By Casey Williams Auto Reviewer

2009 XFE eschews fancy gear to save money and fuel

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt XFE

THE SNAZZ IS IN THE DETAILS: The Cobalt’s not much of a looker, but base price is $15,670 and it gets 25/37 mpg, city-highway.

Everybody could use a little XFE (that’s eXtra fuel economy). Drive a quality compact car, enjoy a great sound system, fit all of my stuff, drive surrounded with safety, throttle more power and still get great fuel mileage? Well then, color me green.

But whenever automakers mention "high fuel economy" and "a lot for the money" in the same sentence, it usually means a car with roll-up windows that’s roomy, but equipped like a 1980s stripper. Our test car came with hubcaps and cloth interior, but that’s where the bad econo began and ended.

To improve economy, engineers specified 15-inch low-rolling resistance tires attached to lightweight steel wheels with hubcaps (no slammed alloys here), taller gears in the five-speed manual transmission and a new four-cylinder engine. Forget drag-inducing wings — the Cobalt is shaved bare to slip cleanly through the air.

The engine and transmission make the most of available petrol. By using high-tech variable valve timing, the 2.2-litre engine is both frugal and muscular, generating 155 horsepower and posting fuel economy ratings of 26/37-miles per gallon city/highway. For a car that makes its name with economy, there’s plenty of power for a super drive. Rowing the tight-gate manual trannie is a joy. MPGs are not quite at diesel or hybrid levels, but are excellent for a compact gas-sipper with a little sticker.

The Cobalt’s suspension motions are tight and controlled, much like the last-generation VW Jetta and Golf. Even with the low-resistance tires, the Cobalt grabs curves and fast on-ramps without squeal.

For a base price of $15,670, you get roll-up windows, a rubber steering wheel, rubber shift knob and not much else. But the LT-grade (base price, $16,460).

Comes with air-conditioning, CD player with iPOD jack, XM Satellite Radio, tilt steering wheel, power windows, power locks, console with closable compartment and multi-adjustable buckets seats. Dual front, side airbags enhance safety and help the Cobalt earn 4-5 stars in all of the government’s crash tests.

For a little dinero more, we added a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio buttons, leather shift knob, cruise control, bluetooth connectivity for cell phones and a USB port to fully connect MP3 players. A chrome package came with bright door handles, grille insert and tailpipe. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes enhanced safety.

Everybody can use a little XFE for rolling green, but they might also like a great-handling and powerful compact with a full load of features. When fully optioned, expect to pay $18,520, including destination. Competitors include the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, VW Jetta TDI and Nissan Sentra.


Who: Dade Duke

Occupation: Bartender at The Round-Up Saloon.

Why are you famous in the gay community? Every week, thousands come through the doors of The Round-Up, and I get to say, "Howdy" to many of them. I’m also active with the Texas Gay Rodeo Association. Last weekend, I finished my third — The Rodeo in the Rock, in Little Rock, Arkansas. I finished third in chute dogging and earned my first ribbon and came in sixth place for goat dressing. One day I’ll get that buckle.

Current car: 2007 Dodge Nitro, silver.

Purchased from: Dallas Dodge.

Were you a tough negotiator? I wish. On the test drive, I fell in love with the Nitro. And to get it, I might have made some bad decisions. But I think the car gods smiled on me.

How much did you settle on? $23,000-ish.

Insurance agent: GEICO

Monthly insurance rate? $100.

Why this car? It was the perfect fit. I wanted a small SUV. The Nitro handles well and has a unique design. It has tons of room inside and is very comfortable.

Favorite feature: Heated leather seats. When I leave the bar at 4 a.m. during the winter to drive home, those seats are magical.

Anything interesting in your glove box? Just the manual and my insurance card. The center console has all the good stuff in it.

Previous vehicles:  Ford Explorer, Polaris snowmobile and a Saturn.

Average weekly fuel expenses: $20 — I carpool to work several days a week, so I save on fuel.

Do you merge well with other drivers? I am a very courteous driver. I use my signal and slip right in.

Have you ever been naked in your car? Not yet.

Do you think good drivers make good lovers? No. I once dated a driving instructor, and the sex was terrible. I don’t think the two are connected.

How often do you wash your car? Not enough. And when I do, I use the drive-thru.

When was the last time you rode public transportation in Dallas? A few years ago, I rode DART, and it was OK. But I missed my satellite radio.

Worst intersection in Dallas: Hall Street at Turtle Creek Boulevard — it takes forever for the light to change.

Most ridiculous car repair: Someone backed into me at a stoplight, and a trailer hitch punched through my front bumper. I wanted to cry, but now it’s as good as new.

Thought that races through my head when I’m going through a yellow light: Does yellow make me look fat?

Best car memory: My father teaching me how to drive in his El Camino. At the end of the lesson, he let me spin the tires and squeal down the street. He made me promise not to tell my mom. That was a great day.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 24, 2009.
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