Suddenly Cobalt Beats its Competition

By Igor Holas


Among all the excitement over Chevrolet’s new 260 horsepower Cobalt SS, GM made a much quieter, but much more significant change to the Cobalt lineup.

Starting immediately, GM claims the Cobalt with manual transmission to be among the “most fuel-efficient compacts on the market” with 36 miles per gallon highway. This is mostly true, as this new number beats out the Corolla (34mpg for the now current 2009 model) Civic (34 mpg) and Focus (35 mpg) who have been leading until now. However, the Civic with automatic transmission achieves the same highway mileage and better city mileage, and the Civic hybrid (of course) beats out all of them. Nonetheless, the mileage improvement is a meaningful and important improvement to the otherwise well-rounded Cobalt. Using a standard engine that is significantly larger than its competition, the Cobalt has been saddled with a somewhat mediocre 33 mpg until now. Moreover, the new mileage rating was still achieved on the 2.2l EcoTec, which also boasts the best-in-class horsepower (148) and torque (152), leaving the 1.8l and 2.0l engines from the aforementioned competition in the dust. To exemplify the magnitude of GM’s achievement, the very-much acclaimed Mazda3 with a similarly-powerful 2.3l engine achieves miserable 29 miles per gallon on the highway – a full seven mpg difference.

GM did not reveal all the details of the changes, but did mention engine calibration and tires with lower rolling resistance. Our guess is also that the fifth-gear of the transmission was made significantly taller. These changes will probably take away a little bit of the edge of the engine, but should still leave its peppiness intact. This new fuel mileage improvement comes standard on LS and 1LT models, and to celebrate this newly found efficiency, these cars will be tagged with a new XFE badge. “XFE” stands for (E)Xtra Fuel Economy, and will also come standard. Unfortunately, other internal GM documents outline that starting with the 2009 model, the 1LT Sedan model will not be offered with a manual transmission, leaving the coupe as the only option for a well-optioned and efficient Cobalt; which is very unfortunate.

The four-speed automatic transmission will remain in place in the Cobalt delivering unchanged 31 miles per gallon, and while this is nowhere near the top of the class, it is still in the meat of the segment. Despite the excellent mileage delivered by the Civic thanks to its (unique to the segment) 5-speed automatic, most competitors deliver 30-33 miles per gallon on the highway and continue to use the simple four-speed transmissions.

To the media’s delight, General Motors has been focusing lately on showing off its performance vehicles such as the G8, Solstice, and the new HHR and Cobalt SS. But to most consumers, the new Cobalt XFE is a much more significant introduction. I certainly applaud GM for investing energy and money into improving an already solid product, and delivering improvements that do not merely come “close enough” but actually beat out the competition. Hopefully this step is not just an aberration from GM, and we will see continuous gradual improvement from GM on a more regular basis. Ford has recently began delivering annual changes to its models, and it has helped keep many of its products fresh and attractive in the marketplace, GM would do well to follow Ford’s lead in this instance.

In any case, anyone who can take advantage of this better mileage product should do so, especially in the next 5 months before Chevrolet restricts the availability of the manual transmission on the Cobalt.

Below is GM’s message from GM Dealerworld

Subject: 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt Fuel Economy Improvement Announcement Effective March 17, 2008


The Chevrolet Cobalt Marketing Team is excited to announce a significant fuel economy improvement on the 2008 Cobalt. Effective March 17, 2008 , any LS or 1LT Cobalt Coupe or Sedan model ordered with manual transmissions will get 36 miles per gallon on the highway. This three mile per gallon improvement now gives Cobalt the best in class manual transmission highway fuel economy.

To make these Cobalt models stand out a new badge has been added to the right side of the trunk lid labeled “XFE” (Xtra Fuel Economy).

Quick Answers Regarding Cobalt XFE

How do I order a Cobalt that gets 36 miles per gallon on the highway?
-Effective immediately, any LS or 1LT model coupe or sedan ordered with a manual transmission will get 36 miles per gallon highway.

With 36 MPG what competitors does this Cobalt beat in highway fuel economy? Just a few are:
-2008 Honda Civic 34 MPG
-2008 Ford Focus 35 MPG
-2009 Toyota Corolla 35 MPG
-2008 Mini Cooper S 34 MPG
-2008 Mazda3 32 MPG
-2008 Dodge Caliber 29 MPG
-2008 Honda Fit 34 MPG
-2008 Toyota Matrix 33 MPG
-2008 Nissan Sentra 33 MPG
-2008 Nissan Versa 33 MPG

Is there a special badge?
-Yes, there is all new XFE badge located on the right side of the trunk deck lid.

