Since the Ford Focus ST’s and Fiesta ST’s cancellation, American OEMs haven’t really offered a genuine hot hatch. However, even before those cars came out, Chevrolet was offering its own spin on the ‘sporty version of a regular car’ formula. The late-2000s HHR SS panel van is one such example. But arguably the closest thing GM ever offered to a hot hatch was the Chevrolet Cobalt SS.
Chevrolet Cobalt SS specs and features
When it debuted in 2004, the Chevrolet Cobalt was a competent, but ultimately forgettable compact front-wheel-drive sedan. However, because it needed a sporty car to slot underneath the Corvette, Chevrolet spiced the Cobalt coupe up a bit.
The base Cobalt, in 2005, came with a 145-hp 2.2-liter four-cylinder. In contrast, the 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS featured a 2.0-liter supercharged four-cylinder, rated at 205 hp and 200 lb-ft, Car and Driver reports. With a 5-speed short-throw manual, the Cobalt SS could go 0-60 in 5.9 seconds.
With its 230-hp 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, the contemporary Dodge Neon SRT-4 was faster to 60 and in the ¼-mile. However, around a track, the Cobalt SS was faster. That’s because Chevy didn’t just upgrade the engine and transmission.
Compared to the base car, the SS had larger anti-roll bars, larger and higher-performance brakes, stiffer springs and struts, and was 0.25” lower. There was also an A-pillar-mounted boost gauge. And an optional Performance Package added Recaro front seats and a limited-slip differential. These upgrades also found themselves in the naturally-aspirated 2007 Cobalt SS sedan, Grassroots Motorsports reports.
But the best was yet to come. For 2008, the supercharged engine was dropped due to emissions issues, Car and Driver explains. In its place, the Chevrolet Cobalt SS coupe received a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, rated at 260 hp and 260 lb-ft, Motor Trend reports. Thanks to a ‘no-lift shift’ function and launch control, the 0-60 time dropped to 5.5 seconds.
Like the earlier model, the 2008 Cobalt SS received some extensive handling upgrades, Road & Track reports. These include stiffer springs, dampers, and suspension bushings, Brembo brakes, larger anti-roll bars, and quicker steering. And though the stability control could mimic an LSD, there was a genuine optional one available.
The Cobalt SS was genuinely quick and fun to drive
The supercharged Chevrolet Cobalt SS coupe was genuinely well-received, though it was a bit rough compared to the contemporary Honda Civic Si, Autoweek reports. But it’s the turbocharged models that really made an impact.
The 2008 Cobalt SS set a FWD record at Car and Driver’s annual Lightning Lap. This record stood until 2018 when the 306-hp Honda Civic Type R beat it. The Mazdaspeed 3, multiple Volkswagen Golf GTIs, the Honda S2000, and even the 2011 WRX STI couldn’t beat it. And for a time, the Cobalt SS also held the FWD record at the Nürburgring, CarBuzz reports.
That’s not to say the Chevrolet Cobalt SS is a perfect ersatz hot hatch. The interior has a lot of hard plastic, R&T notes, and while the seats are supportive, the fabric is a bit low-rent. The 5-speed manual’s shifts aren’t quite as slick as the Civic Si’s, MT notes. And while the steering is very linear, the Mazdaspeed 3’s has more feeling. Plus, there’s still a bit of torque steer.
But, in terms of speed and driving fun, the Cobalt SS has them all matched, if not beat. My former co-worker regularly raced autocross in a Cobalt SS, and loved it. To quote R&T, “it’s the best-driving fwd [sic] sports compact out there, matching the power of a Mazdaspeed3, but easily out-handling it.” At Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap, it didn’t understeer, nor did its brakes fade. Plus, despite the stiffer suspension, the hot coupe’s ride is well-dampened. And if you’re not setting lap record, it has adjustable stability control to keep things in check.
Pricing and availability
The Chevrolet Cobalt SS coupe wasn’t available for very long. The supercharged models were built from 2005-2007, and the turbo ones in 2008 and 2009. After 2009, the Cobalt was replaced by the Cruze.
However, despite their performance capabilities, used Cobalt SS coupes are fairly affordable. Though finding unmodified examples can be difficult, even sub-100,000-mile models typically sell for under $10,000.
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