By on August 11, 2021

We continue our 1990s-then-2000s series today, following up the last post that featured compact American two-doors from 1998. By the late 2000s, the Escort, Neon, and Cavalier were all dead. In their place were the Focus, Caliber, and Cobalt, and not all of those had a two-door variant. That means we focus on four-doors today. Let’s go.

Dodge Caliber

The Caliber is in its second model year this year, as the crossover replacement for the Neon. Front-wheel drive with optional all-wheel drive, the Caliber rides on the Chrysler-Mitsubishi PM platform with things like the Mitsubishi Outlander. The only body style is this four-door with hatch. There are four trims this year, SE, SXT, R/T, and SRT-4. Today’s base SE uses a 1.8-liter inline-four good for 148 horsepower. It’s front-wheel drive, and has a five-speed manual transmission provided by Magna. Yours for $14,965.

Chevrolet Cobalt

The Cobalt is in its fourth model year after it replaced the ancient Cavalier for 2005. Cobalt uses the Delta platform which also sees use in the Saturn Ion and Chevrolet HHR. Unlike the Caliber, all examples are front-wheel drive. With two- or four-doors, there’s always a traditional trunk on the Cobalt. Four different trim levels are available at dealers this year: LS, LT, Sport, and SS, the latter with turbocharging. Base LS models are powered by a 2.2-liter inline-four that wrestles up 148 horses. The five-speed manual here is a Getrag box carried over from the Cavalier. Cobalt asks $14,410.

Ford Focus

The Focus is in its second generation for 2008, and is a car specific to North America. The first generation global Focus was part of Ford’s world car plan, but that idea was dropped. In 2008 customers choose from a two- or four-door Focus with trunk, as the hatchback option is no more. All Focii are front-drive, and all use the same 2.0-liter Duratec inline-four. Customers choose from four trims: S, SE, SES, and SEL. The cheapest S has the same 140 horses as the other models, and uses a five-speed manual. The Focus is in your drive for $14,395.

Three four-doors of Ace of Base persuasion, all wearing fantastic late 2000s styling. Which one’s worth the Buy?

[Images: GM, Ford, Dodge]

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86 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Basic American Compacts From 2008...”


  • avatar
    slavuta

    This group needs one big fire. I offer myself as inquisitor.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      Agreed.
      Blecch.
      Yecck.
      No, thank you.
      I would much rather pick up a used Miata for the same money. Life is too short to drive a Caliber, Cobalt or Focus. Even worse would be to get stuck making payments on it for five years or so.

      Can you imagine your co-workers, saying, “Hey, you bought a new car. Nice Caliber! How do you like it?!”

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I test drove a Cobalt once. Didn’t hate it. The hatch looked pretty good, not crazy about the sedan. Still, I could drive it.

    Rented a Caliber once. The rental co. had a bunch of 3rd-gen Focuseses on the lot, they’d just come out and I was looking forward to trying one. Instead I drew the Caliber. I’ve never forgiven that car, let it burn.

    I found the 2nd gen Focus to be a bland, ugly replacement for the quirky but cool first gen. Please burn.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Fun fact. The base Caliber listed at this price didn’t have air conditioning.

    Buy Cobalt
    Drive Focus
    Burn Caliber

    • 0 avatar

      This is my order also.

      Relative had a Caliber from new (his first new car) and that thing just looked like it was falling apart from day one.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        OK, I’m actually looking at two of these for my kid. Why would you prefer the Cobalt over the Focus? Looking for more info…

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I know GM cars relatively well. So if something goes awry I can diagnose and repair it with more ease compared to the Focus. In general I find GM are easier to work on but YMMV.

          • 0 avatar

            I feel like the Cobalt held up better in a beater world than the Focus. I still see them (and G3) rolling around places. I do not often see the Focus of that gen.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Makes sense, thanks. This one could be an A+ beater for the kid…with manual, AND for the win…crank windows. They’d have to come down a bit but overall…not bad.

            https://tinyurl.com/tjrrye8u

            Carfax doesn’t say if the ignition switch was fixed under recall, though…any way to research that?

