In the mid-size market, only a handful of sedans can offer true six-passenger seating. Among them all, Chevy's Lumina is one.

Chevrolet's mid-size front-drive Lumina is a direct competitor to Ford's Taurus. With the demise of the old rear-drive Caprice, Lumina became Chevy's largest car in its range. Like the Taurus, the Lumina was a perennial favorite with car rental companies. In fact, almost one half of them were sold to rental fleets each year. Because of this, they make an ideal pre-owned car, offering great value for the money.

Originally introduced in 1990, the Lumina underwent a facelift in 1995. The ride and handling as well as the interior are much better on the newer models. However the car is still far from being a driver's car -- it's not a car that will excite driving enthusiasts.

Overall, the Lumina is a great choice for anybody who wants a roomy car with good power but doesn't worry too much about style or whether a car is fun to drive.

 

What You Need To Know:

1. Review of a 1996 Chevrolet Lumina

2. Summary of Good and Bad Points by Owners

3. History of Lumina

4. Review of Current Model (Impala)

5. Basic Facts

6. Changes Year-to-Year

7. Option Installment Rate

8. Sales History

9. Awards and Commendations Earned

10. Other Reviews

11. Price of Spare Parts

 

1. Pre-Owned Vehicle Evaluation - 1996 Chevrolet Lumina

Likes:  conservative family car, zippy V-6 engine, great value for money

Dislikes:  plain design

Competitors:  (on same platform: Chevrolet Monte Carlo; also Buick Regal, Pontiac Grand Prix and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme until 1996), Dodge Intrepid, Ford Taurus, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord

Miles:  36,300

Condition:  B

Price when new:  $17,500 (est.)

Posted Price:  $12,865 (Jan. 1999)

It's all about expectations. I'll admit that the Chevrolet Lumina has never been a car to stir my emotions. It's a plain-looking car meant to carry passengers in comfort for an affordable price. It does not pretend to be a sports sedan or a luxury car. As Car and Driver so aptly described, it's "a passenger car more than a driver's car."

Bearing that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the three-year old Lumina car I tested felt. Its performance from the 3.1-liter V-6 engine was better than I expected, the automatic transmission shifted smoothly and the steering was precise. The ride was smooth but the handling was not as crisp as I like in a car.

The conservative lines are pleasing enough but not as exciting as the Dodge Intrepid or the Ford Taurus. The Lumina's design should please people who don't like the more futuristic looks of those two cars. Likewise, the interior is also more conservative with a simple dashboard with well-positioned and functional gauges and switches. There are plenty of cupholders including one in front that can accommodate a coffee mug and its handle.

Instead of bucket seats a bench seat is standard on all models. It's roomy enough for three people, at least if the person seated in the center is on the small side. The cloth material on the seat in the car I drove showed some sign of wear and the seat cushion had sunk, leaving a dell in the base of the seat. A bench seat does not hold the driver in very securely at best, so this fault made it worse.

Apart from the collapsed front seat cushion, the car seemed to be in good shape with no broken parts or misaligned components. The rear passenger door on the driver's side had a slightly different shade of gray paint than the rest of the car. I could not see any signs of body repair and the dealer was not aware of any repair work so it might have been a problem from the start.

Getting in and out of the car is easy as the doors are quite big. Rear seat leg and headroom is decent. Vision from inside is good as the car sports thin pillars and large windows.

The cavernous trunk offers decent storage capacity but, as is so often the case, the hinges intrude badly into the cargo area, potentially crushing luggage. I have not figured out why more domestic and Japanese manufacturers have not introduced hinges such as European manufacturers use on their vehicles that do not intrude in the trunk. A low lip makes lifting luggage easy.

Most Luminas sold have power windows and mirrors but about 20 percent were stripped models with manually operated windows and mirrors. All cars came standard with air conditioning, dual airbags (since 1995) and power door locks. An optional 3.4-liter V-6 engine was offered but few took it up -- except for 1996, when about one-third were so equipped.

If you want a similar car with more exciting looks check out the Monte Carlo, which is a two-door version of the Lumina. The Pontiac Grand Prix has even more dramatic styling and was built on the same platform (until 1996), as was the Buick Regal and the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

The sporty LTZ model offers a more satisfying experience for those who enjoy driving. It has the more powerful 3.8-liter V-6 engine (3.4-liter until 1997) and the suspension is slightly stiffer, resulting in better handling. If you do not need to carry six passengers, optional bucket seats provide better support for the driver and front passenger.

