2008 Chevy Cobalt 1LT Review

By Chris Haak

11.06.2007

Last week, I was the unfortunate victim of a hit-and-run accident on my way home from work. The perpetrator crossed the double yellow lines in a relatively narrow residential street, skidded along the side of my Honda Accord, and caused $2,643 in damage, not to mention the temporary loss of my vehicle for several weeks, and the permanent loss of its status as never having paint work done on it.

The day after the accident, I drove the car to an excellent body shop about 75 miles from my home (unfortunately, they’ve had to ply their excellent handiwork on my wife’s vehicle about four years ago). This time, however, my loaner car was a brand new 2008 Chevy Cobalt LT sedan instead of a four year old Cavalier, as my wife received in 2004. I’d sat in a few Cobalts over the years, but never actually driven one, so I was looking forward to checking it out. I wasn’t looking forward to “trading down” for a few weeks, but such is life.

I’ll warn you right here that my review will not be as positive toward the subject as our take on the 2008 Chevy Malibu. You see, the Malibu exemplifies all that is right about the “new GM,” while the Cobalt is very much a relic of the “old GM.”

The Cobalt is not an ugly car. I find it more attractive than, say, a Toyota Corolla, but less attractive than a Honda Civic or Mazda3. Although the Cobalt took the Cavalier’s spot in the Chevrolet lineup, it is a completely different vehicle, sharing almost no parts. Looking at it, though, you wouldn’t know it. The Cobalt sedan has a very uninspiring style to my eyes. In contrast with the Cobalt coupe – especially in the now-discontinued SS Supercharged trim – the sedan is not the looker of the family. Visually, everything seemed to be properly aligned except for the trunklid – the first time I closed it, it actually bounced back up. The second attempt did latch it, but the gap on the right side is much larger than the gap on the left side. This misalignment may have made it difficult for the latch to do its job.

Opening the door felt like everything was appropriately attached. The seats in the LT model that I have are cloth covered and reasonably comfortable; the cloth felt a little cheap (although I’m used to leather), but the seats have adjustable lumbar support, reclining, and one other knob whose function I haven’t identified yet. Once seated, the interior is reasonably appealing, until you begin to touch things. The gauges are surrounded by faux chrome trim, the inner door releases are plastic chrome, and the upper dash in my navy blue sedan is a charcoal gray, while the lower part of the dash is a lighter shade of gray – actually, this is the same color combination inside my Accord. However, the entire dashboard – top, middle, and bottom – is hard plastic with a very artificial-feeling, rough texture. It’s also hollow knocking on it yields an echo. The radio, shared with many other GM vehicles, has a CD player with MP3 capability, an auxiliary jack for an iPod or MP3 player, and XM Satellite Radio. (Enterprise hadn’t activated the car’s XM, but the kind folks at XM were able to temporarily transfer my subscription to the Cobalt for the duration of my time with the car for free). The radio is relatively easy to figure out, and seems to be only a few speakers, a subwoofer, and sufficient wattage away from being a decent one. The rubberized, large volume/power knob was nice to use, although it has a thin plastic, hollow sound, unlike a similar knob in my (admittedly more expensive) Accord.

Interior space is actually very good, at least in the driver’s seat, even though I’m 6’4″ and 190 pounds. My head is about three inches from the ceiling, which is about the best I can hope for from anything smaller than a Dodge Sprinter, and my knees do not touch the lower dashboard. I find the Cobalt, at least this particular one, to be an interesting vehicle because of the contrasts/conflicts apparent within it. Some parts of the car scream “cheap!” to me, while other parts of the car impart a premium feel. I’ve already mentioned some of the “cheap” parts; others include the 100% plastic parking brake pull, door panels, a lack of cruise control (though it’s available on the Cobalt as a $248 option), a windshield without the blue tinted area at the top, really flimsy sun visors (though they’re no worse than our $35,000 Nissan Pathfinder’s), no temperature gauge, and no anti-lock brakes (available as a $360 option). The more premium features include the standard XM radio, power windows, mirrors, and locks, remote keyless entry, a woven headliner, a DIC (digital instrument cluster), and automatic headlamps.

As I slid the four speed automatic into reverse to back out of my garage, the car was rolling, but was not engaged in a gear. I looked down to find that what I thought was the detent for reverse was really just extra friction between park and reverse. It’s not a very smoothly-acting gearshift, even for an automatic. Once underway, the powertrain (my rental has the 148 horsepower 2.2 liter Ecotec four cylinder and four speed automatic) sounds and feels fine during leisurely driving, but if conditions call for a quick merge onto a crowded expressway, the transmission quickly drops a few gears, the Ecotec screams, and eventually you get to highway speed. Without the benefit of a fifth wheel, the seat of my pants (which is, admittedly, likely to be inaccurate) says that it feels like about 9.5 or 10 seconds from 0 to 60.

Braking feels fine; the car is equipped with front disc and rear drum brakes. Drum brakes are often found on less-expensive cars, but they can be more susceptible to fade with heavy use, but they were certainly adequate for how I’d use the car. The Cobalt was the first vehicle I’d ever driven with electric power steering; the criticisms I’d read of this system are warranted. It lacks feedback and feels unnatural, particularly at low speeds. Still, I do appreciate that its reason for existence is to conserve fuel. The Cobalt handled road imperfections nicely; I didn’t push its handling (I’m still a little shell shocked after the hit-and-run, after all), but I don’t particularly feel unsafe driving it.

