Chevrolet Cobalt SS: The Car Bible (2005-2010)
An American sports compact that can scoot for short money.
Welcome to the Chevy Cobalt SS Car Bible. As you scroll down you’ll learn all about this vehicle’s qualities, features, finer points, and shortcomings. If you’re thinking about buying one of these, want some help maintaining or modifying one, or just want to deepen your knowledge for the next round of car trivia, you’ve come to the right place.
This is a living document that’s updated as we learn (and confirm) new valuable info. Got something to add? Drop a comment! Don’t be shy; the more dialogue we have the better this Car Bible will get.
–Andrew P. Collins, Car Bibles Editor-In-Chief
(Disclaimers; Disclosures: Some Car Bibles will have links to specific forums, groups, brands, shops, or vendors for parts shopping and such. We have no sponsorship deals or official affiliation with any of them unless explicitly stated. We also have to explicitly state that you should work on your own car and follow our advice at your own risk.)
There’s a lot of info packed into this Bible. If you’re looking for something specific, hit command/control-F, type one of these terms, and your browser should bring you straight in.
- The Short Story
- Fast Facts
- Spotter’s Guide
- Check This Car Out If…
- Important Trim Levels and Options
- Year-To-Year Changes
- General Reliability and Ownership Costs
- Obscure Details
- Red Flags and Known Issues
- Where To Buy Parts
- Aftermarket Support
- Popular Modifications
- Key Technical Details
- Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
- Factory Service Manuals
- Other References and Resources
- Professional Reviews
- Owner Reviews
- What They’re Worth Now
- Where To Find One For Sale
- What To Ask A Seller
- Competitors To Consider
- Photo Galleries
- Pop Culture References
- Enthusiast Inquiries
- Downloadable Paperback Car Bible
- Comments Disclaimer
The Short Story
Chevy’s had a fast compact car in its lineup for much of its recent history… some were cool, some not so cool. The Cobalt SS is one of the better ones. Actually, the design’s been aging not-terribly. In 2005, Chevy took its then-new small car (the Cobalt), slammed in a supercharged 2.0-liter engine, retuned the handling, and added a ground effects kit with a slightly goofy stereotypical Fast & Furious fan wing. In 2008, the engine was traded up for more potent 2.0-liter turbo. Questionable build quality aside, the Cobalt is a fast and sharp-handling compact car that punches above its weight.
The supercharged version of the Cobalt SS was never offered in the Sedan body. The turbocharged version, was.
The 2.0 liter supercharged engine was first offered in its platform-mate; the Saturn ION Redline.
In 2008 with the change to the 2.0-liter turbo engine, the naturally aspirated 2.4-liter Cobalt SS was renamed “Cobalt Sport.”
Essentially, Cobalt SS Turbo is very similar to the European Vauxhall/Opel Astra VXR. Same engine, same platform.
For a short while, the Cobalt SS Turbo was the fastest front-wheel-drive car around the Nurburgring (8:22).
GM offered factory tunes for both the supercharged and turbocharged motors that boosted power. The tunes were still covered under warranty, too.
The Cobalt SS and regular ol’ Cobalt look pretty similar. Most SSs were coupes, but there are a few SS model sedans, made from 2009 onward. All of the cars got a mild body kit, spoiler, and bigger wheels than standard.
Now, this is where things get a bit complicated: GM also offered a naturally-aspirated Cobalt SS from 2005 to 2007. These cars got the 2.4-liter LE5 engine producing about 170 HP, mated to five-speed manual, or four-speed automatic. If there’s a Cobalt SS badged car with an automatic, it’s naturally aspirated. Non-boosted cars also got smaller (and narrower) 17-inch wheels, and a lower-profile rear spoiler.
Turbocharged cars from 2008 and onward got different wheels. Still 18-inchers, but the five spokes were split down the center, compared to the one-piece smooth-looking wheels from 2005-2007.
The Cobalt itself was a popular compact car, with the SS model moving nearly 85,000 units in its run from 2005, to 2010. However, this also includes the naturally aspirated models, which have softer suspension, and the option of an automatic transmission. Some of the numbers are a bit harder to parse out for the cars with forced-induction, but it looks like around 30,000 supercharged models were made, but only around 6,000 turbo models were made. The turbo sedan was rarest of all, it was only produced for 2009, and they only made around 800 of them.
