By on January 16, 2012

GM do Brasil has been having many problems. Though dearly beloved by many Latin Americans, in Brazil its image has been severely tarnished. When GM promised a slew of new products that would substitute its ageing line, many doubted it. In fact, many doubted GM had it in them anymore. Like a phoenix, GM is being reborn. The new product onslaught is in full swing. First off the bat was the Cruze. Now, Chevrolet is really starting to put on offer its mission-critical small car, the Cobalt. Will it be enough?

First a little background. After a very prosperous and promising 90s, it seemed GM had called it quits in the 00s. Extreme penny pinching eliminated but the most basic forms of engineering and development. The interiors were the most hideous on this side of a Trabant. You get the picture.

GM managed to alienate much of their fan base. GM hit record growth. As they hit lower price points they grew and then grew some more. Even in a market like Brazil, so sensitive to prices, inevitably GM hit a wall. Sales started to fall. People caught on that they were buying the same tired car from 10 years ago. The competition improved by leaps and bounds. GM not only stalled, they seemed to go back. Most people buying the General’s cars were doing so because of the ‘deal’, not because they liked the car. How would GM climb back out the hole it had dug?

To find out, I headed on down to my local friendly dealer to see and drive the Cobalt. To gather some impressions that I’ll now share with all of you.

What first hit me was the back. Big. The Cobalt sports one the largest trunks in Brazil (always good for a people who are big into, well, trunk. It’s a shame then that its space is not all that useful. Though it has great capacity, a lot of this capacity comes from the lid being very tall. As the car is relatively narrow, you may just have to put your bags side by side instead of one on top of the other.

In Brazil, the car is sold with a 1.4 L engine, which is good for 97hp on Brazilian gas or 102hp on ethanol. On the sugarcane juice it puts out 13kgfm of torque. This all means that if you want the car to go, you’ll have to row your gears with competence and keep the revs high. This car weighs little more than one metric ton and this taxes the little engine. Imagine this large car, loaded with baggage in the huge trunk and 3 good size teenagers in the back. Daddy will have to plan his passing and merging gingerly.

GM talks about 0-100km/h times of less than 12 seconds. My highly scientific test methods, laying on the accelerator, and keeping it floored until the shrieks of the salesman makes me slow down, make me believe in something around 14 to 15 seconds. If GM is to be believed, this car will, with a backwind and an endless straightaway at sea level, get to 170km/h. The torque available for such a small engine is nice and it feels like that there is some at lower rpms. Like Americans often times repeat, there is no replacement for displacement and miracles are rare to come by. My short test drive showed me that you will need to rev, but this little engine does not rev as freely as other small engines I’ve tested. It becomes gruff and complains as the revs go up.

Alas, my test drive was limited. Worried that my unwilling partner was going to hit me after a few short bursts of acceleration, I couldn’t test it in the curvies or broken pavement. If you believe what the press is writing though, it does feel solid. It drives like a big car, with all the good and bad that entails. According to the press, it does do curves nicely enough. My impression is that at a sedate pace it will be comfortable enough. It rides on 15′ wheelies.  The tires are 195/65, which is good as sidewalls thinner than that become very tiring on Brazilian roads due to bad maintenance.

Inside is where this car really shines. The seats and even the instrument cluster have been seen before in the Agile. However, the seating position is much more straightforward and less convoluted than in said car. There is good head and shoulder room. Your legs will not bump against anything either. Very good. As this platform is all new and global, and was done taking into account that new thing called ergonomics, it’s easy to find a comfortable position (without having to twist your spine like in the Agile and other GM small cars heretofore). The greatest ergonomic mishap is that the power windows’ controls are too far back on the arm rest. Thus, you’ll be forced to get your hand in all kinds of weird shapes to access the switches.

The seats themselves apparently are a little bigger than those found in other cars of this segment in Brazil. They also seemed comfortable enough. They have a nice wavy pattern on them and manage to escape the black on grey theme found in almost all other small cars in Brazil. The dashboard and door panels use plastic a touch above the competitors which is nice for GM in Brazil (head bow to you). Like the seats, they also managed to get some greenish and brown hues into the plastic making them much more visually pleasing and soothing than those in competitors.

Another nice touch is that GM has used bits and pieces from the Cruze in the Cobalt. This gives it a nicer overall feel and will please all but the most soft-plastic fanatic. The turn stalk, for example, is the same one found in the Cruze. The instrument cluster is like in the Sonic reviewed by Steven Lang. Inspired by sport bikes it is different from the norm. My only gripe is the needle of the tach. Seems like a really cheesy piece of very cheap red plastic. Few people will notice or care though.