            BTW, forgot how hit-and-miss used car shopping is. Went all the way across town the other day to see a Subaru that was literally leaking oil onto the dealer lot. I was looking under the car and saw one drop hit the ground before my eyes. This isn’t some BHPH lot – it’s a MAJOR new-car dealer. Amazingly enough, they omitted that detail from the online listing. Asked the salesman why he didn’t bother to mention that on the phone and the little wanker blamed the pandemic.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @Freed

            If that’s a manual it really hurts its resale because those were not known for being sought after in the first place so it will likely sit for a spell. While it may have some attributes over the Focus, I’d put my kid in a Focus over a GM Delta I esp for that kind of money. For reference, insurance paid my mother low 6s for my mother’s MY07 Ion/34K when it was totaled in 2014 – and that was about a grand over MMR at the time (took a hit to the passenger side from a Trailblazer at not too high of speed). I figured the insurance company was rewarding her a little for three decades loyalty.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “to see a Subaru”

            ಠ_ಠ

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @28:

            Good point…my thinking is that anything I get her will have high miles, which means transmission problems of some kind will crop up. A new clutch is a lot cheaper than a transaxle.

            At this point, this is literally something to get her back and forth from her job, which is a couple of miles away, or to the commuter bus station so she can get downtown for school for the next two or three years. Once she graduates, she can trade this in on something new. There shouldn’t be a lot of miles accumulated.

            I’d consider a 2008-11 Focus, or a post-’11 with a manual – no way do I take one with the PowerShudder. The older ones are a little thin on teh ground, and only post-’11 manuals I can find are RS/ST models. I’d like her to not end up wrapped around a tree, thanks.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @ajla:

            Yeah, laugh away. My idea was that we needed one car in the household that kills it in the snow, now that the Audi is swilling oil and coolant on someone else’s dime. Too bad, because it was a beast in the snow.

            The Subarus in our price range are just…well, they ain’t good. Best one I saw was a Legacy sedan that looked fine mechanically, but had some Amateur Night in Dixie front end sheetmetal work done. I will admit, though…I drove a couple of older Outbacks, and they have a certain agricultural charm.

        • 0 avatar

          Don’t know the details but that gen focus is amazingly thin on the ground near me. I see more first gens. The 2.0 in my contour was a piece of crap.

        • 0 avatar
          eng_alvarado90

          I’d get the Focus over the Cobalt, even more if I had a young teen driver at home.
          The Focus has 2 more airbags, it never had any safety switch related recalls and it offers better handling thanks to the IRS. The platform was very mature at that point and pretty much any issues found on 1st gen Focus were ironed out.
          I also never liked that the Cobalt had no temperature gauge. It may be cherry picking but the more gauges the better.
          Mechanically I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them. Overall, both of these are very close spec by spec.
          Where I live both Focus and Cobalts are quite easy to find because no rust, but I’d go with Focus this time.

    • 0 avatar
      Conslaw

      +1

  • avatar
    FerrariLaFerrariFace

    Can we just burn them all?

    On a side note, it actually bugs me when people consider the PT Cruiser one of the worst cars ever, but then somehow forget that the Caliber, arguably worse in every way, existed.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The PT Cruiser doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame or anything but I agree that it was better than many of the ChryslerCo vehicles that were sold in in the mid to late 2000s.

      Nitro, Aspen, Compass, Caliber, Avenger, Sebring. Just pure pain.

      • 0 avatar

        Though it’s kinda hateful, the PT was the right car for the moment. Older people who didn’t care about driving loved them.

        • 0 avatar
          FerrariLaFerrariFace

          For the record, I bought a PT new off the lot in 2001 or so. I was 20 something at the time. The PT was still relatively new on the scene and was a pretty big deal, as the internet hadn’t crapped all over it yet. Mine was a base model with a 5-speed.
          It absolutely was the right car at the right time for me. A cheap, manual, hatchback with style. It was my entry into car culture, and the mod scene was big, for better or worse. I had tons of fun in and with that car, and I learned so much. It will always have a special place in my heart.
          I also contend that most of the haters have only experienced a rental with a slushbox, The shifter and transmission in the manual was, dare I say it… pretty good.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            The PT has the misfortune of being wildly popular, as far as “worst car” goes.

            The “best car of all time” (award) has to ignore better cars that weren’t nearly as popular.

            Except the PT was awarded MotorTrend Car of the Year 2001, but that speaks mostly (only?) of its popularity, further adding to its popularity.

