When it comes to spirited driving, front-wheel drive is not the optimal driveline layout. This may be a rather harsh statement, but it's one that any knowledgeable enthusiast would agree with. The fact that a FWD car might have a slight edge on a super-tight autocross course doesn't negate the fact that its advantages -like being cheaper to manufacture, (arguably) better in adverse weather, and offering increased cabin space-have nothing to do with performance.
Nonetheless, having an economical FWD in the stable can make perfect sense, even to the avid General Motors RWD muscle enthusiast. Think about it: though most competent F-body drivers can safely pilot their TCS-equipped rides through all but the worst of winter weather, do they really enjoy putting their irreplaceable vehicles through such a maelstrom of peril? Having an alternative-and, let's face it, replaceable -vehicle to drive on a daily basis also makes a lot more sense in a reality of inattentive SUV drivers, parking lot door dings, and vehicular theft.
Fortunately, owning and driving a front-driver doesn't just have to be a mere exercise in practicality. It can also be a lot of fun, as many are available with performance-oriented packages from the factory. Take GM, whose "sport compact" lineup broadens by the year. As far as the Chevrolet division goes, the 2007 Cobalt (and specifically, its SS trim level) is where it's at. Buyers of twodoor SS models get the normally aspirated 2.4L LE5 Ecotec standard, or can opt for the 205hp supercharged 2.0L LSJ, the latter only being available with a manual gearbox. Select a four-door Cobalt, and you can still get the SS badging-just not the blower.
That's exactly the choice we made when picking up this 2007 SS sedan (acquired from Great American Chevrolet in Hackensack, New Jersey). Features like shiny rims, a decklid spoiler, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes are all standard with the SS package, and this car's sparse options list consists of only a few items, like side airbags, an automatic transaxle, and XM Satellite Radio, bringing sticker price to a little north of $20K with destination charge. Though we're generally impressed with this car's taut driving characteristics, smooth-but-sharp ride, and decent gas mileage, we at GMHTP have decided 173 SAE-certified horses leave something on the table in the department of driving pleasure. (A Raceway Park-verified 15.6/86 in the quarter is not exactly earth shaking.)
Fortunately for us, GM performance isn't just about factory option packages. The company has made an incredible performance push of late, with more and more hi-po bolt-ons and race engine components displayed in the GM Performance Parts catalog each year. Sure, a lot of them are oriented at upping performance of the already-legendary LS V-8s, but the Ecotec engine family has its fair share of hop-ups as well. The beauty of many of these items is that not only are they covered by a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty, but the parts and service can even be incorporated into your new-car warranty if installed by your GM dealer. Follow along as we make some performance headway on our FWD four-banger with some easy and affordable boltons from GMPP, setting the stage for even more impressive power increases in an upcoming issue.
Though bad weather prevented quarter-mile testing of our now-GMPP-equipped Cobalt, seat-of-thepants feel was definitely improved an amount commensurate with the dyno charts. The car sounds a lot more performance-oriented as well, with a throatier intake snarl and a whole lot raspier exhaust note. (Those not as fond of four-cylinder tunes may want to opt for the Touring version of this exhaust.) This is to say nothing of the improved underhood and exterior looks these parts have provided.
Make sure your GMHTP subscription is up to date, as you won't want to miss our next installment, where we'll be adding some truly massive Ecotec power-FWD traction be damned!