Check This Car Out If…
You’re looking for a fast, American-made car that is less obvious than something from Honda or Toyota.
Important Trim Levels and Options
The Cobalt SS itself is a trim of the Cobalt. Still, there are several option packs that can be equipped on the Cobalt SS.
For supercharged cars, the G85 performance package was optional in 2005. This packaged added Recaro bucket seats and a Quaife limited slip differential.
2005 Model Year:
- The Cobalt SS is introduced in 2004 as a 2005 model year, using the same engine and transmission as the Saturn ION Redline which debuted the year prior.
2006 Model Year:
- Naturally-aspirated SS model introduced, in both coupe and sedan form.
2007 Model Year:
- Mild interior restyling from the non SS Cobalt made its way into the SS model. Changes include restyled steering wheel, and radio which now included an auxiliary input jack.
2008 Model Year:
- The Supercharged 2.0L engine is replaced by a new turbocharged unit, dubbed LNF.
- Naturally-aspirated models renamed “Cobalt Sport”.
- Sedan SS model dropped.
- Large spoiler made optional on SS Coupe, a lower-profile spoiler found on the Cobalt Sport became standard.
- All SS Turbos came standard with a limited slip differential.
2009 Model Year:
- Sedan SS Turbocharged introduced.
2010 Model Year:
- Final model year.
- Sedan SS Turbocharged dropped.
General Reliability and Ownership Costs
The Cobalt SS’s reliability is known for being somewhat mediocre, save for the drivetrain. Both the Supercharged and Turbocharged engines are known for being pretty hardy even when tuned, and the transmissions they’re mated to can take a beating. The rest of the car, though? Kind of brittle, and a little bit weird. Although the Cobalt SS is a hotted-up Cobalt, many parts are specific to the Cobalt SS. For example, the wheels are 5×110, which is a bolt pattern shared with few cars. The brake calipers are also not shared with the regular Cobalt, and are more than double the cost.
Still, reliability and ownership costs are fairly low for the level of performance the Cobalt SS offers.
The European Opel Astra OPC has the same engine as the Cobalt SS turbo.
Red Flags and Known Issues
- Fuel Line Rust. Common in rust-belt states, the fuel line, which runs near the drivers’ side rear wheel well (where water tends to pool) has a tendency to cause corrosion on some models.
- Only Use OEM Spark Plugs (Turbo). Multiple owners have reported boost issues when not using the OEM AC Delco spark plugs.
- Brittle Charge Pipe (Turbo). The charge pipe that feeds into the intake is known for being brittle. Some owners have reported it either cracking, or popping off completely under higher boost pressure.
- Timing Chain Issues (Naturally Aspirated, somewhat uncommon). The “LE5” engine can sometimes stretch out timing chains if not maintained. This is often accompanied by poor performance and a check engine light signaling bad ignition timing.
- Scratchy Interior Trim. The silver trim on the door handles can flake off in ways that create sharps, even cutting you when you attempt to open the door.
- Clunky Steering Shaft. The gearing in the steering shaft can wear on some cars, causing a clunk that manifests itself over bumps. Typically, that means the intermediate steering shaft needs to be replaced.
- Carbon Build Up (Turbo). The Turbo motor has gasoline direct injection, and its semi prone to excess oil build up on the valves. It’s not Volkswagen 2.0T bad, but still it’s something that should be watched for.
The Cobalt SS has a few recalls, some of them kind of infamous.
The GM ignition cylinder scandal definitely affects nearly all Cobalts. Because of the age, most of these recalls have generally been performed, but some may have slipped through the cracks.
Certain model Cobalts were recalled for power steering pump failures.
Where To Buy Parts
This car doesn’t require too many specialty parts, so any local online or offline parts store will do. As of the moment, spare parts aren’t that rare to find, despite the Cobalt being out of production for more than a decade now. Your local Chevrolet dealer can order OEM parts, namely transmission fluid, or spark plugs.
ZZ Perfomance does tuning for most all GM products, and offer a line of tunes and upgrades for the Cobalt SS.