The most surprising thing to me about the Cobalt is that, until GM’s cost reductions in the past year or two, they actually lost money on every Cobalt they sold, in spite of the obvious decontenting. Yet, when I think about the 1990 Pontiac Grand Ams that I used to browse at the dealership with window stickers very close to the Cobalt’s ($15,955 including destination for a 1LT like this one with no options except for the automatic transmission), with very similar equipment levels, but lacking any airbags, much less dual front and head curtain side airbags – and lacking amenities such as XM radio, automatic headlights, and a digital instrument cluster, the Cobalt seems to be a solid value.

Still, if I were shopping for a compact car, I’d be sure to drive the newer competition before signing on the dotted line for a Cobalt. I really think that GM has proven in the past two years that it can do much better, and I look forward to driving the next Cobalt.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant.net – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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12 Comments

  1. In what has to be a coincidence, I just got out of the same car last week after driving it for 2 weeks because my car was in the body shop after being rear-ended on Lakeside in Chicago.

    My car? A 2004 Toyota Corolla. I wish I could tell you that the Cobalt was a huge leap forward in what I remember about American cars, but that’s not the case. It just wasn’t a very good experience all around. Theat’s the most polite thing I can say about it.

  2. Hit-and-run, that sux. Probably an uninsured or unlicensed (or both) driver. Or maybe it was Britney Spears, she does hit-and-run. Someone hit my car bad in a parking lot a couple of years ago and it was 3700 dolaars in damage.

  3. I’ve always thought it would be a selling point for insurance companies to guarantee a rental car equal in quality to the one that was being fixed, iinstead of paying some minimum amount that gets you a car like a Cobalt. I paid extra when I wrecked my Infiniti to rent a nicer car than was covered by the measly payment the insurance company gave. There was no way I was driving around in a Hyundai for three weeks, I don’t care how nice the guy at Enterprise thought it was.

  4. From and accord to a cobalt you must be hating life

  5. My daughter has a Cobalt and she is considered lucky at her high school. Her friends think it’s pretty cool. Of course, it’s better than walking to the mall so they might be biased in that regard. It is safe for the size car it is, that’s one good thing.

  6. Thanks for the comments, guys. I received word that my Honda should be finished at the body shop on Monday or Tuesday, so the Cobalt’s time in my garage is coming to a close.

    It’s not a bad car, but there are tons of niceties in my Honda (an EX-L V6) that I’m looking forward to having again. Tops on that list include leather seats, automatic climate control (I forgot what a pain it was to manually control HVAC!), and most of all, the missing 100 horsepower! 🙂

  7. I rented a Cobalt in Miami for three days. Ugh. Pretty awful little car.

  8. I got my Accord back two nights ago. The body shop did an awesome job. Boy, was it good to get back into my car, even though it’s four years older.

  9. I owe a cobalt. I have a 1997 Chevy Cavalier before this that I put 280,000 miles on it. That car was awesome even after 2 deer kills on the front end. But I bought this cobalt at the beginning in 2005 from all the hype on how great this car was going to be. I commute an hour to work, this car sux for long drives. Totally unconfortable and the front end suspension is crap. I now after 99,000 miles on the car am going to have to replaced the front struts and I think the motor mounts are shot. The struts actually have been acting funky for the last 20,000 miles on the car. I’ve just put it off. Today 2/21/08 it was only some small snow and ice here in maryland and now the car wouldn’t start. Once I got it cranked over it run like crap, like half the engine was firing. I’m thinking frozen fuel lines since I only had about a little less than 1/4 of a tank of gas. So much for getting to work on a friday huh? I would never recommend this car to anyone and I can’t stomach this car anymore but I’m still $9K in the hole on payment with 2 years left to GMAC. I certainly won’t buy another Chevy after owning 4 Mustangs previously. I need better fuel economy for the driving I do. This car is junk. The dealer even had to replace all my interior seat covers 1 month after I bought it because they were fraying. And replaced the front rotors because they were warped. I should have fought to return the car then!!! LEMON!!!!! no wonder GM is going into the toilet!

  10. Most of you all are basing your comments on a Cobalt rental, which are usually the base of the base of the base models. If you want more power and better options in a Cobalt, go drive a SS/SC or SS/TC and then get back to me.

  11. I’ve been pretty impressed with the kappa platform and ecotec engine for the most part, but I do wish Chevy would have used some cleaner lines like GM did on the Solstice or Saturn did on the Sky. Nicely over built little motor though. You can get tons of power out of a 2.0L four banger!

  12. Ive owned a cobalt lt sedan since june 2008 and is used strictly as a family (granny taxi) car I am pleased by almost every feature of the vehicle I removed the rear headrests( blocks rear view)and reversed the front headrests for more comfort My bigest gripe is the small size of trunk opening and the location of the emergency brake handle located under the optional armrest I have almost every option available, worth it for creature comfort Overall a joy to sdrive for the price. Ive had great service from my dealer.

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