Wednesday, September 13, 2006

2007 Chevrolet Cobalt SS offers bang for the buck

Saturday, September 02, 2006
2007 Chevrolet Cobalt SS offers bang for the buck
Marketing miscues betray a worthy compact.
Warren Brown / The Washington Post

Note to General Motors Corp.:

Until public perception catches up with the improved quality of your products, there are two things you should do.

-- Avoid releasing any pre-production cars or trucks to the media. Pre-production models, those not certified for retail, are never your best samples. They represent an idea of what the market-ready car or truck will be. If, as often is the case, the pre-production model has a few ill-fitting pieces, the media get the impression that the product is a bad idea.

-- Even if it means offering steep discounts, sell only your best samples to rental-car fleets, which are where much of the public first comes in contact with your new cars and trucks. Yes, this will cost you money.

So what? You're already wasting hundreds of millions of marketing dollars annually giving consumers and dealers rebates -- bribes -- to buy cars and trucks you introduced the wrong way. It makes more sense to spend that money up front creating a good impression of vehicles than it does to spend it on the rear end in a self-defeating enterprise to get people to buy cars and trucks they don't want.

Those are my thoughts after spending a week and hundreds of miles in a 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt SS sedan. I like the little car. It is delightfully competitive with anything in its compact-size segment, or $13,000-to-$21,000 price range.

I drove it all over New York City and then drove it to my home in Virginia. That's a lot of seat time in a car, especially in what essentially is an economy automobile -- enough time to form a lasting impression, which is this:

The Cobalt is a winner that GM introduced as a loser. A year or so ago, when GM brought the Cobalt line to the attention of the media, it rolled out pre-production samples with competent-to-downright-zippy 2-liter, 2.2-liter and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines. The front-wheel-drive Cobalt's styling was much improved over that of the Chevrolet Cavalier it replaced. But the interior pieces in the pre-production models didn't fit together all that well. And some of those plastic pieces were downright cheap.

GM compounded that error by shipping its most basic Cobalt samples to the rental-car companies, where the public first came in contact with the car. Needless to say, the public was not impressed.

Thus disheartened, GM made another critical mistake. Disappointed by a failed, or less-than-spectacular, product launch, most meaningful advertising support for the Cobalt disappeared and was replaced by product-degrading, get-this-one-cheap spots.

In short, GM and Chevrolet, in the matter of bringing the Cobalt to the public's attention, you goofed and goofed badly.

Luckily for you, the market-ready car, particularly the upgraded SS version I've had so much fun driving, is much, much, much better than your marketing. For that matter, especially if automotive bang-for-the-buck can be translated to the most horsepower, fuel efficiency, safety and amenities for the least money spent, the Chevrolet Cobalt is as good as the current generations of the Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra or Toyota Corolla, if not better.

No, it's not better than the Mazda3. But neither is the Civic and nor is the Corolla. The Mazda3 simply rocks this class.

But the Cobalt is a bona fide, worthy competitor. It would be nice if GM's marketing reflected that much.

Nuts & Bolts: 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Complaints: If car companies can't find a cost-efficient way to cover the seats in their upgraded models with supple, quality leather, they should use no leather at all. The cheap, stiff leather used in the Cobalt SS -- and in nearly all other upgraded economy cars, foreign and domestic -- is slippery and uncomfortable. It's not worth the money.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent small-car behavior in all three categories. The Cobalt SS was remarkably agile in New York traffic. It accelerated with authority on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Head-turning quotient: Cute in the way that the Mazda3, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla are cute.

Body style/layout: The Chevrolet Cobalt SS is the top-line version of the Cobalt, a compact, front-engine, front-wheel-drive economy car that replaces the Chevrolet Cavalier. The Cobalt is available either as a coupe or a sedan.

Engines/transmissions: There are three engines--2.0-liter, 2.2-liter and 2.4-liter, all in-line four-cylinder models. There are two available transmissions, a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. The tested Cobalt SS came with a 2.4-liter engine that develops 173 horsepower at 6,200 revolutions per minute and 163 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm. That engine is linked to an optional four-speed automatic transmission.

Capacities: There is seating for five people. But the rear cabin is cramped for three. This is yet another five-seat car that better accommodates four people. Luggage capacity is 13.9 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 13 gallons of regular unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: I averaged 30 miles per gallon mostly in highway travel carrying 200 pounds of cargo and using the air conditioner full time.

Safety: Four-wheel antilock brakes are standard. Side air bags and stability control are unavailable. Head air bags and traction control are optional.

Price: Base price on the 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt SS sedan is $17,595. Dealer's invoice price on that model is $16,627. Price as tested is $22,279 including $4,069 in options (automatic transmission, heated leather front bucket seats, power sunroof, GM OnStar emergency communications system, head air bags, remote ignition starter, XM Satellite radio, traction control and sport-red paint). Add a $615 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $20,824. Prices sourced from Chevrolet and

Purse-strings note: The Chevrolet Cobalt SS competes with any car in the compact economy car category. It's a buy.

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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