The GM Performance parts catalogue offers upgrades and parts, direct from the manufacturer. Ok, sure it’s technically not aftermarket, but it’s a place to get go-fast bits.
By far, the most popular mods for both the turbo and supercharged cars, is the GM performance parts tunes. For the supercharged cars, the stage 1 is an ECU reflash and upgraded injectors – adding 25 horsepower, bringing the total to 230. Stage 2 adds an upgraded supercharger pulley, and boosts the output to 245 horsepower. The final stage, Stage 3, is a hardcore ECU reflash and supercharger overhaul, and it even has provisions for meth or nitrous injections. AC is disabled, and it essentially needs race gas to run – GM says it’s “only for hardcore track use.” Output is upped to 260 horsepower.
The turbo cars got a similar factory tune, with stage one reflashing from 260 horsepower, to 290 horsepower. These tunes were done at a GM dealer, and covered by warranty, even.
Support for those tunes may be a little harder to get from the dealership now, but other companies like ZZP Performance offer similar tunes and packages that offer similar results.
Some owners have done an ECU remap and engine overhaul to allow the car to run on E85 gas.
Key Technical Details
Engines: The Cobalt SS comes with three different engines…
- A 2.4 liter, naturally aspirated, Dual Overhead Cam engine. Dubbed “LE5,” this engine uses a timing chain, and has Variable Valve Timing. This engine produces 173 horsepower. (2005-2007) or 171 horsepower. (2008+ Cobalt Sport)
- A 2.0 liter, supercharged, dual overhead cam engine. This engine uses an Eaton supercharger, and has an air-to-water intercooler. It produces 205 horsepower.
- A 2.0 liter, turbocharged, dual overhead cam engine with variable valve timing, and direct injection. The twin-scroll turbocharger produced 260 horsepower.
Transmissions: The supercharged/turbocharged Cobalt SS use a Saab-developed five-speed manual. The naturally aspirated version uses a Getrag five-speed manual, or a GM-developed four-speed automatic. Turbocharged manual cars are equipped with “no-lift shift”, in which the ECM will automatically adjust the throttle under full-throttle acceleration shifts. Turbocharged manual cars also came standard with an LSD. On Supercharged cars, it was an option.
Drivetrain: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive.
Suspension: All Cobalt SS use MacPherson struts in front, with a semi-independent torsion beam and trailing arm setup holding up the rear. Naturally aspirated versions have a less aggressive setup, dubbed FE3. Forced induction cars have a 24MM sway bar up front, and 24mm swaybar in the rear, coupled with gas shocks. Naturally aspirated cars have a 22mm swaybar up front, and 22mm swaybar in the rear.
Wheelbase: 103.3 in; 2624 mm
Overall length: 180.3 in; 4585mm (sedan); 180.5 in, 4580mm (coupe)
Curb Weight: About 2,750 pounds
Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
Fuel: GM recommends 91 octane minimum for all iterations of the Cobalt SS, including the naturally aspirated 2.4 liter.
Battery Size: 96R. Keep in mind that the battery is in the trunk, in a compartment next to the spare tire.
Engine Oil: 5w-30. Most owners insist on using full synthetic oil. Cobalts have an “oil life monitor” that adjusts and tailors your oil change time based on driving conditions. Many insist on changing the oil when the oil life monitor reaches between 20-30%. Others ignore the oil life monitor entirely and change it every 5000 miles or so.
Oil Filter: All Cobalt SS engines use a standard cartridge-style filter. The part number is PF457G, but there are aftermarket alternatives that are just as good.
Air Filter: The naturally-aspirated Cobalt and Cobalt SS turbo (2008+) cars have a straightforwardly accessible air box. For turbo cars, the OEM replacement is 25894265. Naturally aspirated vehicles use the OEM replacement numbered 21999324.
However, the 2005-2007 Supercharged Cobalt SS’s filter is a bit more complicated to replace. It’s a circular type, different from the other engines, and it’s kind of buried behind the driver’s side fender. This video here will give you an idea of what the job entails. Cobalt owners recommend replacing the air filter once a year. It’s OEM replacement number is 15239447.
Cabin Air Filter: The OEM replacement filter is CF1125F. GM recommends changing this filter once a year.
