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Relatively Inexpensive American Transportation

2010 Ford Focus

2010 Cobalt & Focus

At first I was going to name this column “Cheap American Rides.” But the word “cheap” isn’t always the most flattering. Like “cheap date,” or “running an NFL team on the cheap.” “Inexpensive” just sounds better. Of course, if you’re on a real tight budget, maybe 14 or 15 grand isn’t even inexpensive. So—relatively inexpensive it is.

And these two cars are that. At $15,995 for the Ford Focus four-door, and an even cheaper…I mean, less expensive…$14,990 for the Chevy Cobalt four-door, you won’t find many American cars for less money. An there are many buyers out there who won’t drive anything un-American. No matter where they’re built. Price-wise, especially these days, you should be able to do much better than the sticker price on both cars. As I write this, the ads in the Sunday Buffalo News are showing 2010 Focuses (Foci?) for as little as just under 12 grand. One local Chevy dealer has a brand-new 2009 Cobalt, which listed for just under 16 grand, offered for just over 10 grand (read the fine print carefully for all of the many applicable rebates and bonuses which you may or may not be eligible for).

2010 Chevy Cobalt

I decided to “focus” on these two models as, being a relatively older gentleman, I can remember when you were either a Ford guy or a Chevy guy, with the occasional Mopar guy coming around to spice up the conversation. Things may not be as cut-and-dry argument-wise as they were in the old days, but there’s still a definite Ford/Chevy rivalry going on. So how do the Focus and the Cobalt stack up against each other? Well, they’re both pretty boring. But at the same time they’re so bland as to not even be offensive. Their wheelbases are within a half-inch of each other while the overall lengths have about a five-inch difference (the Cobalt being the larger in both instances). The Focus however, is a half-inch taller and a whopping ten-and-a-half inches wider. The Cobalt’s standard engine is a DOHC ECOTEC 2.2L 4-cyl.engine with Variable Valve Timing (VVT) mated to a five-speed manual transmission. The Focus is equipped with a 2.0L Duratec I-4 engine hooked up to a five-speed manual transmission. The base Cobalt sedan is EPA-rated at 25/35 miles per gallon city/highway (there is an XFE model rated at 25/37). The Focus is rated 24/35. So, so far everything’s pretty close.

Let’s look at equipment. Don’t look for power windows on the base model of either car. Or four-wheel disc brakes (drums at the rear on both). The Cobalt’s suspension system is described by Chevy as “Premium Ride,” while the Focus presents a “European Inspired” suspension. Hard to pick a winner there. Both cars hold five-passengers, and have 60/40 split folding rear seats with trunk pass-through. Both have am/fm/mp3/single-cd player stereos with auxiliary jack. The base Focus comes with standard air-conditioning. The Cobalt does not. But it does have 15-inch steel wheels with bolt-on plastic wheel covers. The Focus? It’s wheel covers don’t bolt on to its 15-inch steel wheels. They press on, waiting for just the right pothole to come along and pop them off. Which you may or may not notice in your manually adjustable black-painted outside rearview mirror—just like the ones on the Cobalt. You will have a free year of On-Star with the Cobalt, which I guess you can call and complain to about the lack of a/c in the middle of August. The Focus, of course, doesn’t have this, as On-Star is General Motors’ exclusive service.

These cars, as you can see, are very closely matched up. If the looks of either don’t grab you, call your father or grandfather and see which side of the Ford/Chevy war you should be on. Then go out and buy the other car. Just to make those family get-togethers more interesting.

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