link." Bluetooth connectivity is another key addition for 2009 and a feature that was conspicuously absent in the 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt lineup.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that there isn't much to report about stand-alone features for the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt, since most of the major items are included as standard in the various trim levels. However, for those who are interested, ConsumerGuide says that an "upgraded sound system...power sunroof" and "leather upholstery" are available for the 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt.

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