Transmission Oil: The Cobalt SS has a couple of transmission options, and thus different fluid levels. The Supercharged five-speed manual transmissions use 75w90, GL-4 grade fluid, specifically Part number 21018899 (AC Delco Manual Transmission Fluid). That fluid is no longer produced, so you will have to use the same fluid that the turbocharged cars use – OEM part number 88861800. This handy fluid guide can help you understand what fluids the forced induction cars use.
The manual transmission mated to the naturally aspirated 2.4 liter uses automatic transmission fluid – specifically Dexron III. The automatic transmission uses Dexron IV or Dexron VI, and is a sealed-for-life “never needing servicing” unit (2006+). Check the owner’s manual, it will have specific fluid specs per vehicle.
Transmission Filter: No transmission filter is present on the manual transmission spec’d cars. Automatic units are “sealed for life” units that GM insist do not need servicing. If you insist on changing the filter, the OEM part number is 25315585.
Differential Oil: The diff is integrated into the transmission, so this also uses whatever is already in there. On cars equipped with the limited-slip differential, that unit is completely sealed.
Coolant: GM recommends only using Dexcool (and Dexcool approved) coolant. The Owner’s manual recommends replacement every 100,000 mules.
Power Steering Fluid: The Cobalt SS as electric power steering, so no fluid needed.
Brake Fluid: The OEM rating is DOT3 Spec. Chevy does not have a change interval, but it’s good to do an inspection and brake fluid flush once a year. Some more aggressive owners who regularly track their cars opt to run DOT4 spec fluid.
Clutch Fluid: OEM Clutch fluid is the same as the vehicle’s brake fluid or DOT3. There is no recommended service interval for its replacement by Chevy. Some Cobalt SS owners opt to flush the brake and clutch fluid at the same time – about once a year.
Spark Plugs: Cobalt SS owners insist on using the OEM plugs for non-tuned vehicles. For the turbocharged cars, the part number is AC Delco 41108 and it’s gapped at 0.032”. For supercharged cars, NGK IFR6V-10G is the direct OEM replacement, gapped at 0.035”. Naturally aspirated cars use AC Delco Part number 41106, and the plugs are gapped at 0.040”.
Factory Service Manuals
We’re still workin’ on trying to track one down. If you’ve got a link for this, send it our way!
Other References and Resources
The GM Heritage Center has scanned and uploaded big binders of documents about the Cobalt for the 2005, 2006, and 2007 model years. They’re not exactly what we’d call colorful or exciting, but if you’re still scrounging for info that wasn’t in this Bible those links might be a good place to look.
“2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged First Drive: GM’s newest heavy metal packs some heat. ” (Car and Driver, February 1, 2005)
The car before the Cobalt, the Chevy Cavalier, was awful. The Cobalt’s SS speed and dynamics were a huge improvement, according to Aaron Robinson.
“ The Cobalt SS Supercharged trades on its refined civility, two words we don’t normally associate with a GM economy car. ”
“2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Sedan: Falling in love with America’s cheapest sports car.” (Car and Driver, November 12, 2008)
The interior may not have been great, but people couldn’t help but gush over the Cobalt SS’s incredible performance.
“ At the limit, the Cobalt remains responsive and easily controlled, without sacrificing comfort and confidence on uneven roads the way the Mazdaspeed 3 does. With such excellent wheel and body control, the ride-and-handling balance demonstrates a level of expertise—dare we say passion?.”
Peter Holderith (from The Drive crew) Mar 2, 2021
2009 Cobalt SS (turbo), lightly modified, owned about eight months
If you’re looking to buy a cheap performance car, the Cobalt SS is absolutely worth considering with one single caveat: You can’t be a person who takes yourself extremely seriously. You can’t be a “Car Man.” Have you ever considered purchasing a Porsche 911? Cobalt SS isn’t for you.
This car held the FWD record at the Nurburgring when it was released and then held the FWD record at VIR for ten whole years after it was tested by Car and Driver. That being said, nobody wants to believe that/suddenly doesn’t care about those times when you bring it up, and it’s really not that kind of car anyway. If you buy this car, you buy it for you. Not for anyone else.
