A new coupe emerges with a powerful old name.
by Bob Plunkett
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina - On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, two classic American automobile races - the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway - unfolded hundreds of miles apart and at different hours of the day. Yet the races had a point in common, because competitors in both races were led around their oval tracks by the same type of new Chevrolet coupe employed as the official pace car.
Painted brickyard-red with checkered race decals flowing down side panels, these new coupes used as pace cars marked the debut of a new edition for Chevrolet's Monte Carlo two-door coupe. Coming from Chevrolet’s Canadian assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario, the new Monte Carlo has revived the nameplate of its fabled stock-car racer. But has it regained the performance reputation that its NASCAR relatives have won? We recently drove the vehicles to judge if, like the Impala, the newest Chevrolet comes close to the historic performance implied in its name.
Bred from the Impala
The new Monte Carlo for model-year 2000 uses the platform of the new Impala, which succeeded the Lumina as Chevy's family sedan staple. It contains many of the components of the Impala, including both V-6 engine selections and multiple safety features, yet follows its own track for exterior styling and interior features.
This edition of Monte Carlo conforms to international proportions at less than 200 inches for length, but it provides generous interior dimensions for cabin and cargo volume. Under the hood, an efficient six-cylinder engine directs all torque to turn the front wheels. The volume model - Monte Carlo LS - totes a 3.4-liter V-6 from General Motors, which produces 180 hp and earns fuel economy figures as high as 32 miles per gallon.
The performance edition - Monte Carlo SS - traces its name to a 1983 V-8 edition. This new SS, containing a 3.8-liter V-6 with sequential-port fuel-injection system and multivalve technology, features aluminum cylinder heads and pent-roof firing chambers. It runs up to 200 hp. An electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission, GM's smooth Hydramatic shifter, links to each V-6, with no option for a manual shifter.
Fewer doors, more free styling
The unique exterior shape of the Monte Carlo begins with a hallmark long-nose, short-deck silhouette with shapely C-pillars curving to make an arch of the Monte Carlo’s greenhouse. The nose tapers to a low point, a front grille squeezes narrowly into a horizontal plane that conforms with the shape of twin headlamp clusters, and the hoodline rolls upward from the front in a smooth bow that bulges to meet a contoured windshield.
The Monte’s side panels seem rather flat, but there are muscular shoulders rippling over the large wheel wells, which house big 16-inch wheels and tires. A distinct tail treatment for the curt tapered panel reveals twin round taillamps set in vertical clusters, reminiscent of the rear end of the earliest Monte Carlos.
Trail a Monte Carlo in traffic and that stubby but bold tail design draws the eye and provokes a racy image. Drive it, like we did during a series of road tests on highways and city streets stretched across the Carolinas and into the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the strength, poise and finesse of Chevrolet's new coupe quickly become apparent.
Rigid structural components form the foundation of the Monte Carlo's lively personality, beginning with a safety cage whose underbody has extra longitudinal and cross-car bracing to exert more torsional stiffness when the vehicle moves down the road. The unibody structure encases a passenger compartment with steel beams which can absorb and deflect forces of an impact in a crash.
Side body stampings from the A-pillars rearward to the tail amount to a single piece of convoluted metal, with a horizontal cast slab of magnesium bracing the width from one A-pillar to the other behind the dash.
An aluminum engine cradle functions as foundation for Monte Carlo's engine, front suspension components, steering system and front sheet metal. The lightweight but strong structure not only isolates engine vibrations but permits tighter tuning of suspension elements to enrich the handling characteristics.
A four-wheel independent suspension allows the car to react with solid sensations when loping over pavement bumps, and it moves precisely when asked to steer clear of lane obstacles like slower traffic. The suspension puts a MacPherson strut at each corner and progressive-rate springs to dampen road chatter and prevent excessive body roll.
Sedate and sporting personalities
The LS and upgraded SS editions of the Monte Carlo differ in ride quality due to variances in suspension tuning. Softer settings go to the LS, while the SS exhibits firmer characteristics because of a sport suspension package with larger stabilizer bars, front and rear, plus different tuning for shock absorbers and stiffer springs.
On both, rack-and-pinion steering feels assertive and taut at higher speeds, yet easy to manipulate when parking. Disc brakes at all wheels tied to four-wheel anti-lock controls rank as standard components, but the SS adds traction control.
Passengers ride within the steel safety cage, which has energy-absorbing foam inside A-pillars, high-strength blanks in B-pillars with a thicker gauge of steel below the beltline, and sturdy door beams and energy-absorbing foam in the two side doors. Dual front airbags are in place, and for personal security the car offers a remote keyless entry system, theft-deterrent device, plus an optional trap-resistant trunk system with internal release lever and a lockout strap for the rear folding seatbacks.
The spacious cabin contains a driver-oriented cockpit with front bucket seats divided by a console, followed by the rear bench divided in 40:60 ratio. A number of appealing standard features show up in the LS base version, like air conditioning, a stereo sound package, tilting steering wheel, variable wipers, power door locks, analog instruments with tachometer, door map pockets, and delayed entry/exit lights with theater dimming feature.
The base Monte Carlo LS retails for $19,850, while SS editions go out the door for $22,295.
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