A car with excellent value got better.
by Jonathan Ingram
Base Price $13,065
As Tested $15,935
Chevrolet Cavalier is GM's volume leader for passenger cars. A rounded body style distinguishes it from the Ford Escort, Dodge Neon and Honda Civic and that's been enhanced for 2000 with revised styling.
Though not a leader in sophistication, Cavalier rides nicely on most road surfaces and it comes standard with anti-lock brakes, which have been upgraded this year for improved performance. A new Getrag manual transmission and shifter is designed to improve shift feel and make it easier to get into reverse, while a new fuel pump and meter system helps reduce engine noise from the previously bothersome level.
This is a practical car with cargo capacity. It's also a sensible car, offering value in terms of its price and the numerous goodies, such as air conditioning, that come standard.
Five models are available: Coupe ($13,065); Sedan ($13,165); LS Sedan ($14,710); Z24 Coupe ($16,270); Z24 Convertible ($19,735). (Prices include $510 destination charge.)
Cavalier comes standard with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 115 horsepower. A more powerful 2.4-liter twin-cam engine comes on the Z24 models and is an option on the LS Sedan. This four-cylinder engine generates 150 horsepower.
LS Sedan adds such niceties over the base models as cruise control, an ETR AM/FM stereo and digital clock, tachometer and trip computer, variable wipers, remote mechanical trunk release, a tilt steering column, and 15-inch tires.
Z24 models come standard with a sports suspension, 16-inch tires, remote keyless entry, power windows, fog lamps and other niceties. The Z-24 Convertible comes with a choice of black or neutral-colored tops; there's also a special Arctic White model with a white top and a white vinyl interior with deluxe bucket seats.
Chevrolet's Cavalier is an attractive car with flowing lines that are enhanced this year with new body-colored front fascias. Rounded fenders, concave hood lines and new crystal headlight lenses induce a low-to-the road look. Relatively thin A-pillars and C-pillars enhance driver visibility and enhance the flowing appearance, which seems to work best in the new dark green and silver colors. Dual side mirrors are tucked nicely into the A-pillar. The flowing lines come to an abrupt end in back, which stymies the overall design, though the rakish new rear spoiler that comes on the Z24 improves this. There's a new taillight configuration with insets, but it doesn't add much excitement. Ironically, the styling revisions emphasize the Cavalier's bobbed tail and relatively short wheelbase. Bigger tires and lower side moldings add a little muscle to the appearance of the LS Sedan and the Z24 models. Z24s come with five-spoke aluminum wheels, while the Coupe, Sedan and LS Sedan get full wheel covers.
A new dash treatment for 2000 flows more smoothly into the passenger side and make the interior more pleasing to the eye than last year's model. A new set of gauges is an improvement for the driver. A revised center console is cup holder nirvana with two regular cupholders in front of the shifter plus three more in the middle of the console, including one that can serve the back seat.
The seats are contoured and comfortable, but the side support could be better for cornering. Cloth insets in the doors helps prevent plastic overload and a two-spoke steering wheel lends a lighter look to the dash.
The back seat remains cramped for the legs for even those of average height. But overall, the revised 2000 Cavalier interior makes it feel like a bigger car than last year's model.
Our LS Sedan came with the optional 2.4-liter, twin-cam engine that provides 150 horsepower. Weighing less than 2,700 pounds, the Cavalier features a good power-to-weight ratio. This car has zip, with 155 foot-pounds of torque to launch it from intersections. It's a bit shy of a pocket rocket rating, but it cruises well at relatively high speeds.
The 2.2-liter overhead-valve four-cylinder engine that comes standard on the coupe and sedans has not changed, other than the new, quieter fuel system, but it's surprisingly spunky with 115 horsepower. There's noticeably less noise coming from under the hood; unfortunately, the relatively uninspiring exhaust note is more noticeable.
The LS Sedan winds quickly through the gears with its electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission without any noticeable surges. This transmission works well around town, keeping the engine in its best operating range at lower speeds. The Cavalier is a much better car with the four-speed automatic than it is with the three-speed automatic that is optional on the base Coupe and Sedan. Because the three gears are farther apart, the engine strains under hard acceleration. Therefore, the base Coupe and Sedan are far better off with the standard five-speed manual gearbox.
The Cavalier handles reasonably well. Its stiff chassis enables the suspension to do its job. There's a slight twitch when hitting a bump in the middle of a quick corner. Completely pliant cornering might require a softer suspension and more finesse in the corners. But that would compromise the Cavalier's encouragement to drive harder into the bends due to its taut set-up. The car handles bumps with steady attitude and a modicum of comfort. Power steering is light and responsive and the Cavalier quickly turns in for corners. This car is light on its feet and can accommodate either comfortable or more sporty driving styles.
The new solenoid-based anti-lock braking system is an improvement, improving balance between the front and rear brakes under heavy braking. This revised ABS can be a real ally in an emergency maneuver because it allows the driver to steer the car in a panic braking situation. Just remember to keep hard pedal pressure on the brakes and don't forget to steer. This system really adds value to the Cavalier.
A car with excellent value got better. Chevy's Cavalier is fun to drive. It's also easy to own with enough standard equipment to make life behind the wheel enjoyable without huge monthly payments.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.