            My parents (in their 50’s) were in line to buy one and asked me what I thought. I simply asked them if they would ever own a Neon. That ruined it for them.

        • 0 avatar
          eng_alvarado90

          I had an elder neighbor who purchased a brand new 2001 PT cruiser in beige. He seemed to be very proud of it, he even put those aftermarket retro chromed wheels and repainted the whole car (now it was some shade of green) a few years later.

  • avatar
    carcomment

    Is the author that bereft of ideas that this post is necessary? Perhaps if any of these turds were still capable of running and some poor soul needed out of desperation to buy a car, this might be useful. But theses hideous vehicles are all in the crusher save a few that are driving around with no bumpers, red primer and crushed rear quarter panels.

    TTAC needs to set up its game. It is in danger of becoming the Cobalt of car sites.

    • 0 avatar

      Congratulations, you’ve managed to miss the entire point of this series, which is hypotheticals.

      I’m implementing all the helpful suggestions in your comment right now.

      • 0 avatar
        carcomment

        The entire point of the series demonstrates a once great site has fallen hard-eg reviews that cut and paste mfr’ers specs, relic pieces like this, click bait Tesla posts, etc. The only one who cares about 2008 is the Car and Driver editor who thinks dusting off articles from the archives in order to not pay writers for new content is fascinating.

        Producing ‘new’ irrelevant content is hardly better than CD. Sorry if the criticism stings. You have and can do better.

    • 0 avatar

      car comment, that’s all you can say? How long have you been living under rock? Hello Word! Welcome to TTAC.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Burn ’em all

    If I have to

    Flip a coin on whether to buy the Cobalt or Focus – drive the loser, burn the Caliber

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Buy- Focus; just make noises about getting an F-150 “next” while you’re getting your oil changed and your car washed in the Quick Lane. Smart move: Price a new Focus, buy a Town car coming in off a lease.

    Drive- Caliber, until you dig through your briefcase and find your upgrade coupon from Alamo/Thrifty/Dollar. Upgrade to the Sebring Convertible. Leave the top down, throw empty fast food containers and soda bottles in the back seat. I’ve heard some people do that. Smart move: Drive the Sebring, like bad pizza and canned beer in your hotel room and pop tarts for breakfast, it’s a huge guilty pleasure.

    Burn – When you local indie mechanic and huge Chevy fan says “they never got the Cobalt right”; burn with an army-surplus flamethrower. Smart Move: Spend the extra 5 bucks a day on your rental and get an Impala, or just ask for the largest GM sedan they have. Worship at the church of 3800 and have AC cold enough to hang beef.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Burn Caliber. A throwback to the sort of truly hateful build quality that was typical of the Big 3 20 years earlier.

    Drive Focus. It’s the best handler of the group.

    Buy Cobalt. Stone reliable (well, as long as your ignition cylinder is babied) and much better-looking than the Focus.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Burn the caliber. It had the cheapest shoddiest interior I’ve ever seen. Burn the focus too. I had an acquaintance who son bought one of these and it spent most of its time sitting in the driveway while they sued Ford to try to get it repaired or re-purchased. The cobalt, wins by default. This is the only way General Motors could produce the best new compact of what the big three had to offer

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    Ewww. Ummm Drive the Focus into the Caliber until both die. Leave the scene in the Cobalt with a Jerry can in the trunk and a box of matches on the seat.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Focus- The Duratec is a fine motor and Ford weened out some of the issues with the earlier models.
    The 2000 and up had front suspension issues with premature wear of the control arms and bushings. They were improved by 2008.

    Drive: Cobalt- Average ride, the Ecotech makes it more bearable.

    Burn: Caliber- It’s cut rate Tupperware interior would cause toxic emissions if burned, so just recycle it instead. The PT Cruiser is vault like by comparison.

  • avatar

    I bought used 1st gen Focus with 2.3L engine for my son and enjoyed driving it occasionally. It was fast and handled well. So Focus is for drive. Regarding ownership I would buy Focus still, even 2nd gen. Can burn Cobalt and Caliber.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    My advice in 2008 would have been [and would still be] to go bigger or go used (and bigger), if you just had to have a product from any of these three companies. [And to go Asian (but selectively) if you were devoted to this size of vehicle.]

    Buy: Focus. To the extent that Ford used their European connections, various iterations of the Focus [and the Escort before it] were Not Bad. (But this one is North America specific, which gives one pause.)

