There's only one way to describe the revamped Chevy Cobalt SS: America's Type-R. Why? The new 2008 Cobalt SS doesn't feature a stripped interior or a tuned naturally aspirated engine; rather, it's one of the few domestic front-drive cars in recent years that features well-balanced tuning beyond the base model and has a downright amazing track capability.
The important news under the hood is the switch from a Roots-type supercharger to a newly developed turbocharged and intercooled setup for its 2.0-liter engine. This produces 260bhp and a constant 260lb-ft of torque using variable boost pressure, according to temperature, pressure and other factors. According to Chevy, you'll see almost 20psi of maximum boost on the A-pillar-mounted boost gauge. Launch control is standard on the Cobalt SS, as is a drag-style 'no-lift shift' feature. Keep your foot on the go-pedal and the Cobalt SS will allow a quick dip of the clutch to bang up to the next gear without lifting. The SS won't fall out of full boost during the shift and, if done correctly, the acceleration plot should look perfectly linear with no spikes, off to a claimed zero-to-60mph time of 5.7 seconds.
The car we drove came with the factory option limited-slip diff (tick a box at the dealership and it's yours for a measly $495) and power delivery through the wheels was very smooth. This is still a front-drive car, so torque steer will rear its ugly head in tight corners, but it's a breeze compared to something like our vicious Project SRT-4.
The front-mounted intercooler has a large and thick core, but the crinkled plastic intercooler piping can definitely be changed out along with a larger exhaust system. The only kinks we see with upping power is the engine's direct injection system, which could make fuel upgrades quite difficult to source. GM engineers have not confirmed any factory staged upgrade packs in the works, but they do allude to the fact that some are in the pipeline. As much as we hassled them, there were no comments about the possibility of a GM-backed Cobalt SS turbo time attack car, which would be a welcome follow-up to the supercharged car that rocked everyone's world back in 2006.
However, in what is proving to be a rare twist in the domestic world (especially in the aftermarket), the new Cobalt SS focuses on suspension and braking performance before outright tire-shredding power. Up front are standard four-piston monoblock Brembo calipers and 12.4-inch rotors, combined with single-piston sliding calipers and 11.5-inch vented rotors in the rear.
We drove the Cobalt SS at Buttonwillow Raceway in central California and we came away impressed. Lap after lap, the brakes and the Continental ContiSportContact 2 tires proved to be more consistent than anticipated. While the pedal sunk lower and got softer due to overheating brake fluid, actual stopping power and feel was always there and we were able to hit the same braking points over and over. Honestly, monoblock Brembo brakes up front on a $23,000 car? You don't see that every day.
What you will start seeing is OEMs taking even their compact offerings to the Green Hell for testing. Tuned at the Nrburgring, this Cobalt's FE5 suspension helped the new car take the front-drive compact class record at the 'Ring with a time of 8:22.85. With a European feel highly reminiscent of German tuners such as KW Suspensions, the FE5 setup feels softly sprung and heavily damped without being harsh or uncomfortable over high-speed bumps.
On the street, this translates into a tight but bearable ride with a noticeably sporty feel. On the track, the Cobalt SS is compliant, with loads of travel and the capability to bomb over any curbing in sight. There's quite a bit of body roll, but the car has pretty good steering response at speed (for variable electric steering) and feeling out the grip level (0.9g on the skidpad, claims Chevy) is never a problem. Stiffer springs, a faster weight transfer and quicker transitional response would be nice, but this is still a factory street car. And a fast one at that. Those kinds of compromises are what the aftermarket is for anyways.
Perhaps the best part about the Cobalt SS is driving feel. This is the kind of car that works up-and maintains-a serious rhythm at the track and is so much fun that you'll always end up focusing on the drive and not the car. You may have noticed that we haven't spoken about the interior, exterior, headroom or trunk space. In all honesty, five minutes behind the wheel and you won't care. That's not what you're buying with this car. What you're buying is the finest American compact on the market today.
2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS
Engine Code: Ecotec
Type: 2.0-liter inline four, aluminum block and head, direct injection, turbocharged and intercooledValvetrain: DOHC, four valves per cylinder, dual continuous variable valve timing
Bore x Stroke: 86mm x 86mm
Compression Ratio: 9.2:1
Claimed Crank Hp: 260hp @ 5300rpm
Claimed Crank Torque: 260lb-ft @ 2000rpm
Layout: Transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive
Transmission: GM Powertrain Sweden F35 five-speed manual
Final drive: 3.820
Exterior Dimensions Curb Weight: 2975 lbs
Overall Length: 180.5 in.
Wheelbase: 103.5 in.
Overall Width: 67.9 in.
Track F/R: 58.6in./58.1 in.
Height: 55.7 in.
Front: Independent MacPherson strut-type, SS-specific twin-tube struts, steering knuckles, 27N/mm springs, control arm and stabilizer bar bushings, 24mm solid stabilizer barRear: Semi-independent torsion beam, SS-specific monotube shocks, progressive 28-40N/mm springs, axle bushings, 24mm solid stabilizer bar
Front: 12.4-in. vented rotors, four-piston fixed Brembo calipersRear: 11.5-in. vented rotors, single-piston sliding calipersElectronic driving aids/inhibitors: ABS, StabiliTrak stability/traction control, launch control, no-lift shift
Wheels And Tires
Wheels: 18x7.5 (F/R), forged aluminumTires: 225/40/18 (F/R), Continental ContiSportContact 2