Now that we've driven it we can confirm that, yes, the supercharged Cobalt SS coupe is the best small Chevy yet. Now the Cobalt's heritage stretches back through the lackluster Cavalier to the inglorious Chevette, Vega and Corvair, so calling it the best little Chevy can be damning with feint praise. But this car is, in fact, significantly better than the Saturn ION Red Line with which it shares so much of its supercharged Ecotec drivetrain and chassis architecture.
The supercharged version of the Ecotec 2.0-liter, DOHC, 16-valve four was better behaved than since we last encountered it in the Red Line and every one of the 205 hp feels eager to pounce. With good low-end torque production (a peak 200 lb-ft at 4400 rpm), it's also easy to live with as a daily driver. Sure, the much rowdier 230-hp Dodge Neon SRT-4 has the SS covered in every power production category (and it will be quicker across the board), but isn't as easy to live with every day.
Hooked to that Eaton blown four is a five-speed transaxle that shifts well and is aided by an optional limited-slip differential to turn the power into thrust. The off-the-line performance is further enhanced by the short 4.05:1 final drive ratio compared to the 3.58:1 gears in the blower-free manual trans Cobalt. If the Cobalt SS used the same 17-inch wheels and tires as the Red Line, we'd expect it to about duplicate that car's 7.1-second 0-to-60 mph clocking and 15.3-second clocking in the quarter-mile at 94.5 mph.
But the Cobalt SS wears big, heavy 18-inch wheels and P215/45R-18 Pirelli tires and that increase in rotating mass we think will ultimately slow the car down at the track-even though at 2,806 pounds the Chevy is 154 pounds lighter than the Saturn.
In fact, those big wheels and tires are probably the greatest factor in the SS's large, heavy-driving feel. This is a small car that feels 4 inches wider and 600 pounds heavier than it is. It drives more like a Camaro than a Honda Civic. The all-steel body structure feels much stiffer than the Saturn (it has two less doors with which to contend, so it should), but the electric power rack-and-pinion steering still needs work on its controlling algorithms and the brake pedal feel should be sharper. Please, Chevy, cut some unsprung mass out of this car and dial up some feel in the steering.
Thankfully, the Chevy's instrumentation is in front of the driver rather than in the center, as it is in the Saturn, where it can best be seen by the ceiling's dome light. And generally speaking, the interior is impressive with supple upholstery (leather is mandatory and it shouldn't be), controls that operate with poise and some sophistication, and a clean and modern design without any goofy, overdone elements. Bizarrely excellent Recaro seats and that limited-slip diff are bundled together as a package and we wouldn't buy a Cobalt without both of them.
There's a lot to love in the Cobalt SS including its looks (minus the wing). And it replaces a car, the Cavalier, in which it was becoming ever harder to find something to like. It's not perfect, but it's competitive. That's a victory in itself for Chevrolet. And it ought to be available as a sedan as well as a coupe.
The Cobalt SS should be on sale as your read this with a starting price somewhere near $19,000.
SPied! 2006 CivicTo say the world was less than thrilled with the ho-hum 2000 Honda Civic is to state the obvious. Can the next Civic reapply some luster to the car upon which the sport compact movement was erected? It looks like it.
Caught in testing in Europe is this prototype for the five-door, Euro version of the next Civic due early next year as a 2006 model. While the United States is unlikely to see the five-door seen here on our shores, the three-door version of this body will probably serve as the base for our Si. We're also holding out hope the inevitable Type-R will finally make it here in full-strength form as well.
Looking at the car's design, we don't expect many changes in the fundamental underpinnings. Honda's Global Small Car Platform is still used and that means MacPherson struts up front and an independent rear suspension. However, the windshield has been pushed even further forward than the current car and raked even more radically. The nose is supershort and finishes in Honda's trademark trapezoidal grille opening.