Plenty of examples – like the one I bought – still have no enthusiast tax on them like similar Japanese cars do, non SS-specific parts are cheap and plentiful, and even when SS-specific stuff breaks – one of my Brembo brake calipers quit on me – it’s still not the most expensive part in the world, certainly cheaper than comparable parts for German cars.
The Cobalt is also much faster than a comparable GTI – I haven’t had a go with a new one although I assume it’s faster – especially with an aftermarket tune which will cost you as little as $200. Stock WRXs and Focus STs can’t keep up, either.
It’s also worth mentioning they’re great winter cars. They warm up quick, the LSD works and works great, just buy a set of snow tires and you’ll be golden. That’s what I did and the thing is a little monster.
The worst part is the interior, although this doesn’t affect the driving experience at all and it’s not as bad as people say it is. You get a USB port, you get an aux input, most everything works in my interior with very few exceptions. The brakes are great, the steering is great, it goes like hell.
This car was cheap when it came out, $28,000 in today’s money for a 260-horsepower, stick-shift, LSD-equipped sports sedan with Brembo brakes and forged alloy wheels. Now, you can get them for $5,000 or less.
Those who don’t want to buy this car because it’s a Cobalt – I’ve stopped feeling bad for those people. It’s a great car that puts a smile on my face every time I drive it, and it didn’t cost me barely anything. It’s never left me stranded, it’s given WRX drivers nightmares, it’s a car worth owning.”
Own or owned one of these and want to share your thoughts? Hit up in the comments or email firstname.lastname@example.org!
What They’re Worth Now
The Cobalt SS’s unfortunately are associated with the Cobalt, which doesn’t have great resale value. It’s a buyer’s market on these. A not-so-good supercharged model could be had for as little as $3,000. A naturally aspirated model is even cheaper. Turbo cars are rarer and more desirable, but still a bargain. Good examples can regularly be had for around $5,000, give or take.
Where To Find One For Sale
The Cobalt is getting up there in years, and thus they don’t always make their rounds at dealers auctions so much anymore. Some examples can be found on Autotrader or cars.com, but most will likely be found via Craigslist, LetGo, or Facebook Marketplace.
What To Ask A Seller
Just a couple good go-tos when you’re looking at a used Cobalt SS:
“Does this thing misfire when driven hard?”
“Has this car ever ever had the intake valves cleaned?” (Turbo)
Competitors To Consider
The Cobalt SS had a lot of direct competitors, both a little older, and a little newer.
The Dodge Neon SRT-4 is slightly older than the Cobalt SS, came in four doors, is also just as tunable as the Cobalt SS (supercharged). It also came with more standard horsepower. It’s a little hard to find a decent one, though.
The Ford Focus SVT may be down on power by comparison, but it’s remarkably sharp to drive, and more practical, given it’s hatchback shape.
The Mazda Mazdaspeed 3 is equally as frantic as the Cobalt SS Turbo, but it tends to be more fragile when modded, and they’re a bit more expensive to buy.
The Honda Civic Si is slower, but they made far more of them, and they can be found in both coupe and sedan form.
Favcars.com has a couple galleries of both the coupe and sedan.
Netcarshow has a great gallery of the coupe.
It takes some digging, but the Chevrolet website has some photos buried in the depths and archives of previous product launches.
Pop Culture References
Grand Theft Auto V‘s Declasse Premier seems to be loosely be based upon the Chevy Cobalt.
Every car has a collection of common questions that pop up in forums and Facebook groups whenever new blood joins in. We hope a lot of those have been answered above, but here are some Chevrolet Cobalt SS FAQs we wanted to dig into.
For starters, this forum post at CobaltSS talk is a great jumping off point for supercharged cars.
If I get a naturally aspirated car, can I turbo or supercharge it? Actually, yes. It’s not quite as plug-n-play as you’d think. But people do sell kits.
Hey, uh where the heck is the battery? It’s in the trunk, next to the spare tire. I know, it’s weird.
Downloadable Paperback Car Bible
If you’re old school and like to keep reference notes on paper, or you’re just a completionist and want a free accessory for your Cobalt SS, you’ll be able to download and print out one of our famous Paperback Car Bibles soon.
Think of it like an owner’s manual supplement. Keep it in your car and your days of waiting for slow internet on your phone at the auto parts store are over!
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