h2>From Cavalier to Cool
By Fleetwood Brougham
You remember the Cavalier, right? It’s the car you learned to drive on some 20 years ago. Yep, that’s the one. Well, the old girl has finally gone to that big wrecking yard in the sky, the victim of one too many facelifts. Its replacement is all-new from the ground up. Even the name has changed: Enter the Cobalt.
Available in sedan and coupe with a wide range of engines, transmission and optional equipment, the Cobalt offers a few surprises. Being the debutant I am, I worried what my friends would think should they see me driving around in such a car. But I really didn’t get many negative comments. Not that the new Cobalt is going to replace the BMW 3 Series as the new sweetheart of West Hollywood, but all things being equal, it’s a pretty nice looking compact sedan. Chevrolet wraps the Cobalt in big sheetmetal, with taut fenders and huge wrap-around headlamps. My Cobalt LT included the optional Sport package, adding 16-inch alloy wheels, white-faced gauges and a rear spoiler. Nice touch.
Inside, Chevrolet has taken a few cues from the VW playbook by using richly textured vinyl, a clean dash design and contrasting two-tone color schemes in either gray or beige. The faux wood trim on the LT’s dash is convincing enough, but for this class, I think a nice aluminum strip would look better. I was not too happy with the shallow cup holders. Don’t American designers know Americans drink Big Gulps and Super Sized soft drinks? Steering-wheel-mounted audio controls allowed me to override both the volume and song selection of my passenger, a feature sure to fuel the fire of feuding couples. I loved the standard Pioneer audio system with its seven speakers, rear subwoofer and MP3/CD capability. Bumping.
The Cobalt’s front bucket seats are as firm as any I’ve tested. The driver gets adjustable height and lumbar support, but the poor passenger must do without either. Rear seat passengers will find a snug fit for their legs and head, a definite drawback for the Cobalt when compared to the roomy rear seats found in the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. The Cobalt’s trunk measures some 13.9 cubic feet, which is pretty big in this class. A 60/40 split-folding rear seat allows longer items to be passed through the trunk and you don’t have to wrestle removing the headrests to fold the seat down.
Once on the road, I’m pleasantly surprised at the Cobalt’s lack of vibration and interior noise. Chevrolet uses a good number of sound deadening tactics that pay off handsomely. The standard 2.2-liter Ecotec engine pumps out 145 horsepower and feels plenty peppy, even with the four-speed automatic sapping the fun from the drive. In tight turns, I notice the Cobalt leaning and heaving. I never felt I had to back off the throttle when testing the Ford Focus and Dodge Neon in these same turns. After a day of driving, I am overjoyed to discover my little Cobalt averages close to 28 miles per gallon, even with my heavy right pump mashing the accelerator.
Now comes the buzz kill. Although Chevrolet has built a competitive compact sedan, with all the safety, performance and creature comforts found on its competition, the price tag will come as a real shocker. The base Cobalt starts at $14,190 and my test car pushed well past the $18K mark. Considering a loaded Hyundai Elantra sells for $16,232, you can see the dilemma facing the Cobalt. To make things even more confusing, General Motors continues to offer special discounting and rebate programs, meaning at certain times of the year, a Cobalt buyer may actually pay less than invoice. Money matters in this class, so be sure to contact a Chevrolet dealer near you to get the latest pricing.
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