    Drive: Cobalt. GM’s general guidelines for developing this class of vehicle were basically ‘take the bigger one and make it smaller, plus decontent, plus don’t pay much attention to anything’ (the executives never sat in one, so all good). But in the years leading to 2008 GM still had enough competent people in the depths of the organization that the basic functions of the vehicle [e.g., going and stopping] were Not Terrible and it would stay on the road for awhile.

    Burn: Caliber. Some good, innovative ideas included with this vehicle, but development during a time of management upheaval, weird choices driven by platform sharing and general issues with procurement and manufacturing conspired to yield a vehicle which is Not Good At All.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “My advice in 2008 would have been [and would still be] to go bigger or go used (and bigger)”

      But it was 2008. The world was melting down and inflation-adjusted gas prices were as high as during the OPEC embargo.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        “…if you just had to have a product from any of these three companies. [And to go Asian (but selectively) if you were devoted to this size of vehicle.]”

        https://fueleconomy.gov/feg/Find.do?action=sbs&id=24824&id=25079&id=24818&id=24321

        [Whatever you do, do not look at the “Unofficial MPG Estimates from Vehicle Owners” on that page.]

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          Fair enough.

          “My advice in 2008 would have been [and would still be] to go bigger or go used (and bigger), *if you just had to have a product from any of these three companies*.”

          But it was 2008. The world was melting down and inflation-adjusted gas prices were as high as during the OPEC embargo.

          fueleconomy.gov/feg/Find.do?action=sbs&id=24824&id=25079&id=24818&id=19845

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        In 2008 deals could be had on large V8 pickups and SUV’s

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          They totally could (although not down to $15,000 either). However, people were setting their hair on fire over fuel prices, unemployment was very high, and the nest-egg many had in their home equity was toast.

          I don’t know if that is the environment where people would take the gamble on the ’05 Mountaineer.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I take it no one wants to sell their 2008 Toyota Corolla’s.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    I only drove one of these three and it was appallingly deadful. The Cobalt. What happened was my pal with a 2007 Honda Civic got rear-ended, so while it was being coaxed back into pristine condition, the at-fault driver’s insurance paid for a Cobalt for my friend to drive. He is and never will be a car person, but the Cobalt just felt bloody awful in every way to him. He asked me to take it for a canter to see if I thought it was safe. The ride was rubbery, the steering was rubbery, the engine moaned as if the mere act of running was an insult to its existence. Utter rubbish through and through. Funny, Cavaliers were around for years after the Cobalt “replaced” them. Old Bob Lutz, a man who was convinced that he was genius personified had happened on GM, and made sure the Cobalt had the best bushings, no more cheaping out, he said. Right, but like the wonderful Solstice he sired, the Cobalt was crap. But rubbery! Yessir, it was that.

    Cobalts quickly disappeared from the scene upon end of production, unlike the cockroach Cavalier. Can’t remember when I last saw one, but then I’m not exactly looking. The Caliber was short-lived and another Mercedes Dr Zetschke miss, as more people remember his mustache and nutty German professor accent than the car. Judging by general longevity, the Focus lived longest, although it was no more than a minor redo of the 2000 car, while Europe got a new car.

    Like my pal, anyone with a modicum of common sense bought a Civic or Corolla at the time. So burn the lot of these three Detroit underachievers.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    Cobalt was probably best of this bunch. Way more upscale than the previous Cavalier. But more money than most were willing to pay for an American compact. Might as well just buy a Civic. At least the Cavalier was dirt cheap.

    Not sure if Ford had ironed out all the problems on the Focus, but they’ve had a troubled past it seems since they came out. The Dodge was lucky if the paint didn’t peel off the car before the warranty expired.

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Corey, thy evil knows no bounds… There’s a really good reason why none of these cars exists any longer, although I still say the Focus deserved another generation.

    Might I suggest the early 1990’s Japanese cheap sport coupe idea from earlier? Those were at least a) drivable and b) fun!

    Burn – the Caliber. Pure, total, awfulness. Ragged engine. Cheap, tacky interior. And it replaced the Neon which for a while was kind of decent.

    Drive – The Cobalt. If I don’t have to own it, I’ll drive it. Lord knows, the rental counter was full of them. And at least it put the Cavalier out of its misery.