The exterior design is pleasing. At first glance, Brazilians will be forgiven if they just think it’s an Agile sedan. But pay close attention and you’ll see that the Chevrolet family truck-like fascia has been softened. The little curves make all the difference and while on the Agile it is ugly, on this car it works. The greenhouse is short, much more so than in the main competitors Logan and Versa, but it follows the spirit of the times and most people will mindlessly sacrifice visibility for style. The sides as slab-like. This is fine with me as I’ve said it here before, I like boxy cars. However, the tall cabin and seating position, plus the relatively low hood and very high trunk lid make parking sensors almost an obligation on the car.

Taking it all in, design-wise there are just two ill-resolved issues. One is the trunk lid. It’s very tall. This characteristic is punctuated by having a crease run down the middle of it. This visually spikes it up even more in a place where I think it would benefit from being flatter. There is another odd crease that starts out in the back of the car and makes its way through to the back door where it plunges down and just dies. It appears to be there just to break some of the slabness. However, the execution was clumsy and, especially on lighter-colored cars, it makes it seem like the car’s been hit. The first time I saw Cobalt in the wild, the first thing I noticed was what seemed like a huge dent in the back door. No, it’s just that styling effect.

All in all a good, professional design. A little boring, but sedan buyers in this segment in Brazil are boring, I mean conservative. The few pieces of chrome here and there sophisticate it a little, the proportions are generally ok. At the price point, you really can’t complain. Much more of a looker than the Renault Logan that, with the exception of me and a few ex-Soviet bloc expats, nobody likes. The other main competitor is the Logan-in-Japanese-drag, the Nissan Versa (Sunny in America), which is very Asian. Which is good or bad depending on your personal tastes.

So now we come to pricing. Let’s consider that, roughly, 1, 80 Brazilian reais equals one American dollar. This cars starts at $39,980 (US$22,200). This gets you the basic LS trim, which gives you AC, hydraulic steering, power locks and a pocketknife key (don’t ask me why but this is a big deal in Brazil and GM proudly emphasizes this, I mean on a VW Gol you can pay extra to get one!). There is the intermediary trim and the top of the line LTZ that starts at R$45,980 (US$25,500) and adds special alloy wheels, power windows (only front doors), double airbag, ABS, fog lights in the front, trip computer and CD player. Sadly, this makes this car very competitive in Brazil. In our not-so-little-but-still-very-warped market this makes the Cobalt really attractive, GM predicts sales of 3,500 cars a month, and I believe it. Especially after the market knocks off at least R$2,000 from the basic one and maybe 3 or 4,000 from the LTZ.

So like the Sonic previewed by Steven Lang, two big hits in a row for GM on TTAC. Must be some kind of record.

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50 Comments on “Review: Chevy Cobalt, Brazilian Spec...”

  • avatar

    Sorry but that is one hideous car.

    • 0 avatar

      Believe it or not, but it has more ‘presence’ in person than in the pictures. Never said it was beautiful rhough. Can’t deny it’s modern. Simple, to a price point but professional

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve only seen one so far Marcelo, a couple of weeks ago in Santos. And I agree with you, it looks better in person… which is not saying much. It is just not for me. The car I saw was a cab, and it downed on me, this will make a great cab: big trunk, lots of room inside. Lots of cab drivers will be trading their Astras for this.

      • 0 avatar

        E aí, Marcos? Beleza?

        Can’t say I disagree with anything you say…

        In BH, GMs have not been used as taxis for a long time. I mean you always see Corsa sedan or Meriva here and there, but up into 2 years ago more than 90% of taxis were either Palio (incrdible…) or Sienas. Now we start seeing a lot of Logans, Ideas and a sprinkling of other cars, too.

        On a totally unscientific basis, in BH, normal cabs are (in decreasing order): Siena, Palio, Idea, Logan. More rare old and new Uno, Corsas and odd Meriva(no Celtas thank God!), the rare Gol or Voyage, sometimes Doblo or Linea, and the other day I saw a Honda Civic!

        Incredible the difference you see in the taxi fleet as you go from city to city in our country.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m a lights guy. If the headlights and tail lights look like crap I’m not happy. This is a small thing to get hung up on, but it has always been one thing that I pay attention to. Those headlights are hideous, but maybe to some they look good.

