I owned a Cobalt for 4 years and put 47,000 miles on it. It was an '06 2-door LS 5-speed, totally base model. Here's what I observed:
Excellent gas mileage, about 34-37 mpg
Responsive and reasonable power for a 4-cylinder. I actually think the 2.2L EcoTec is one of the best ideas GM ever had.
Decent handling (Wife and I would road trip to the mountains frequently, where I would get yelled at quite a lot...IRS would've made it better, tho).
Reasonably comfortable in the front seats.
Mine proved to be bullet-proof reliable. I will admit to having one issue: the clutch master cylinder popped out of the firewall after we'd had it a month. It was fixed hassle-free under warranty.
Numb steering (electric motor power steering)
Torque steer (if you care about such things...probably not)
Very spartan and inexpensive interior. Cars with factory power windows and cruise feel like the accessories are afterthoughts.
Air conditioning was not very powerful and seemed to strain the engine quite a bit (I'm also a Ford guy, and my wife's '08 Mariner will give you hypothermia)
Back seats are cramped, even on the sedans.
Lots of trunk space, very small trunk opening.
Then, of course, there is the ignition switch recall. Also, in 2008 a recall was issued on the power steering motors, but I don't know what model years it may have applied to.
Hindsight is 20/20, and if I'd known then what I know now I'd probably have gotten an '05-'07 Focus ZX5 with a 2.3L. After driving one that belonged to a friend I was reasonably impressed. And the storage space would've been nice too, especially after my old Blazer broke down (The Cobalt did us fine, but outside of that I've not had good luck with GMs).
$5900 seems a lot for a car that's been wrecked. If I was looking for a throwaway commuter, I'd get an '03-'05 EcoTec Cavalier/Sunfire (which are even cheaper, chintzier cars) because you could get would for a couple thousand bucks and drive the wheels off it.
I'd avoid Honda and Toyota for this purpose...they'll make you pay for that reputation of reliability.
2011 Victory Cross Roads, crimson red
"There is only one God, and His name is Death. And there is only one thing we say to Death: 'not today.'"