    Buy – the Focus. I’d have to pry those awful fake vents off of the side (what was Ford’s fascination with fake vents around that time?) and pretend that it was new and not a mild refresh of the old one, but I still see them driving around to this day, so that speaks for how they were built.

    And base 2008 Honda Civic DX models went for $15,000 and a base Mazda3 started at $14,500. Far, far better cars and still around today.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Buy the focus. Drive the caliber. Burn the cobalt. It was just the newest example of GMs distain for small cars dating back to the vega which was built at the same plant.

  • avatar
    Imagin

    Buy – The Focus. As cheap as that generation was, it’s the one that could possibly make it to 100k without a major problem

    Drive – Cobalt. As bad as they were built, they had a pretty good chassis and the SS motor pulled hard

    Burn – Caliber. How do you follow up the Neon with that. Just how.

  • avatar
    Freddie

    Buy and drive the Cobalt SS. It is mechanically the same as my 2009 HHR SS that I bought new and had lot of fun with for 120K miles with no major repairs until the last 30K miles or so,

    • 0 avatar
      Laflamcs

      Back in 2007 my wife was looking for a car to replace her very tired and beat 99 Civic coupe. She swung into the Chevy dealer and was given the keys to a stick shift Cobalt SS. This car scared her to death after driving her worn out stick shift Civic. She said she even had to pull over a bit to get her nerves together, as no matter what she did the car was just a little monster, squealing its tires in stop and go traffic. She next went to the Saturn dealer and test drove an Aura which ended up being a fantastic car for her.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        The 2007 I believe was supercharged, it might have been the dark period with the NA engine. The 2.0T 4 showed up in 2008 with 260 HP and 300 pound feet of torque, a damn good suspension, launch control, Recaros, and a plastic cooler interior otherwise.

  • avatar
    3SpeedAutomatic

    What’s nice about all three is the ease of obtaining parts or getting repairs.
    As for ownership:

    Buy: Cobalt is great for the college bound or entering trade school. Once they earn their first regular paystub, the Cobalt is be traded in a flash.
    Drive: Focus is good for the high school bunch. Not fast enough to do too much harm. If you want something better in life, its up to you to achieve it.
    Burn: Caliber is ideal for lost souls. You child will finally realize that S**T does happens, even in big, poorly managed corporations. All the more reason to climb out the rabbit hole before its too late.

  • avatar
    xidex

    buy focus, owned one, was a good car, never had any issues with it. boring car and so so interior but started every day and got me to work and great on gas
    drive cobalt, toss up here but colbalt, cheap interiors, boring like the focus, and oh yeah wasnt the cobalt the center of attention for all the GM deaths due to the key cylinder scandal that they lied about ?
    burn caliber, probably best looking and most functional, but unless you liked how it looked dead in your driveway then burn it to the ground

  • avatar
    tallguy130

    I used to own a Cobalt when I was younger and it by far was the worst thing I’ve ever driven. Everything about it made me think GM was personally mad at its customers or at least had an overwhelming disdain for them.
    I don’t know how it managed to be so slow, so light and tinny and still get terrible gas mileage. A barbie car had more up-scale materials and less plastic.
    And I get it, its a cheap car for people that need to get around but it just oozed ‘phoning it in’ by GM.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    Buy Focus. I have a 2010. Best used car I have ever bought. Inside and out its still in good condition, everything works as it should, and costs me little to own. I’ve had the urge for a new car for a few years, and nothing knocks my socks off so I’m hanging on to it for probably 2more years given the current market. It’s relatively comfortable, been doing lots of regional road trips this summer and can easily drive all day.

    Drive Caliber. Just to see if it’s as awful as everybody whines about.

    Cavalier, oops Cobalt. No thank you.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I’m running right along there with you.

      I would buy the Focus, after having gouged my eyes out. From certain angles I thought it looked almost attractive is you squint in the right ways. Gillette: the best a man can get.

      I would drive the Caliber. Having no experience with Chrysler products built around this time, I wouldn’t know if they were legitimately as offal as all that. They too were horrid from a strong standpoint, trying too hard to ape a Durango in a Hot Wheels kind of way. Weren’t these considered trucks to satisfy cafe?