  • avatar

    Apparently GM has more faith in the common sense of Brazillians than they do in that of Americans, if the roof-line of this car compared to that of the Sonic sedan is anything to go by. This car was designed for people smart enough to consider how useful a car will be before they buy it…

    • 0 avatar

      Oddly enough that is true. This car won’t tug at your heartstrings. It tries to convince you rationally. COmparing it to others, it could make sense to you.

      Let’s see if it will be enough to sell well. The champion of rationality, the Renault Logan, is still a tough sell. Let’s see if this car and the Nissan Versa (Sunny) entices the consumer enough to make this segment take off.

      • 0 avatar

        This car does remind me of the last Nissan Versa. The Versa wasn’t much to look at, but it was extremely practical and sold as a value proposition. I believe it was the best seller of its market segment for quite a while, with lower cost and better availability than the Honda Fit and better packaging than anything else. GM probably decided to go with splashy styling for the Sonic here to differentiate it from the impoverished Aveo, but a real back seat for the sedan probably wouldn’t have hurt sales at the least. Once they’re common as rental cars it won’t matter how interesting the styling looked on the show circuit sitting on 19 inch wheels.

  • avatar

    Too bad the headlight design team thought that both the hood team and the front bumper team were coming a little closer.

  • avatar

    Marcelo, please help me out understanding the current GM line-up comparing it to the good old times:

    Corsa -> Agile
    Astra -> Cobalt
    Vectra -> Cruze

    Is that it? Will they still be selling the older cars like they do wit the Classic? Will there be an Astra Classic of sorts?

    • 0 avatar

      Oi Autobraz! Bom te ver por aqui.

      Corsa – Cobalt
      Astra – Cobalt
      Vectra – Cruze
      Actually Astra will br substituted by Sonic (hatch and sedan). For now GM denied and says Cobalt will substitute them but don’t believe them.

      Meriva – 5 seat ‘Cobalt’ minivan
      Zafira – 7 seat ‘ Cobalt’ minivan
      By that I mean, they’ll use same platform as Cobalt.

      Agile, Montana are doubtful for future. They could get scrapped soon.

      Sadly, Celta, Prisma and Classic will go on. Nothing in the pipeline for them. GM will go oon destroying their image amongst the buyers of this very important market segment..If there are any leftovers from china, maybe we’ll see some action here. But probabky nothing in 2012 or 2013

  • avatar

    Damn that is ugly. Even the GMC Terrain and Chevy Spark are nowhere near as ugly and that’s saying something.

    Are those headlights from the Equinox?

  • avatar

    not understanding the exorbitant pricing, but OK.

    • 0 avatar

      Taxes and profit margin. Due to recent conversations some people in the know told me they believe Fiat’s margins are in the 30% neighborhood. This car? Though new and all I believe the market will soon place it lower. I think you don’t have to worry GM is making a lot of money with these cars

  • avatar

    I find it interesting that they chose the Cobalt name for this car. You say the platform is all new. I would think most people who are familiar with GM in the US would discern that this car is basically the old US Cobalt tooling sent to Brazil on the cheap and just jazzed up with a new interior and front/rear fascia’s.

    Brazilian cars definitely have their own unique design ethos…just look at the options from GM, Volkswagen, Fiat, Ford, etc. offered there. What is aesthetically pleasing to our eyes here in the US doesn’t translate much to many of Brazil’s popular cars. The same could definitely be said of many US cars, however, to European eyes.

    either way, cool to have international reviews here, always interesting to read.

  • avatar

    These Brazilian car reviews make me glad I don’t live in Brazil!

    I’ll stop complaining now about North American vs Euro models…

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    I like your reviews, but . . . I’m sure the Renault Logan does not have 510 cubic meters of trunk space!

    Regarding the placement of the window switches–I notice that the door handle/elbow rest, does not extend to the front of the door. The results of this are:
    -window switches are located far back (like you mentioned), and
    -There is more room for the “outboard” knees.

  • avatar

    No. This looks atrocious. There’s no excuse for this, and I wonder if this is some joke on GM’s part. Actually it’s insulting, because, as a brazilian consumer, I feel like they think this is what I find attractive. NO.

    • 0 avatar

      YMMV. Like I said before, in pictures. In person ok. And also I understand what they’re doing here. Thje pricing is still too high, but with increased competition this could well be a 30000 real car in maybe 10 years. That’ll be good.

      From what I read on the internet Brazilian enthusiasts are clobbering the car . So are chevrolet loyalists (if they know it or not they’re actyuall opel fans).

      General consumers are digging it. And this is the new GM. It’s Daewoo style all they way now.

      My advice: Get over it. The old GM is dead. This is just a portent of things to come.

