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Cobalt brings versatility to Chevy lineup

August 20, 2004|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

The multipurpose Cobalt is Chevrolet's tactical weapon for taking on a barrage of compact competitors.

Due out this summer, the Cobalt can compete in economy-car territory or be fired up as a quick-reflex youthmobile ready to prowl Main Street. Or, you can select something in between.

More than simply a replacement for the quarter-century-old Cavalier brand, the Cobalt represents a new approach for Chevrolet as it repositions its entry-level cars and delivers a range of performance options under a single nameplate.

Now that the General Motors' division has a new price-leader champ in the Korean-built Aveo, there's more room for the Cobalt to maneuver. The car offers numerous trim levels and more engine/transmission options than the old Cavalier could ever muster. The Cobalt is a small car but not a bare-bones commuter.

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True, you will find some residual Cavalier DNA in the Cobalt's sheetmetal, probably to remind you that you're looking at a Chevrolet product, and the overall dimensions between the two cars are nearly identical. But the Cobalt's shape is much smoother and edgier, with the type of tautness that's seen on most European automobiles. You also won't find any rubber-shaded bumpers on this car, only body-colored fascias and door handles.

Equally new is the extra-stiff architecture supporting the Cobalt that, according to Chevy, is specifically designed to improve handling, reduce road noise and provide greater crash protection.

To underscore its premium compact category, the Cobalt doesn't arrive with a stripped-down price-leader as showroom bait. Air conditioning, CD Player and a driver information center are standard on all models.

Engine choices depend on the model. Base and LS sedans and coupes and the LT sedan run with a 140-horsepower 2.2-liter DOHC four-cylinder similar to the engine used in the Cavalier, Pontiac Sunfire and Saturn Ion. The nifty SS coupe and sedan receive a 170-horse 2.4-liter DOHC engine with variable valve timing.

The highlight of the Cobalt show is the SS Supercharged coupe that's fitted with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder topped with an Eaton supercharger providing 12 pounds of boost. The result is 205 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm.

All Cobalts, with the exception of the SS Supercharged, can be fitted with an optional four-speed automatic transmission.

SS Supercharged goodies include unique front and rear fascia, deck-lid spoiler, custom rocker moldings, close-ratio five-speed manual transmission, 18-inch wheels and a performance-oriented suspension that was honed on the challenging 13-mile Nrburgring race course in Germany.

The SS Supercharged coupe is intended to appeal to the "tuner" crowd that's mainly populated by young enthusiasts who value big power in small packages and plenty of style on the side. To that end, this tasty coupe has its own leather-trimmed interior with satin nickel trim, seven-speaker Pioneer sound system, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a boost gauge affixed to the windshield pillar.

Chevrolet clearly has high hopes that the Cobalt will win over its fair share of fans on the basis of what it has to offer, and not just on its price point (that's the Aveo's job now). Even with plenty of competent and attractively styled small cars to tempt buyers these days, this new Chevy-branded machine has a solid shot at success.

Copyright 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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