2009 Chevy Cobalt SS ECU Tuning - Recession-Proof High Performance

Upgrading A Front-Wheel-Drive Cobalt To Be Cool--And Fast--Like Its GM Siblings

Michael Galimi Jul 1, 2009 0 Comment(s)
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Before the custom Tune Time Performance tune, our test Cobalt SS barely fried the tires in first gear. After the test, the car was a different animal. It smoked the hides in first and second gears with ease.

Amidst the myriad of GM performance vehicles of the modern era sits one of GM's best-kept secrets. It is not a limited edition model or a one-off product built to destroy the supercars of Europe, but rather a high-performance vehicle based on an economy car.

In today's economic environment, it is amazing that more people haven't discovered the Cobalt SS. It is fun, fast, and definitely won't break most people's ever-shrinking wallet thanks to the recession. The 2008-2009 Cobalt SS is a gem that is hiding on dealer lots and can be had for a lot less than most people realize. It enters the market in the low $20k range but packs a punch that could rival the mighty Mustang GT with the proper mods.

"I am an enthusiast and I didn't even hear about this car until one pulled up beside me," commented John Franco, the owner of the Cobalt SS on these pages. He is a die-hard car guy that has had everything from low 10-second Grand Nationals to a blistering twin-turbo '68 Camaro capable of six-second times. He is well versed in high-performance cars in his 20-plus years in this great hobby. Franco's racing credentials would hardly reveal that a front-wheel-drive car could satisfy his needs, let alone a Cobalt SS qualify as a daily driver. "I wanted a daily driver that would be fun and quick," he stated and he proudly proclaimed the Cobalt SS as fitting those requirements and being perfectly priced for the average working man.

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The baseline numbers are a respectable (for a four-cylinder) 248 whp (5,400 rpm) and 251 wtq (2,800 rpm).

The Cobalt SS is a hidden treasure that comes with a potent turbocharged Ecotec engine, stylish interior, and great looks. A quick look at some of the specs shows us the car comes stock with Brembo brakes, aggressive suspension, and racing-inspired seats. There are those who will criticize the front-wheel-drive system, but if you are in the market for a daily driver while your rear-wheel-drive GM performance car sits in the garage, then you should consider the Cobalt SS because it is fun, cheap, and fast.

Like everything on the road, however, the SS model can be modified to be even better--enter Tune Time Performance (Toms River, NJ). Some readers might recognize the shop from its efforts in G8 and Trail Blazer SS performance. It specializes in all high-performance vehicles and focuses on GM models. At the prodding of Matt Hauffe, head guy at Tune Time Performance, we made a trip to the shop for some dyno testing and subsequent tuning of Franco's '09 Cobalt SS. Our focus was to get the most of what the GM Performance Division engineered from the factory. That meant upping the power and torque output at the wheels by adjusting the tune. Hauffe manipulated the factory ECU to up the boost and add more timing.

The Cobalt SS, like most of today's EFI warriors, relies on tuning the computer rather than a mechanical adjustment for the increase in boost and timing. To do so, Hauffe utilizes special software from HP Tuners. A laptop is attached to the factory ECU via the OBD-II port. The port is used by diagnostic computers to evaluate the computer systems onboard of a vehicle. Aftermarket tuning companies utilize this port to gain access to the ECU to essentially hack into it and adjust its parameters. The level of tuning capabilities using software from companies like HP Tuners is amazing. We can attribute the success of mild-mannered 1,000 horsepower street cars (using a stock ECU) to the tuning adjustments made possible by HP. Our test Cobalt SS was soon to be a Mustang-slayer in less than 45 minutes of dyno testing and tuning. The longest part of the task was downloading the stock tune to the laptop. It took about 20 minutes to accomplish it.

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