  • avatar

    Wow, this Cobalt rendition makes a Corolla seem like a step up.

  • avatar

    Obviously the headlights were never designed for this car, typical GM cutting corners at every turn.

    With a duller front-end and tailights this wouldn’t look so bad, better to be bland than atrocious.

  • avatar

    nice to read a brazilian review and get a different perspective. your writing is funny which most people can’t manage in their first language so bravo marcelo for pulling it off in a second language. btw, the versa is called the versa in the u.s. and i think it’s the five door hatch is best thing going in our economy segment.

  • avatar

    if you want to do a like for like comparison…

    the Cruze LT in 1.8 form looks like 67,000 reals which is a incredible amount of money for a car that is under $20,000 usd in the US and in other parts of the western world

    • 0 avatar

      Like said in other replies, everything is relative. In our market, price of Cobalt is a stretch, but possible. Now is the Cruze more than 50% better than Cobalt? That1’s the question. Now that because of Cobalt’s size it’s impossible to deny there’s some overlapping and there will be some cross shopping.

  • avatar

    Nice to see GM Brazil is finally ditching the ancient GM4200 platform. Hopefully this means the Agile and Montana are getting scrapped soon (though it seems unlikely).

  • avatar

    So which “all new platform” is it based on? Is this basically a Sonic sedan? or something strictly Brazilian only? It can’t be the American Cobalt, as these are far from ‘all new’.

    The rest of the car looks OK, the front end is absolutely hideous! The headlights look like they don’t belong, as if they slap the headlights of another car into a space not meant for it.

    Strange how some automakers feel the need to handicap their South American offerings with some special ‘latin america only’ products. I mean, if it’s for cost reasons, I can understand. But the cars actually costs more in Brazil! Why not offer the same offerings as elsewhere, and enjoy the economies of scale.

    • 0 avatar

      If I understood correctly it is on a simplified version of the platform that underpins the US Sonic. This Sonic will eventually make its way to Brazil but at a higher price point. In fact this Cobalt is supposed to rest on the same platform they’ll use for the Aveo in other parts of the world. In Colombia, Venezuela this car will probably keep the name Aveo.

      But, GM promises that his platform is different from the old Aveo’s. What I understand is that the car was developed in SOuth Korea, alongside what became the Sonic and also Spark. The Spark BTW could make its entry into Brazil soon and kill off Agile and Montana, or these would be pushed down and finally lay to rest Celta, Classic etc. Supposedly, Brazilian engineers went there and helped them out, but Brazil will be a platform for sales to South America, Middle East, Africa and even Eastern Europe sales.

      So yes, strictly a developing world car.

    • 0 avatar

      Latin-America only products are mostly made so that they can get to sell the same stuff they sell in first-world countries at a higher price and maximize profits. I’m sure they could sell the Sonic instead of the Cobalt at the same price, but they don’t because they want to sell all of their models with the same ridiculous profit as the Classic (’93 Opel Corsa).

      Also, car prices in Brazil are very high due to insanely high taxes and profits. If this car was sold in the US it could probably be even cheaper than the Sonic.

  • avatar

    This car looks atrocious. Give me the VW Amarok (and not what for you Brazilians pay for it, that is a crime.

    Buenas noches, señor. Tomar una cerveza para mí. Ir nada más que el Che El ….

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Hola Marcelo

    Glad to see your reviews. Have yet to read the VW one, but I’m very busy ATM.

    The front end of that thing is… there’s no PC way to say it. How come the Brazilian designers are allowed to do that?.

    Said that, the interior is very nice and I really dig the Buick-like kink it got in the rear doors. The rear end reminds me another LATAM Chevrolet model from the 80’s.

    I’ve seen the Sonic, Spark and Cruze. You will like the Cruze (and the local one has been improved over imported one), and if you have the chance to put a Corolla side to side you will laugh at the “premium” offering. Hopefully they’ll send the hatchback there, it looks better on the street than in pictures.

    • 0 avatar

      Hi Athos!

      Glad to hear your busy.

      You know, having been that this ‘corporate face’ is one we’re seeing, with variations, on all recent Chevy faces, plus the fact that it’s very truckish, makes me think it was designed, or the vey least, signed off by headquarters.

      Now, being what things are, and the fact that it is subtly different from the Agile,, it means GM at least put some money and accepted the criticisms on the Agile/Montana snout. In the GM we all grew to despise and then ignore from the 00s, it’s a welcome change of pace.

