Chevrolet dips into the past as it creates the divisionís performance-car future, with two versions of its newest small car set to carry the Super Sport name. To back up that well-known marque, these cars, the Cobalt SS and SS Supercharged, will include a considerable array of hot performance equipment and unique trim.
Chevrolet first used the Super Sport name for 1957, on an experimental,
hand-built racing car called the Corvette SS. The car showed plenty of
potential, but a racing ban self-imposed by American auto manufacturers shut the
project down after just one unsuccessful outing. It would be another five years
before the Super Sport moniker would return. This time it would be on a
production car, the 1961 Impala SS.
Setting an important precedent for Chevroletís high-performance nameplate, that first Impala Super Sport looked externally little different from regular Impalas but had exceptional performance. In the years that followed, Chevrolet would offer similarly understated-looking Super Sport versions of everything from diminutive Chevy II compacts to hulking full-size pickups.
With the help of such Super Sport models, Chevrolet for decades held sway with buyers looking to get traditional American-style performance--big, potent V8s powering cars with relatively husky dimensions. (Even the divisionís sports car, Corvette, still conforms to this basic formula.) But where Chevrolet didnít seem to catch on very quickly was in the burgeoning sport-compact market. While other automakersóimport brands in particularóembraced and courted this demand for hotted-up subcompact coupes, Chevrolet seemed to be hiding from it, continuing to trot out the dated, lackluster Cavalier.
Why has it taken so long for Chevrolet to offer a decent sport-compact model? For one thing, itís likely that the division simply had too many other things to concentrate on, such as introducing several all-new sport-utility models that are more profitable than low-priced entry-level cars.
But if so, that wasnít the only issue delaying a serious entry into the sport compact market. According to Chevrolet, they didnít want to rush the process and end up with a product that disappointed enthusiasts. ďIt was really just about making sure we get it right,Ē says Jim Campbell, director of Chevrolet car marketing. ďOne thing thatís easy to do is to take an awesome marque like SS and dilute it. We wanted it to be credible.Ē
For the Cobalt team, building such credibility meant emphasizing engineering and hardware over style and flash. ďWeíre going to be very judicious about what we put ĎSSí on,Ē says Campbell. ďFor SS, the mantra inside the division is Ďmore go than show.íĒ
Journalists were recently allowed a close-up look at some of the various Cobalt models. The examples shown were prototypes, but theyíre said to be practically indistinguishable from what the final production versions will be. There were no opportunities to drive them, but all present were allowed to look them over closely inside and out, giving a good opportunity to see this significant new performance car firsthand.
Cobalt will debut in late 2004 as a 2005 model. While offered in coupes and sedans as base, LS, and LT models, itís the top-line SS and SS Supercharged versions that will be of interest to performance car fans.
Cobalt SS is available as a four-door sedan or two-door coupe. It has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower, 30 more than the 2.2-liter of base, LS, and LT models. Available transmissions in the SS are standard 5-speed manual or optional 4-speed automatic. Also included in the SS are sport-tuned suspension; disc instead of drum rear brakes; 17-inch alloy wheels; and unique trim.
The Cobalt SS Supercharged is available in coupe only. Central to this model is its 2.0-liter four-cylinder that has an intercooled Eaton helical roots-type supercharger, which boosts horsepower to a hearty 205. Unlike the regular SS, a 5-speed manual is the only transmission offered on the SS Supercharged. (This was the only suitable transmission thus far validated for that much power, according to Campbell.)
Also part of the SS Supercharged are 18-inch alloy wheels and a suspension tuned for even sportier handling, with a ride height thatís lowered by 10 mm. Exterior details exclusive to the SS Supercharged include revised rocker panels; tall front fascia; and a high, deck-mounted spoiler.
And what about the performance? According to Chevrolet Cobalt marketing manager Jeff Haag, the SS Supercharged does 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds and runs the quarter mile in an impressive 14.9 seconds. Whatís more, Haag says the SS Supercharged isnít required to have a speed limiter because the car comes equipped with Z-rated tires, allowing a top speed of 143 mph.
With that kind of performance, itís obvious that Chevrolet is serious about making sport-compact buyers forget about the Cavalier. But it wasnít just the mechanicals that people knocked that perennial subcompact for; Cavalierís interior was a harsh environment of taxi-cab-plain design, toy-grade plastic finishes, and miniscule dimensions.
Fortunately, Cobalt seems to rectify those shortcomings as well, with an
interior that appears to be of a much higher quality than that of Cavalier in
terms of design as well as materialsómore like a decent midsize instead of a
moderately priced subcompact. A standard A-pillar mounted Autometer boost gauge
heightens the sporty ambiance of Cobaltís top performance model, as do optional
door- and seat-panel inserts that are color keyed (with certain limitations) to
the exterior hue.
In addition to its stylish look, the cabin of the Cobalt coupe feels considerably more spacious than that of Cavalier, reflecting Cobaltís larger exterior dimensions. Up front, thereís plenty of room for six-footers. That height is about the limit for comfortable riding in Cobaltís backseat, but thatís typical of most such sporty coupes.
Prices havenít been announced for any of the Cobalt models yet, but the SS supercharged is likely to start in the relatively affordable high-teen, low-twenty-thousand dollar range.
Although itís unlikely these latest Super Sports will remind traditional musclecar fans of their í61 Impala SS, Cobalt SS and SS Supercharged could easily teach a whole new generation of performance-car fans the big meaning of those two little letters.