Thursday, November 17, 2005

Cobalt is a little Chevy that’s easy to love

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been inspired to the four-letter-word about any vehicle bearing the Stovebolt logo, except the Corvette and first generation Impala SS. But the Cobalt grabbed me the first time I drove it.

The Cobalt is nothing like any previous small Chevy, which means it’s no Cavalier or, Lord save us, a Vega. No, this car is proof that Chevy finally is getting it on what it takes to challenge Toyota and Honda.

That’s why the Cobalt’s obvious quality struck me first. The interior panels and trims all look solid and attractive. Nothing cheezy anywhere, no glaring gaps and all of the buttons and switches work with a reassuring sturdiness. It’s the same story on the outside where the fit and finish is tight and consistent.

So the Cobalt passes the first test of critical consumers raised on generations of flawlessly assembled Corollas and Civics with flying colors. The results on the second test – does the exterior styling do anything for you - aren’t quite so clear-cut.

I like the Cobalt’s look. It’s the first Chevy in years that actually looks like a Chevy is supposed to look - fun, sporty, affordable and stylish. The rounded hood and front fenders with the big floating Chevy logo somehow reminds me of the classic 55 Chevy’s grille.

I know, that link may not make sense to some of you out there and I’ve gotten some strange looks from folks to whom I’ve mentioned the 55 memory. Others simply dismiss the Cobalt’s looks as bland, forgettable or inoffensive. I like it.

The Cobalt passes the third test impressively by reinforcing the first. Road and engine noise are well isolated and the suspension soaks up most bumps and bops with unexpected poise.

The steering is weighted right and the 2.2-liter, 145 horsepower Ecotec four-cylinder powerplant provides excellent acceleration with hardly any vibration or harshness.

Handling is moderately sporting and the Cobalt feels a little quicker than it is, so even with the four-speed automatic transmission of my Arrival Blue Metallic two-door LS coupe the Cobalt lets you have a little friskiness on the daily commute. Fuel economy is upper 20 mpgs.

On the fourth and most vital test, pricing is solid, too, with my fully equipped LS coming in at $18,900, but expect a tab more like $16,500 with GM’s employee discount pricing still in effect. That makes the Cobalt a great value. This little Chevy is a winner. And we haven’t even talked about the supercharged SS version!