      Being that you’re now in Oz and all, chances are you’ll never see this. Unless of course you go back home for a vacation. The plan at least is to use this as substitute for Aveo in most South American markets.

      Again, in person, it isn’t that bad. Sure, if you’ve never seen the Agile you’ll be taken aback, but comparing to that, this new face (almost) works. Somehow they managed to integrate it better into the overall design.

      Ugly, yes. Makes sense on the car. Yes, or at least better than the abonimable Agile.

      Cruze will be made in BRazil as hatch, too. This car could eventually spawn a hatch to substitute Agiel. I know that’s what the good people at GM do Brasil want. However, they’ll have to wait for the money.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        I’d eventually go back on vacations. So yes, I guess I’ll see it at some point.

        GM didn’t treat Venezuela that bad during the 00’s, and they were (and still are) very successful with their offers. I’d have preferred that they have kept the Astra, but launching the Optra proved a winning move, and at the end of the day it’s the $$$ what counts. Same with the Corsa -> Aveo.

        Gladly Venezuela didn’t get the Agile, although the local motor press was particularly “excited” with it.

        Marcelo, try to have a drive in an Omega (Commodore) and push the thing. Whether you make or not a review enjoy the truly GOOD things that GM (and the developed markets) have to offer.

        And even in the 3rd world (or maybe more so) a car needs to look decent. You should be able to feel good while driving the thing. Not just like “heck this is what I could afford/is available so…”. Fiat and Renault somehow have shown the way, and you can see the difference between Logan and Sandero and then the Duster.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. At this point in time, I’d have to confess that I think the Cobalt is a looker, in a simple, not over the top way. Heck I always liked the Fiat Premio (Duna in Argentina, don’t know Venezuela). Guess that makes me square! Doblo, like. Old and new Uno like. Logan like. Galaxie, like. Continental, like. Soul, like. And on it goes.

        Thw swoopy, wavy thing is that gets to me. Elantra et al are overwrought to my eyes, though the new Kia Rio looks good (and is coming our way and will make a killing).

        I drove the Omega back in the 90s. With the inline 6. Was young and stupid and drove accordingly. The car took everything I threw at it and didn’t even break a sweat. Quite possibly the best car I’ve ever driven extensively.

        We don’t get that kind of car anymore. All gone, dead, kaput (unless you’ve got over 120,000 reais in bank). If ever get the chance agaion would jump at it!

        See, I haven’t gone all soft.

  • avatar

    Friends of ours in Joao Pessoa (moved from SP) bought the Agile 5 door. Had a chance to drive it last March whilst visiting them. I really liked the looks of it. The ride was pretty decent. The roads around Joao Pessoa (and westbound from Recife) are pretty bad so any car that handles those roads impresses me!
    I’ve found our friends fanatical loyalists in Brazil. If they buy Fiat, they always buy Fiat. If they buy GM, they stick with GM. My Brazilian spouse always owned Fiat, but is disappointed by the new 500 offered up here.
    It will be disappointing if GM axes the Montana. Every time I visit Brazil I find myself attracted to the mini-trucks from GM, Renault and the rest. I wish they’d offer them here. My first new vehicle was a ’82 Dodge Rampage, not unlike the Montana of today.

    • 0 avatar
      Rental Man

      I hear you about potential of the South American mini-trucks in the US. With the Ranger gone & ticking maybe 2 option boxes on a Tacoma & Frontier getting you into the 20k range meeting there some Base large trucks there could be a good run of small cheap mini-trucks. The only one we see in the horizon is the Dublo with an open bed. Thing is that it competes with the Transit Connect. I feel it will not come as base 15K that would make it a real success.

      I knew calling the Dublo a mini-truck is a streach yet it’s all we might be getting.

  • avatar

    I always wonder why everyone complains about the styling and performance of such cars.

    First of all, this car isn’t designed to look good. It’s a budget car that’s designed for spacial efficiency. Polarizing design is not part of what the car needs.

    Second, it’s a budget car – again. The performance is sufficient for those buying it. Want to make it faster? Throw out the rear seats, spare tire and all excess weight and maybe then you can beat that V6 Camry at the light. Oh wait, they don’t sell a V6 Camry in Brazil. They don’t even sell a V6 Camry outside of North America. Volkswagen sells a V6 Passat in Europe – and nobody buys them.

    I think the styling is ok. It doesn’t look bad, but it isn’t pretty either. If I lived in Brazil, was short on cash and required a car, there are probably even cheaper cars available which means this Chevy is quite a step up and thus a desirable mainstream car for the masses.

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