Cobalt, the element, has a split personality. Its name is derived from a German word that equates to “goblin” in English. And it can be morphed into a nuclear weapon with enough potential to wipe out every life form on the planet.

Based on these criteria, if the base-model Chevrolet Cobalt were a mischievous gnome, the '08 Cobalt SS coupe would be “the bomb.”

Even Chevy doesn't go that far. But the high-output version of the brand's compact car boasts the basic chemistry of affordable street cred. Start with the '08 model's taut exterior, uncontaminated by hood scoops and side air extractors.

Its front fascia yawns politely, framing a heat exchanger that serves the 20-psi (1.4-bar) BorgWarner turbocharger. Meanwhile, Brembo front calipers suggest potency as they peek through 18-in. forged aluminum wheels.

For tuners who just can't help themselves, there's a $125 raised-wing option. And according to Chevy, it's functional, adding more than 100 lbs. (45 kg) of down-force at 120 mph (193 km/h).

The car's sporty interior is welcoming, with a contrasting-color theme carried throughout. Prominent bolsters up front make for snug comfort without the rigid Iron-Maiden-like grip of some performance seats. The back seat is cozy.

Give Chevy credit for equipping all five seating positions with head restraints. But that's no reason to expect neck-snapping performance, if only because the car's power and torque are so well managed.

For those needing to put their foot down, there are two technologies that debuted on the '08 Chevy HHR SS sport wagon: launch control and “no-lift shift.” The former minimizes wheel spin, while the latter uses an algorithm to maintain boost pressure just long enough to execute a shift — if the accelerator is pinned.

Forget that it shaves 0.7 seconds from each stroke of the short-throw shifter. The resulting smoothness accentuates the car's pull, a feeling punctuated by the accompanying back-pressure pop.

For '09, expect Chevy to crib from the Dodge Caliber SRT4's “performance pages” by delivering real-time data such as lateral G-forces on a digital display.

But no-lift shift only highlights the coupe's compliant steering and satisfying stiffness. The Cobalt SS practically maneuvers itself, which is no mean feat for a front-wheel-drive performance car.

At city pace, steering feels conflicted, the way a thoroughbred fusses when forced to walk. But kick it up to back-road tempo, and you'll know how it feels when horse and rider work together.

On undulating California blacktop, where fuel-consumption averaged a thrifty 26 mpg (9 L/100 km), the car's electric variable-speed rack-and-pinion setup defines the term linear.

Until now, the Mazdaspeed3 has been the poster child for torque-steer mitigation. But Cobalt SS matches the Mazda zoom for zoom using angled half-shafts, a solid stabilizer bar and a pair of algorithms that subtly dilute steering inputs and reduce throttle to improve control.

The only thing lacking is an exhaust note. All 260 ponies rounded up by the 2.0L Ecotec I-4 are muffled by its turbo.

Still, the car should placate Chevy fans who bemoaned the departure of the supercharged Cobalt after model-year '06.

Cobalt may rank 27th on the periodic table, but with Chevy's SS badge attached, it has all the elements of a winner.

[+] PROS/CONS [-]
Clean styling Exhaust note absent
No-lift shift No performance meter
Puts power down Cramped console

'08 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger coupe

Engine: turbocharged 2.0L DOHC I-4

Power (SAE net): 260 hp @ 5,300 rpm

Torque: 253 lb.-ft (353 Nm) @ 2,000 rpm

Transmission: F35 5-speed manual

Wheelbase: 103.5 ins. (263 cm)

Overall length: 180.5 ins. (459 cm)

Overall width: 67.9 ins. (173 cm)

Curb Weight: 2,975 lbs. (1,349 kg)

Base price: $22,995

Fuel economy: 22/30 mpg (11/7.8 L/100 km)

Competition: Honda Civic Si, Volkswagen GTI, Mazdaspeed3, Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V