2010 Chevrolet Cobalt- Bye, Bye Miss American Pie

It’s always good to be the home team during any sports game.  There’s the unmatched support of the fans, familiarity of the turf, and a feeling of honor from hosting the game.  Of course, there’s also the added pressure of letting down your most loyal followers.  It can be intense and overwhelming.  That must be something similar to how my inconspicuous Chevy Cobalt may have felt.

I picked up my Cobalt from Cleveland Hopkins Airport on a chilly March morning.  This is an area that the Cobalt is very well acquainted with.  All of these compact Chevys were built only an hour away at GM’s Assembly Plant  in Lordstown, Ohio.  There’s a huge sense of pride among residents of the Buckeye State that the car was assembled there.  I emphasize “was” in the past tense, as the last Cobalt rolled off the assembly line on 23 June, 2010.

But fear not for our Ohioans’ employment.  The Cobalt was replaced by the much-improved Cruze at that time, which is also built-in Lordstown.  In fact, GM invested over $350 million to improve the plant during the transition between the two models.  And even though the Cobalt is down-and-out of the game, its production ran for six years with over a million sold in that time.  That certainly counts as a success and is a longer career than many pro athletes.

So why am I testing a model that has been discontinued for two years and the replacement has since been assessed on this very site?  Good question.  And the honest answer is that there was nothing else on the lot.  But it’s also a good opportunity to get familarized with Chevy’s small sedan for one last hoorah and see if the Cruze is really that much better.

Strangely, the performance figures would seem to favor the outgoing model.  The Cobalt has a 2.2 liter engine that develops 155hp, or about 19 more horses than the 1.8 liter unit in the Cruze.  But the figures can be misleading, as both seem to accelerate about the same and behave similarly under heavy throttle.  It’s a sign of the technological advancements  in the last six years that a smaller displacement engine isn’t the compromise it once was.  Like the Cruze, the Cobalt isn’t fast but it doesn’t feel short on power for freeway merging or hill climbing.  Shifts from the four-speed transmission were smooth and well timed- which was a surprise over the Cruze’s occasional hesitation to downshift or tendency to hold a gear for much too long.  Surprisingly, the advantage on straight line performance goes to the Cobalt.

Due to all ready inflated fuel costs several years ago, Chevy touted a special XFE (extra fuel economy) trim level  for the Cobalt- it came with low resistance tires and a manual transmission while achieving an EPA rating of 36mpg highway.  The normally aspirated LT version I had boasts an EPA rating of 24 highway/34 highway.  In a mix of mostly city driving, I averaged 28mpg, which isn’t anything to sneeze at.

Handling is where the Cobalt loses its advantage.  There’s a lot of oversteer and the tail end likes to slide out in tight turns.  Prior Cobalts I’ve tested in years past had the same tendency.  Although this can lead to some fun on a windy road, it could turn into a downright scary situation for the uninitiated driver or the tame consumer that the Cobalt (aside from the hotted-up SS version) was intended for.  In everyday use the handling is not bad, but emergency manuevers could lead to trouble.  Steering was light and felt communicative enough, but was extremely heavy at parking speeds.  You could grow biceps parallel parking the Cobalt.

Ride over the jutted rust-belt freeways was smooth and stable.  Most potholes were absorbed without trouble and the car remained stable with the MacPherson struts up front and a semi- independent torsion bar in the rear.   Engine noise is well muted, but wind noise is very apparent at highway speeds around the top corners of the front windows.

Inside is where the Cobalt shows its age, and workmanship of the old GM shines through.  The cabin is logically laid out and all of the controls make sense.  The radio is the standard GM unit used in most of its models during the last half of the decade- which means it’s user friendly and has one of my favorite features- a large volume knob smack dab in the middle.  Ventilation controls were the simple and effective three knob setup, and the gauges are large, round, and intuitive.  There’s little too fault on the ergonomics.  However, most of the surfaces are swathed in cheap, dark, hard plastics.  Silver accents run the width of the car between the door panels to break up the monotony, but the quality overall is low and inconsistant.  The cupholders pop out of the place in the console much too easily and the center armrest was flimsy.  These are the details GM used to notoriously cut corners on.  It’s still better than the old Cavalier but didn’t compare to rivals even in 2005 and that hasn’t improved with time.  Luckily, the seats were well contoured and have a durable and rugged feeling natty cloth upholstery that looks like they’ll stand up to wear and tear.

Front space is very good- which plenty of head and leg room.  The rear also affords good head room and decent leg room for a small car.  However, space for the rear passenger’s feet is tight and there’s not much clearance under the front seats.  Thanks to a large glass area, thin pillars, and tight dimensions, visibility is good all around.

Trunk space is good and the seats easily fold down 60/40.  The opening is small, but luckily GM invested extra money here and placed gas struts with scissor hinges instead of the typical gooseneck hinges, freeing up space to load larger items.  

The Cobalt is full of cost-cutting contradictions.  As mentioned, the trunk lid is attached with pricier gas struts, yet the inside of the lid is exposed bare metal.  There’s no liner, which exposes sharp edges.  The hood is also lifted with a gas strut, one of the last non-luxury cars I’ve seen with this convenient feature, but the side mirrors do not fold- which could lead to avoidable expensive body repairs.  The temperature gauge was omitted as well, replaced by a warning light if the engine overheats, which could be too late at that point.  Lastly, the back seat exhibits a creative idea- the rear headrests are planted on the back parcel shelf instead of the seats themselves.  This is the only car I’ve ever seen with this feature and it’s a simple solution to the hassle of adjusting the headrests when folding down the rear seats.  It seems like Chevy went above and beyond in some ways, but dropped the ball in others.

The outside of the car is inoffensive and fits into the landscape like a pair of  blue jeans.  Although not striking even when new, it’s a conservative design that is attractive, simple, and will still look good many years from now.  In fact, I find it more attractive and less gimmicky than the Cruze.  It also had some snazzy looking five-spoke alloy wheels.

The car I had already clocked 42k miles of hard rental duty.  Yet, there were no squeaks, rattles, or problems.  The only thing issue was a missing cap on the center of one of the front wheels.

Regardless of what I, or you, think of it, the Cobalt is now a long-defunct model .  There shouldn’t be anymore on dealer’s lots, but if you’re looking for a used one- a similarly equipped 2010 model, according to Kelley Blue Book, is about $12,000.  Revisiting the Cobalt was a fun trip down memory lane.  It was also somewhat somber testing the car when it was already DOA.   Overall, it’s a likeable car that does the basics well and would please the undemanding driver looking for a decent commuter. For someone looking for more quality, there’s many newer alternatives.  Overall, 3.0/5.0 boomerangs


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