Is the Cobalt window sticker revised to reflect 36 MPG?
-Yes, starting with production on March 17, 2008 and after, LS & 1LT models with manual transmission will have a widow sticker that reads 36 MPG.

What does XFE stand for?
-Xtra Fuel Economy.

How did this improvement in fuel economy happen?
-Engine calibration, improved tires and a few other special items we don’t want the competitors to know about..

Does this improved fuel economy apply to both Coupe & Sedan LS and 1LT manual transmission models?

COPYRIGHT – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Techshake Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at .

Share This Post On


  1. Great news and perfectly timed if gasoline hits $4.00 a gallon this summer as predicted. Maybe General Motors has finally got it together!

  2. Just a correction: a manual 2009 Corolla gets 35 mpg EPA highway, not 34 mpg.

  3. A sort of contrast with the Corolla, when I read this from November 2007. Now let’s add some options like a flex-fuel engine and a turbo-diesel version and come to think of it, a destroked version of the Ecotec to 1.8L

  4. I am glad to see that GM is now competing hard in their various segments. They need to keep refining their products to meet changing market demands. That, combined with the much better cars they’ve been putting out, paint a better future for the company.

  5. So it gets better mileage, it’s still a crappy GM car.

  6. GM makes a good car and some of heir cars are better than good, they’re great. Your knee-jerk reaction about GM cars is not based on any current reality.

  7. Of course the Cobalt is classified as a subcompact and is quite a bit smaller than any of the cars its being compared to. The Yaris, Fit, and Versa all have more interior room and get better combined mileage. Hwy mileage generally has less bearing on the actual mileage most people will see. In terms of City mileage, the Cobalt also comes in behind the Matrix, Corolla, Civic, Accent, xA, xD, Mini, Mini Clubman and Vibe.

  8. My question is, if they could do this so easily, why wasn’t it done a long time ago, at least as an option???
    Now I know why GM execs never seem to even twitch at the notion of the cafe standards going up, they’ve been holding this up their sleeve at the expense of their customer’s fuel budgets.

  9. Rob? umm … do you look at any data before you post?

    The Cobalt is smack dab in the middle of the C-segment – size wise, power wise… (it is a bit cheaper than the Japanese, as is the Focus, but that is another topic)

    The city rating for the Cobalt XFE is 25mpg – right on par with anything else in the segment (one or 2 cars have 26 in the city, but most are at 25 or lower)

    Finally, yes, the Mini beats them all, but is much more expensive with an advanced engine – I usually exclude it for that very reason – a compact buyer will not look at a $26k MINI – no matter the 37mpg it is rated.


  10. The Cobalt is not a subcompact like the Fit, Yaris, etc, although it is priced to compete with them. In size, it is a typical compact car, similar to Civic, Corolla, Focus, and Mazda3. As a Cobalt owner who did quite a bit of comparison shopping before my purchase, I have to say this is an outstanding value and a great car.

  11. Rob – my laptop is equipped with a warning light (some people call these idiot lights) just like a car.

    When I read your comment, the warning light (some people call these idiot lights) came on. It stayed on until I closed the comments window.

    Coincidence? I don’t think so.

  12. pyrophobia, my thoughts exactly

  13. I would have bought a Cobalt if if it came as a hatch, but it doesn’t. I looked at the Aveo, but not enough substance for me, and the Focus hatchback is gone, I really, really wanted to get the Cobalt because I think it is by the best value for the money in it’s class, but I want a hatchback, so I got the Pontiac Vibe instead. A little bigger vehicle than I wanted, but the Hinda Fit was too small and the Cobalt had no hatch model, so I got the Vibe.

  14. Oil just closed at $134 a barrel at 5:15 PM Eastern Time. Four dollars for a gallon of gas is a certainty, and we are knocking on the door for $5 a gallon by 2009. You better believe I’m telling people to park the SUV or the truck and buy something that gets good fuel economy because this is going to get worse before it gets better. All we can do is drive a car that gets the best fuel mileage until the electric vehicles show up.

  15. Is there a way to get this benefit on 2006 cobalt ls 2.2l? ECU reprogram perhaps?

  16. It would be swell if you could actually find one of these on a Chevrolet dealer lot somewhere, but you can forget about doing that where I live in FLorida. The dealers say they can’t keep them in stock but I think they just didn’t order enough a few months ago when they had the chance because they thought gas would go back down. There seem to be enough of them in other states.

Submit a Comment