      That leaves the burning Cobalier. I’d that’s the same engine as was in the Cavalier, it’s a hard pass. Two separate cars in my family snapped timing chains, but I’m not sure if it’s strictly neglect or bad design. The Cobalier was the least homely of the bunch, being a solid 5.5.

      • 0 avatar
        spookiness

        The SES trim tames the ugly a bit. Different front bumper, lower grill and foglight treatment, and eliminates all the chrome bits. Faux side vents were gone after 08. Pictured car is SEL trim. SES is the prettiest version of ugly car, and worth getting for extra safety bits and conveniences. The first gen Sync is crude, but at minimum it allows handsfree phone and Bluetooth.

  • avatar
    C5 is Alive

    Buy: Focus. While something of a letdown from the avant-garde 2000-2007 models (especially pre-2005) most of the driving competence was still there from the first generation with fewer mechanical, electrical and quality gremlins. These were generally sturdy and durable cars.

    Drive: Cobalt. These were crap in many ways, but I have some time behind the wheel of the Ecotec I4/Getrag 5-speed combo in an earlier GM model and it was a surprisingly decent and sprightly powertrain. Handling was competent if not terribly exciting.

    Burn: Caliber. An interesting idea chopped off at the knees by horrible execution in styling, powertrain, build quality, interior, packaging… you name it, Chrysler f’d it up.

  • avatar
    TheMrFreeze

    Buy: Caliber. Why? BECAUSE I DID. 2010 Caliber Heat, 2.0L 5-speed with the updated interior. I’ve daily driven it for the last 9 years, longest I’ve ever owned a car. Sure it has its flaws thanks to DaimlerChrysler cost-cutting but the powertrain has been solid, I love the looks (Sunburst Orange is a great color), and the cargo versatility is great for an avid DIYer like myself. I will honestly miss this car when it’s gone.

    Drive: Focus. Father-in-law has owned a few, never had any issues with them.

    Burn: Cobalt. Wife got one as a loaner after her Pontiac Vibe got totaled. Cobalt had ZERO steering feel and the trunk opening was the size of a mail slot. Neither of us found any redeeming qualities.

    • 0 avatar
      Fifth87

      Drive: Caliber. I also own one, an ’09 SXT in Sunburst Orange, 2.0L with the CVT.
      Been driving it for 9 years, bought it off my in-laws estate.
      Not a huge fan of the CVT, but the car is easy to service, despite DCX’s blatant disregard for the customer. Hasn’t required anything major in repairs.
      The interior is plastic. So what? Do you spend time caressing the interior of your car, or driving it?
      It does everything I ask of it. In return, I service it as it is supposed to be.

      Buy: Cobalt. Ex wife had one, we drove it on vacation from NH to NC, zero complaints about the driving dynamics or the quality. She is rough on cars and it soldiers on.

      Burn: Focus. Don’t they all do that on their own?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This one’s timely – I’m looking for a good cheap used car for my kid, and the Focus and Cobalt are both on the list. Therefore:

    1) Buy – Focus. I owned one (an ’05 ST, with the Mazda engine) and it was a terrific car.
    2) Drive – Cobalt. These strike me as GM cockroaches.
    3) Burn – Caliber. Like many here, had one as a rental and it was putrid.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I’d follow the same sequence. Over the past couple of years I’ve been in the market for decent sh!tboxes for my 2 sons. The I-5 Colorado we got off a neighbor has held up despite a check engine light. My older son has 2 Ford pickups and 3 Cherokee’s. My driveway looks like I’m an autowrecker.

    • 0 avatar

      05 pretty different to the 08 cost cut NA-specific version!

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      I had a Cavalier as a rental in about 2002. The only good thing about it was that after the trip, I could return it to the rental counter and never have to see it again. The only good thing about it was that it ran. To call it mediocre would be an act of kindness. Heaven help the gullible, unsuspecting mark who actually buys and drives one.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I looked at the Caliber when it came out, sat in for a minute couldn’t wait to get out. The Focus was a big let-down from funky first-gen. The Cobalt is junk, but it’s pretty tolerable junk. I’m thinking of a Cobalt SS for a track-day beater.

