Tuesday, December 01, 2020

My Daily Driver: @_baldtires's Chevy Cobalt SS

1. How did you come to the decision of buying this car?

You know, I was tired of hearing about how bad American cars were. A lot of people I know would never even consider buying one, and they justify this by citing the poor build quality that they say defines every aspect of domestic cars. I had heard this so many times I started to question whether it was actually true.

For $4700, which is what I paid for this car, the Japanese and German options were definitely present. But I’ve driven those cars, I know what they’re like, and they are, in my opinion, pretty played out. Everybody buys Civic Sis, I already have an E46 3 Series, and every other imported enthusiast car just seemed so… common. They’re obvious choices, the Big Mac is the same everywhere, I didn’t want a Big Mac.

But outside of not wanting to buy something everybody else buys, the decision was actually pretty simple. The Cobalt SS sedan offers 260 horsepower from a strong 2.0-liter engine with a forged crankshaft, forged rods, and oil squirters under the pistons. There’s also a front limited-slip differential, a ton of space inside thanks to its goofy roofline and folding rear seats, and it gets 30+ MPG on the highway. 

The front brakes are massive units made by Brembo—you can’t fit anything smaller than a 17-inch wheel on this car—and it has no-lift-shift and launch control. It’s also cheap to fix, reliable, and inexpensive to insure. 

It’s faster than the Honda S2000, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo, and BMW 135i around Virginia International Raceway. Here’s the full results of Car and Driver’s 2008 Lightning Lap testing, if you’re interested in seeing other, more expensive cars that the Cobalt SS is faster than. 

For $22k brand new, it held the FWD lap record at the Nurburgring in 2007.

2. What has your ownership experience been like?

My Cobalt was perhaps not abused by its previous owners, but it wasn’t actively cared for. I’ve had to replace things that previous owners clearly didn’t want to, and the alignment was so jacked up when I got the car that the steering wheel was cocked over to the left between 10 and 15 degrees. 

The hand brake, whose lever is the cheapest I have ever encountered, also somehow managed to feel even cheaper due to one cable just not being hooked up. As it turns out, one of the cables rusted, was stuck, and needed to be replaced. The previous owner solved this issue by simply disconnecting that side. Thanks professor!

One of the front calipers—made by Brembo—also had a ruined bore. I replaced that as well, which wasn’t cheap. 

The car also had a litany of small issues that are typical of a vehicle that hasn’t been cared for, but it’s things you get over pretty quickly, or are fixed easily. The nice thing about the Cobalt is that it’s very easy to work on, and all of the parts—besides the things exclusive to the SS trim—are very inexpensive. They made more than a million Cobalts, after all.

The interior in the SS is also slightly nicer than the one found in a base Cobalt, primarily because of the nice SS-specific seats. Other features I like on the inside are the USB port on the dash to charge my phone, and the standard AUX input, both things I have to do without on my older E46. The car’s sound system is also surprisingly good, which I did not expect.

3. What is your fondest memory with this car?

I wouldn’t buy a regular Chevy Cobalt, but the SS delivers a fond memory nearly every time I drive it. I’ll tell you my fondest memory in a moment, let me name a few other good moments first.

Even in its SS trim, the Cobalt sedan is a boring-looking car that, after all, says “Cobalt” on the back. People also must assume the SS trim—as I previously did—is just an appearance package with different transmission tuning, or something.

One fond memory I have, and I’ve only had the car for a few months, is right after I installed new MAP sensors and a tune. General Motors offered a similar tune that could be installed at dealers, but the aftermarket one I got from ZZP was a little more aggressive. $400 later, and my Cobalt was faster than my E46 M3. The tune claims 280whp and 320 ft/lbs (which I take with a grain of salt) but that first hole-shot with my friend—who has a 350whp VW golf—was a little shocking. The car was fast before, but now it was the sort of fast where you forget where you are and what you’re doing. He looked at me with the same look a lot of other people give me, which is a mix of disbelief, shortly followed by laughter.

Other people have given me that same look, one in a new WRX, another in a Focus ST, and other drivers in cars that people perhaps don’t think are fast, but must be faster than a Chevy Cobalt.

My fondest memory, perhaps because it’s the most recent, is bus-gapping the guy in a BRZ with a “SEND NUDES” rear wing on it. In the BRZ, he must’ve seen it coming, but I’m not sure if he did. He was with a few of his friends in other, similarly equipped cars, and he seemed pretty embarrassed. He exited off I95 South, companions in tow, a short time later.

4. Why do you love cars?

I’m not sure what there isn’t to love about cars besides the costenvironmental and financial. They’re a mobile environment that stimulates nearly every sense. The right car looks great, sounds great, feels great, and even smells great. Different cars obviously balance these senses differently, but you can get in a car anytime you want and experience sensory overload just by turning a steering wheel and pressing your foot into a pedal. In the right car, every drive is an opportunity to at least put a smile on your face, and cars that actively encourage you to smile, that want you to be happy, can be had for as little as $4,700. Ask me how I know.

If you would like to participate, just answer the above four questions and submit one to three photos of your daily driver to milhousevanh at geemail. Thanks and have fun!


jurekvakva said...

Nice story! I’m fond of Chevy Cobalt, ever since I took my family on a road trip across the USA back in 2007. We drove from Philadelphia to Utah & back in a rental car, which was a base Cobalt. It actually had manual windows - I’ve been renting cars in the US since 1995, and that was the first and only time I ever got a car with manual windows. But it drove nicely enough for a very enjoyable trip.
Some pictures of the Cobalt:







Maxichamp said...

@jurekvakva: What a beautiful trip!

jurekvakva said...

Yes it was beautiful!
Lots of wonderful places, some more pictures are here: