2008 Chevrolet Cobalt Review

P.J. McCombs
by P.J. McCombs
2008 chevrolet cobalt review

A couple of weeks ago, grainy images portending GM's bright, small-car-driven future "leaked" onto the Web. "All hail the new Cruze!" shouted the GM Kool-Aid Klub, apparent fans of intentional misspelling. A compact come-to-Jesus from the higher-ups quickly followed, delivered by GM's Design Chief. "In North America, we never did a good small car," Ed Welburn mea culpaed. So things will be different this time, right? Just like they were going to be different three years ago, when the Cobalt was released? The Cobalt I rented this weekend? Bah, humbug, I say.

The Cobalt, you'll remember, was launched to similar fanfare in 2005. According to the buff-book bluster, "Lutz told engineers not to hold back on the good stuff and… they'll get that money back and more in reduced rebates." Another gem: "Lutz says being competitive isn't enough. The Cobalt has to be better than competing small cars to get the market to notice."

If you need a refresher course as to how that turned out, head down to your local Enterprise office and ask for the basic $20/day buzz box. Doing so got me a four-door Cobalt LS, resplendent (kind of) in Victory Red with plastic hubcaps, devoid of high mileage stress. It's an appropriate venue to meet the Cobalt; everything about it suggests that it was engineered so badly it Hertz.

So, where do renters go first? To the trunk, of course, to dump off their suitcases. There, they'll find 13.9 cubic feet of space (way more than a Honda Civic's rear cubby) and dainty gas struts, (which won't crush your luggage like the gooseneck hinges on a Corolla).

Slam it shut and run your eyes along the sheetmetal, and… well… you won't notice anything. The Cobalt's soft, flavorless lines are designed to be as inoffensive to Walter from Topeka as they are to Kelli from the Tenderloin. The only interesting design element is the… nope. There isn't any.

Step into the driver's bucket, and- hey, lookitthat!- the cupholders for your airport coffee are located ahead of the shifter, so you needn't bend your shifting arm around your java. Punch the "Info" button on the steering to cycle through MPG, distance-to-empty, outside temperature and tire pressure stats. Tourists will like the turn signal: it finishes each blink regardless of when you release the stalk, so you don't make amateurish half-blinks in traffic. Not bad for twenty bucks a day.

Trouble is, aside from these isolated attempts to surprise and delight, the Cobalt is the sort of relentlessly, oppressively average product that you couldn't possibly imagine buying on your own dime. The interior of my rental wasn't "sand beige," or "balsa beige;" it was waiting-room beige or linoleum beige. The Cobalt's dash is simple as dirt, with gauges scripted in the same font as my long-lost 1984 Cavalier. Once you've sat in the driver's seat, you'll never again wonder what burlap stretched over concrete feels like.

The "latch" for the driver's side dash cubby deserves special mention. It's a molded-in fake, concealing a raggedly-cut thumb hole underneath. Hey, if that's not sincerity, what is?

Okay, enough parking-stall pedantry. Let's put this puppy in motion.

"Do you want to purchase the optional insurance?" With 148 horsepower, no thanks. Twist the key and the 2.2-liter, four-cylinder Ecotec settles into a muted, liquid-smooth idle. Really. Rest your fingers on the wheel and give it some gas. While the noises get Kitchenaid thrashy, absolutely no vibration filters through.

The high-friction shift lever feels as though it spent a day at the beach and came back covered with wet sand. Clunk it into "D" and the four-speed automatic pleases with timely, seamless shifts. Unfortunately, it's still a four-speed, and its Bunyan-tall gearing smothers the Ecotec's wholly agreeable pep. I averaged 25 mpg, and that was driving like a grandma.

Insert handling joke here. Actually, the Cobalt is a fairly surefooted little piece, pouring steadily into turns with weighty, firm-feel electric power steering. The helm still has the foamy, spring-loaded feel endemic to electric-assist setups, but it's far better than earlier models' helmsmanship (the ultimate GM metric). Too bad enthusiastic cornering still scores you a one-way ticket to Understeer City.

The opinions of those who desperately want to believe in something are exceptionally malleable. How else to explain GM fans' short-term memory loss re: the Cobalt's already-broken promises? And now, once again, the Next Big– I mean, small thing are dangled before them..

When the Chevrolet Cruze arrives in 2011, it'll no doubt compare well with the generations of Civic and Corolla on sale during its gestation, just as the Cobalt did in 2005.

But will the General fail to lead a moving target, benchmarking rivals that already have one foot in the grave? "Time will tell," the faithful grumble. Trouble is, time's told this tale before.

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2 of 134 comments
  • Mr. Gray Mr. Gray on Jan 31, 2009

    Ha! Your review says it all! I had to rent a Cobalt LS one time. The whole experience of the car, from its clunky doors, to its blah blah hanling, to its "No, don't rev me," 1990-like engine, was one huge insult to the consumer. GM must think American car buyers are real dummies if they expect us to choose this clunky bucket over a Civic, Impreza, or Mazda3.

  • on Jun 14, 2009

    [...] people are wrong. The Chevy Cobalt is an appliance. The dashboard is made out of indestructible toaster plastic, while the paltry [...]

  • Sgeffe Honda should breathe a sigh of relief! This makes the decimation of the Cam..”Accord”..look like a bathroom accident! Funny thing, as was pointed out, that apparently mirroring the user’s phone wasn’t the be-all end-all! What a disgrace! 😂
  • Wayne no one ever accused Mary Teresa Barra of being smart
  • Mike1041 I’m sure that it’s cheaper to install a Google system than pay for Apple and android. Simple cost reduction with all the pr crap to make the user think it’s better
  • MKizzy A highly visible steering wheel lock is the best deterrent when the H/K thieves are amateurs looking for a joyride. The software fix may be effective in keeping an H/K car where you parked it, but I doubt most wannabe kia boyz will bother checking for the extra window sticker before destroying the window and steering column. Also, I guarantee enough H/K drivers won't bother getting either the software fix or a steering column lock to keep these cars popular theft targets for years to come. Therefore, any current H/K owners using a steering column lock should consider continuing to do so for the long term.
  • Jack For me, this would be a reason for rejection if considering a purchase of one of these overgrown golf carts.