Of the styling features seen on this prototype, the most intriguing is the rear spoiler that seems to split the rear hatch glass into two segments. The upper and lower halves produce an effect similar to the old CRX's hatch glass, and there's nothing wrong with that.
While the rest of the world will get diesels, the only engines we expect to see in the United States will be based on the current i-VTEC K-series block with 2.0-liter versions dominating the offerings. Our guess is there'll be 1.6- or 1.8-liter K's for base cars making about 120 hp, while the 160-hp 2.0-liter K used in the current Si and RSX becomes the mainstream option for LX and EX Civic coupes and sedans. The Si could get either the 200-hp version of the 2.0-liter K or move up to some variation on the 2.4-liter version for even greater output. Don't expect the manual transmissions to offer less than six forward gears.
Honda is capable of building fantastic cars and we can hardly wait to find out if the new Civic is one of them.
Mitsubishi Ralliart GalantAs it stands now, Mitsubishi makes one car we absolutely love (the EVO VIII), a few we respect (Lancer and Galant) and some we can't remember (er, Tredia?). The idea behind the Ralliart concept vehicles the company showed at SEMA is to make us love them all.
Among the three shown-the Galant, Endeavor and Lancer-it's the Galant that's the best. The 3.8-liter, 260-hp, MIVEC V6 is left untouched while the suspension is lowered with a Road/Race Engineering coil-over system, a rear stabilizer bar is added and big 245/40R-19 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS-DS tires are fitted around Racing Hart F10 wheels. Throw in some Brembo disc brakes and front and rear strut tower braces and the car promises to be much more nimble than the stock Galant.
What really makes this car tasty is its appearance. The Ralliart-designed prototype rear spoiler, front and rear fasciae and side skirts make this rather boxy machine look dang sleek. Inside there are Recaro thrones for the forward occupants and a Recaro microthrone for the prince or princess strapped in back. All the upholstery and trim has been tweaked for maximum visual impact as well. This thing just looks good.
Ralliart is a name of glory at Mitsu and it's already used on some Lancers. Why not expand the treatment to everything Mitsu makes?
2006 Jetta RevealedLooking sleeker and significantly larger than previous versions, the next Volkswagen Jetta seems to be more than the next-generation Golf with a trunk. The new Jetta moves up in class so it can directly compete with such entrenched sales leaders as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
Debuting at November's Los Angeles Auto Show, the new Jetta's most significant change is the adoption of a 2.5-liter, 150-hp, five-cylinder engine as the base powerplant (up from 2004's 2.0-liter four making 115 hp). This isn't VW's first time selling a five-cylinder-powered car, but it is the first reappearance of such a machine in the American market since the Quantum sedan was pulled out after the 1988 model year.
Beyond the five-cylinder engine, the biggest novelty on the car may be its optional six-speed automatic transaxle with Tiptronic gear selection. There are also such advances as electro-mechanical power steering and next-generation ABS and stability programs aboard.
It's no surprise most of the fifth-gen. Jetta's engineering is shared directly with the new fifth-gen. Golf. That includes the basic structure, suspension elements and various drivetrain components.
Production of the Jetta will be based at VW's plant in Puebla, Mexico, and the first ones should be showing up in American and Canadian showrooms this March.
Rumors&Lies* Volvo will be part of the SCCA World Challenge's Touring Car division next year with a fleet of S40s. Rule changes allowing turbo engines have invited them in. The factory effort will be led by Bob Mille and Derek Bell of At Speed Motorsports.
* Mazda has sold 100,000 RX-8s in just 18 months. That's dang quick.
* VW has decided to build a midengine roadster similar to, and likely based on, the concept car it displayed at major car shows last year. With luck it'll do better with its car than Toyota has with the latest MR2.
* In order to hype the launch of its new Cobalt small car, Chevrolet will offer various accessories at no extra cost as a bonus for buyers. Buyers will be able to get such items as a spoiler, sunroof or XM Radio for free if they buy a Cobalt during the car's initial sales push in October.