Those who care more about an exhilarating drive in a car that stands out will probably be disappointed in a pre-owned Lumina. But those who want a roomy car to carry up to six passengers without spending too much money should be well pleased with a Lumina -- it's a car that gets the job done.

It's also the sort of car that should appeal to those who are fed up driving a sport-utility vehicle. It offers similar passenger carrying capacity without the tough ride or poor fuel economy. One could say it's more of a driver's car than a sport-utility vehicle -- but then, what wouldn't be?

 

2. Summing It Up -- Owners' Views

Good:

"I like everything about the car"

"Mechanically good"

"It’s quiet"

"It’s like a luxury car"

"One of nicest cars I’ve owned"

Bad:

"Can’t think of anything I don’t like"

 

3. History of Lumina

Chevrolet introduced the Lumina in 1990, making it one of Chevrolet's newer nameplates. It replaced the Celebrity and was aimed directly at the Ford Taurus. A four-cylinder engine powered the base model but it was really underpowered. Few people opted for this model and the engine was dropped from the Lumina line in 1993.

A two-door coupe version joined the four-door sedan a year after introduction. A sporty Z34 version with a 210-hp DOHC 3.4-liter V-6 engine joined the lineup during 1991. With a rear spoiler and a front airdam it gave the car quite a sporty look. The Euro version of the sedan followed later with the same engine.

In 1995 Chevrolet revamped the looks of the car but kept the same floorpan. The two-door coupe became a separate model line with its own Monte Carlo name. The new version had more rounded features than the older model and a much friendlier interior. Despite an increase in performance the new car delivered better fuel economy and a much more refined ride. An LTZ version replaced the Z34 but it was less sporty.

With the demise of the large rear-drive Caprice in 1996, the Lumina became the largest offering in Chevrolet's line of cars. Not for long though, as Chevrolet replaced the Lumina in 2000 with the Impala. However it did continue to sell the Lumina to fleet buyers through 2001.

 

4. Review of Impala (2000 on)

The Lumina nameplate was dropped in 2001 and the Impala became the largest car in Chevrolet’s lineup. With a longer wheelbase the Impala rides and handles better than the Lumina. It also offers greater interior space for passengers.

In reality, the front-drive Impala is more akin to a traditional domestic car in feel and character than its direct competitors, such as the Ford Taurus and Toyota Avalon. This is not necessarily a bad thing for those who are looking for a passenger vehicle that provides decent space for up to six passengers. It also sells at a very reasonable price compared to many smaller import-brand cars on the market.

 

5. Basic Facts: 1995 - 2001 Lumina

Vehicle Type:  Mid-Size Sedan

No. Passengers:  up to six

Origin of assembly:  Oshawa, Canada

Engine: (standard):  3.1-liter 160 hp V-6 (’95-’99); 3.1-liter 160 hp V-6 (’00-’01)

(optional):  3.4-liter 210 hp DOHC V-6 ('95-'97); 3.8-liter 200 hp V-6 ('98-‘99)

Transmission:  4-spd automatic; front-drive

Length:  201 inches

Wheelbase:  107.5 inches

Width:  72.5 inches

Height:  55 inches

Curb weight:  3400 lbs. (approx.)

Cargo volume:  15.5 cu. ft.

Fuel tank capacity:  17 gals.

Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway):  20/29 (3.1-liter); 19/30 (3.8-liter)

Safety and Recall information can be obtained from a variety of sources including elsewhere on autotrader.com.

 

6. Changes in the Chevrolet Lumina Line 1995 - 2001

1995 Model Year  (First year of new model)

Second-generation Lumina introduced

1996 Model Year

Dual-zone temperature controls introduced

Leather seating surfaces available as option

1997 Model Year

Lumina LTZ model introduced with unique exterior trim

New power sliding sunroof available as option

Change oil warning light added

1998 Model Year

Some suspension modifications

LTZ model upgraded with 200 hp 3.8-liter engine

1999 Model Year

Increased level of standard equipment

2000 Model Year

Power windows now standard

Only engine available is the 3.1-liter V6, with a 15 hp increase

2001 Model Year

No changes

Vehicle only available to fleet buyers

 

7. Option Installment Rate

Generally, when you order a new car you have a choice of factory-installed options. When you buy a pre-owned vehicle the choice is limited to what was actually installed on vehicles sold in that model year. Use this option installment rate as a guide to the chances of finding particular options on a pre-owned vehicle. Source: Ward's Automotive Yearbooks

Standard on all models:  air conditioning, automatic transmission

1995 Model Year  (first year of new model)

Installment Rate

Engine:

3.1-liter V-6 93%

3.4-liter V-6 7%

Cruise Control: 89%

ABS Brakes: 62%

Power Windows: 80%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 43%

Leather Seats: <0.5%

1996 Model Year

Installment Rate

Engine:

3.1-liter V-6 72%

3.4-liter V-6 28%

Cruise Control: 87%

ABS Brakes: 43%

Power Windows: 79%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 25%

Leather Seats: 3%

1997 Model Year

Installment Rate

Engine:

3.1-liter V-6 99%

3.4-liter V-6 >1%

Cruise Control: 88%

ABS Brakes: 65%

Power Windows: 79%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 28%

Leather Seats: 2%

1998 Model Year

Installment Rate

Engine:

3.1-liter V-6 71%

3.8-liter V-6 29%

Cruise Control: 92%

ABS Brakes: 68%

Power Windows: 80%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 33%

Leather Seats: 3%

1999 Model Year

Installment Rate

Engine:

3.1-liter V-6 88%

3.8-liter V-6 12%

Cruise Control: 100%

ABS Brakes: 84%

Power Windows: 100%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 51%

Leather Seats: 3%

2000 Model Year

Installment Rate

Engine:

3.1-liter V-6 100%

3.8-liter V-6 0%

Cruise Control: 100%

ABS Brakes: 28%

Power Windows: 100%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 73%

Leather Seats: 0%

2001 Model Year

Installment Rate

Engine:

3.1-liter V-6 100%

3.8-liter V-6 0%

Cruise Control: 100%

ABS Brakes: 23%

Power Windows: 100%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 82%

Leather Seats: 0%

 

8. Production/Sales Volume History

Normally a model year runs from October to September. Often though, when a new version is introduced it hits the market before October. Legally, a model year can start as early as January of the preceding year. Accurate model year sales counts are almost impossible to collect as different model year vehicles are regularly sold side-by-side for several months. Production figures, when listed, often include vehicles made for export to Canada, Mexico and overseas. Source: manufacturers/Ward's Automotive Yearbooks

1995 Model Year  (first year of new model)

Production run: Feb. 1994 through Sept. 1995

Total number produced: 242,112

Total no. sold in U.S.: 209,646

1996 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1995 through Sept. 1996

Total number produced: 224,573

Total no. sold in U.S.: 246,824

1997 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1996 through Sept. 1997

Total number produced: 234,626

Total no. sold in U.S.: 232,888

1998 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1997 through Sept. 1998

Total number produced: 288,512

Total no. sold in U.S.: 176,505

1999 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1998 through Sept. 1999

Total number produced: 166,843

Total no. sold in U.S.: 130,086

2000 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1999 through Sept. 2000

Total number produced: 37,493

Total no. sold in U.S.: 44,358

2001 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 2000 through Apr. 2001

Total number produced: 42,803

Total no. sold in U.S.: 32,001

 

9. Awards and Commendations

1995

"Best Buys" - Consumers Digest

"Best Value Award, Mid-Size Sedan - Home Mechanix

"Driver's Choice Award for Best Improved Design of Year" - MotorWeek

"Top 40 New Cars" - Consumer Review

"Family Car of the Year (Best Family Sedan Category)" - Family Circle

1996

"Best Buys" - Consumers Digest

"Best Value Midsize Under $20,000 - IntelliChoice

"Third Place in Initial Quality Study - Entry Midsize Car Segment" - J. D. Power and Associates

1997

"First for Safety, Cars $13,000-$18,000" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine

 

10. Quotes

"Like a smorgasbord: you get a lot for the money, including top-rung performance. The Verdict: A passenger car more than a driver's car." - Car and Driver, Sept. 1994

"The real improvement for '95 is in the quiet, poised way the new Lumina goes about its business. Much of it is due to the improved body structure, born of exhaustive analysis, five lateral cross members, and a beam used to support the instrument panel. These all lend the car a real sense of solidity." - Car and Driver, Nov. 1994

"Chevy's largest sedan has the ingredients to satisfy the demands of consumers seeking well-rounded family transportation." - Road & Track'99 Car Buyers Guide

 

11. Cost of Parts (relative to other vehicles)

Headlight unit:  $222 (above average)

Side marker lamp:  $29 (below average)

Door (left front):  $952 (above average)

Fender (left front):  $272 (above average)

Note: these are estimated retail prices for commonly replaced body parts on a 1995 model. Prices are current as of early 1999 but will vary from region to region and are subject to change at any time. Source: ADP Collision

 

The Rettie Report and Pre-owned Profiles contain objective information from a variety of sources. The subjective comments are those of John Rettie.

 

 

 

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