EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit Newspapers's view

Chevrolet’s new Cobalt SS Supercharged coupe is the frisky two-door companion to the more staid Cobalt sedan. It sports a youthful profile and exuberant performance for under $25,000.

We tested a 2005 Cobalt SS with a modest option package and a bottom line of $24,585.

SHE: So our 24-year-old son, Phil, came home for the weekend, surveyed the test cars in our driveway and headed for the bright-blue Cobalt SS with the big wing on the tail. He was gone for four hours to scavenge the local vintage-record shops, and came back complaining about all sorts of things on the Cobalt — the uncomfortable seats, the jerky clutch, the harsh ride, but most of all, the nearly-$25,000 sticker. He asked a pointed question: What young buyer, even a college graduate like him who is making a decent wage, can afford to spend that kind of money on a new car?

HE: Don’t forget that you’re talking about your cheapskate son who has trouble parting with four bucks for a used record. I understand his point, but we should add that Chevy may be doing some young enthusiasts a favor by bundling all the go-fast goodies into a single package.

SHE: It really is a “Fast and Furious” special — an out-of-the-box tuner car right from the factory. I’ve talked to several local kids who’ve spent thousands of dollars to trick out their hot sport coupes. There’s a philosophical split here. You have the Scion school, where you get a pretty basic car in the tC, then you can tailor it to your taste and quickly get the price over $20,000. Then you have the Cobalt SS, which starts at $21,995, which includes that hot supercharged, twin-cam 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 2005 horsepower, plus a sport suspension and 18-inch Pirelli P-Zero performance tires, and a bunch of other features like a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

HE: I thought the fancy Recaro seats on our test car were a waste of money. They’re part of a $1,500 option package, but they look and feel cheap and don’t have nearly enough lower lumbar support. But that supercharged engine is a riot. It’s lots of fun with the five-speed manual gearbox. I noticed you kept goosing the throttle and watching the boost gauge on the A-pillar as the supercharger spooled up.

SHE: So you’re saying that Chevrolet “pimped” your ride on the Cobalt SS and that’s why you’re giving it four stars? Frankly, I don’t think they went far enough. Where’s the TV monitor under the hood? Where’s the nitrous package? Where’s the stuff that would really, really irritate your parents?

HE: I’ll tell you some of the little things that irritated me. There’s no room in the rear seats for real adults. And the tall rear parcel shelf and massive spoiler dramatically reduce rearward visibility. But I suspect those things won’t bother the younger audience. There’s plenty of upside, too. With the low-profile Pirellis and the tuner suspension, the Cobalt sticks like superglue on curvy, twisty roads.

SHE: I know I’m not the target buyer, but I was a bit disappointed by the minimalist interior. The cabin design is clean and simple, but there are way too few amenities considering the $24,585 sticker — no lighted vanity mirrors, for instance, and no heated seats. I was surprised that you have to spend $395 to get side curtain air bags, which should be standard on a small car that is aimed at a young audience. But I did like that the Cobalt has a roomy trunk with a cargo net, and it comes with battery rundown protection.

HE: There are an awful lot of choices in this segment that cost thousands less and are nearly as fun to drive. You can also buy a low-end Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe for just $2,000 more than our test car. But Chevy is finally offering a credible entry at the lower end for kids who want an entertaining ride, don’t have a huge budget to work with and aren’t inclined to haunt the local auto parts stores.

He drove, she drove Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, an Ann Arbor automotive information services firm.

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2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged

Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, four-passenger hatchback coupe.

Price: Base, $21,995 (inc. $565 destination charge); as tested, $24,585

Engine: Supercharged 2.0-liter I-4; 205-hp; 200 lb-ft torque

EPA fuel economy: 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway

Where built: Lordstown, Ohio

Key competitors: Acura RSX, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Dodge Stratus, Ford Focus ZX3, Ford Mustang, Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Hyundai Tiburon, Mazda RX8, Mini Cooper, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Saturn Ion, Scion tC, Toyota Camry Solara, Toyota Celica and Volkswagen Golf.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,366 (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)

– – –

Anita’s rating: 3

Likes: Fast and furious. An out-of-the-box tuner car right from the factory. Love to make the needle jump on the boost gauge. Roomy trunk with cargo net. Battery rundown protection.

Dislikes: Minimal amenities for $24,000. How many kids can afford the price? Side curtain air bags cost $395 extra. Harsh ride on all but the smoothest pavement.

– – –

Paul’s rating: 4

Likes: Zippy supercharged 4-cylinder engine. Nimble handling, with sport suspension and 18-inch Pirelli P-Zero performance tires. Sexy and appealing shape. Pretty good assembly quality. Lots of fun for young singles.

Dislikes: Uncomfortable Recaro front bucket seats look cheap, lack sufficient lumbar support, cost way too much money. Tall rear parcel shelf, massive spoiler dramatically reduce rearward visibility. No room in rear seats for adults. You can buy a Mercedes C-Class for only $2,000 more. Tiburon and tC are considerably cheaper, and nearly as entertaining.

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