  • avatar

    I have driven all three I think the Cobalt felt the most solid. (strange thing to say) I see more driving every day then the other two combined. The people I know that have owned them haven’t had many issues. The focus just felt off when I drove it and seemed to disappear from the roads when they were less then 10 years old, not interested enough to even see why that’s the case. The caliber I have mixed emotions they have good utility and there was some thought there, but build quality is bad but the manual one probably holds up fine other then the front end parts. I would buy a calbier as a cheap used car if I needed something under 3k to drive around in as a new car not so much.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I have a soft spot for 90’s $#!+boxes. Not so much with ones from this era.

    Burn the Caliber…a $#+box among $#!+boxes. The other 2 are interchable in my opinion.

  • avatar
    bufguy

    BURN: Caliber I was in Florida and rented a PT Cruiser, was in a minor accident and had to exchange the car. They gave me a new Caliber. I was excited to drive this new model that just came out. I can unequivocally say it was the worst car I ever drove. Cheap interior with hard creaky plastic, flat seats and just poorly put together. The drivetrain was even worse. It was noisy, not very peppy for a big four and the CVT was horrendous The car constantly droned. The PT cruiser was infinitely better.

    DRIVE: Cobalt. Boring, cheap materials, but actually assembled pretty well and a well sorted chassis.

    BURN: Focus I never drove the Focus but was disappointed that Ford really cheaped out. The first generation we got in the US shared most parts with the European version, When the next generation came around Ford chose not to use that as the basis for our new Focus and created a cheapo, dumbed down American one…

  • avatar
    readallover

    No real love for any of them. Had them as rentals. (Why do rental car companies think black cars with black interiors are are good idea in the desert southwest?) Cobalt was a great step forward after the Cavalier. The seats in the Caliber felt like wooden benches. The Focus was…adequate.

  • avatar
    71charger_fan

    We’ve had an ’09 Caliber in the family since new. The interior is cheap but no worse than the Prius taxi I took home from the airport once. All it’s needed in 12 years until now is brakes, shocks, and an alternator. Now the crossmember is rusted out but, with the cost of new and used cars now, the crossmember will probably be replaced and it’ll get driven until it dies. I really hated Calibers when they first came out, but it’s grown on me a bit over the years. It can carry a lot of stuff and has proven reliable. It was something my daughter could afford at the time.

  • avatar
    gregtwelve

    My son bought a 2008 Cobalt new and was totaled by an unfortunate deer 2 years ago in upstate NY. It had 215K miles and still ran well. It had a few issues during the 10 years he had it but nothing major. Previously he owned a 2000 Cavalier which also made it into the mid 200k mile range. One thing I told him and he always did was change the oil every 3000 miles. Although he makes very good money, he is very frugal (ok cheap..and doesn’t deny it) and tends to keep his cars as long as he can.

    His replacement for the Cobalt is a 2018 Buick Encore with the small turbo. I told him not to expect the same longevity he had with the two
    N/A engines in the Chevys

  • avatar

    I feel like the Caliber, in yellow, could have made for a passable Bumblebee before the world decided he should be a Camaro.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    This is an easy one:
    -Buy: Focus. Very reliable powertrain, best handling, cheap interior but held up well and although the exterior is meh, it edged out the Cobalt due to the standard 6 airbags and no safety switch recall.

    -Drive : Cobalt for the reasons named above. 2.2 Ecotec is tough as nails (I had one).

    -Burn: Caliber. What an ugly, unreliable, thirsty dog it was…
    PS. I always thought that the 2.0 was the base engine in North America.

  • avatar
    macmcmacmac

    Despite the predictable disdain, I will say that the 2009 Focus I owned for 9 years was rock solid reliable, handled well, got much better gas mileage than the Sable it replaced. It was also only 7hp down on that craptastic Vulcan, so it was actually kind of peppy with the 5 speed. It NEVER broke, well, aside from the inexplicable appetite for sway bar links..

    It finally succumbed to the second disappearance of the papier-mache rocker panels. It was a helluva snow car. It was basic, but it had all the options I gave a damn about, including heated rear view mirrors, something my “near luxury” 200 inexplicably lacks. Having only 148,000km on it, I was seriously thinking about having new rockers welded in and taking it as far as it could go just out of curiosity, but 2nd gen Focus rocker panels were nowhere to be found at that time. I traded it in in 2019, and got $500, rockers a wasting, and with some new motor mounts probably in the cards. Yeah, it was frumpy from the b pillar back, and the interior styling was a bit, um, brutalist, but it was the right car at the right time for me, as I needed to ditch the Sable in 2010 as it was getting near $400/month to keep it in gas. A 5 speed compact with a 2.0 was the ticket. Oddly enough, I transferred jobs across the city shortly thereafter and now had a 5 minute commute, which explained the lack of mileage. Rust never sleeps though.

    I got to drive a company Cobalt and it was a complete heap in comparison, with panels that would ring when you closed he doors.

    I was an anonymous, silver appliance that did it’s job and probably the only car I will ever own that was less than a year old and had less than 35k on the clock. The 200 feels like a rocket in comparison, but the 9 speed never feels happy on the 5-6 shift. Pentastar FTW though.

    I saw replacement weld-in 2nd gen rockers available not long after that.

  • avatar
    sayahh

    “American”? Get a Pontiac Vibe!

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    My Brother and Sister-in-Law had a Caliber that my mother took money out of her 401K to buy for them. I have had the other two as rentals. Burning all of them is simply not enough – nuke them all from orbit, just to be sure.

  • avatar
    Gsrdude

    Only ever driven the Turbocharged versions of the GM and FCA examples of Cobalt and Caliber. Driven a couple examples of each from bone stock to big turbo cars

    Cobalt SS/TC was the better track day car over the Caliber SRT4, handled better, braked better, stock for stock they’d 1/4 mile with right around the same trap speeds and I believe their factory 1/4 mile times were mid 13’s but the Cobalt SS/TC will be the victor assuming no modifications. As it came from the factory with Launch Contol and NLS (No lift shifting).

    That’s if the stupid gearbox actually found the next gear or the clutch decided not to lock you out of gear my goodness the shifts were extremely notchy and on the street ride was darty and low speed damping was horrendous. Same thing with every Colbalt SS/TC I ever maintenanced, installed parts on, or tuned . They certainly had a nicer interior than the Caliber SRT4, but also had a lot of NVH and interior rattles.

    The Caliber SRT4 was a much better on road car to daily drive, shifted smoother, wasn’t as darty and twitchy like the Cobalt. The Caliber had tons of space and a better interior than the out going Neon SRT4.

    Made more power stock and continued to as modifications were added and ecu was calibrated for them and after modifying/upgrading the wastegate and minor tuning the Caliber SRT4 could actually come on boost faster and hold it steady through more of the rev range.

    Both were quickish cars stock and both had good engines but due to the inherent shortfalls of GDI (LSPI, HPFP flow, need of a proper AOS or Dual OCCs, need for proper 100% synthetic oil designed to combat LSPI events, and without expensive modifications to the fuel system plus tuning) Like for instance: adding port fuel injectors via a intake manifold spacer allowing for a standard injector per port, could do it via 1-2 injectors and a Throttle Body spacer, then you need a driver for those injectors and a trick wiring harness to be able to tune those injectors to come on, a larger flow or dual in tank LPFPs will be needed, some High Flow GDI injectors are now available but you’d also need a High Flow HPFP which only a couple companies are doing right now, and they are not at all cheap. But w/o a modified fuel system to take advantage of the amazing knock resistance that higher Ethanol Blends provide, the Caliber SRT4 has a much higher power potential as it can run E-85 blend or higher where w/o extensive and expensive modifications the Cobalt SS/TC may be able to run at an
    E-30 blend.

    *Assuming a properly maintenanced vehicle, no boost leaks, on the correct plug and gap for your level of modifications, Then proper ecu tuning by a very reputable Engine Calibration Specialist with a well established HW/SW Tuning package for said vehicle and having had a lot of experience tuning your platform.*

    Safe, Reliable, Smooth mapping, and proper maintenance a good turbocharged platform (that doesn’t have a known factory fault like STi Ringlands or old Talon/Laser/Eclipse 4G63 crank walk. There are countless N/A engines with factory faults). Point is a TC engine will last just as long as any N/A engine when maintenanced properly. Anyone that tells you different doesn’t know ****

    Personally I’ve not owned a N/A vehicle in over 20yrs now all have been Turbocharged all but 1 car I actually traded in I sold to people that are still driving them today. I have never once never once had a TC motor let go, hell I’ve never even had a turbocharger go out on me.

    To sum up the vehicles in NA form:

    Buy the Focus
    Drive the Caliber
    Burn the Cobalt

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