Dale Earnhardt approves.
by Jim McCraw
Base Price $19,290
As Tested $23,534
One of the flaps during the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup racing season was that Chevrolet produced this all-new Monte Carlo SS well in time for the season, but wasn't allowed to race it. After close inspection, race officials told Chevrolet that the car could not be raced until the beginning of the 2000 Winston Cup season in February at Daytona. The reason? It may have been because this car is so good in the wind tunnel that NASCAR had to re-think its rules package.
The Monte Carlo you're looking at is a production car in race-designed body shell. All new from the ground up, it's shape is designed for winning Winston Cup races at America's superspeedways.
It's also the replacement for the best-selling midsize coupe in the United States. So it has two important jobs to do for Chevrolet.
A five-passenger coupe, the Monte Carlo comes only in two flavors: the LS for the non-racing crowd and the SS for the racing fans. Two different V6 engines are used, a 3.4-liter for the LS and a 3.8-liter for the SS. Both get a 4-speed automatic. There are also some differences in trim, equipment, and tire and wheel packages. LS retails for $19,290, while the SS is priced at $21,735.
As slick as it is aerodynamically, from an esthetical standpoint the new Monte Carlo almost looks like it was designed by a committee, with each member handling only a small part of the car. It was most assuredly not designed this way, it's just how the final product came out when the engineers and designers emerged from the last wind-tunnel session.
The 2000 Monte Carlo doesn't look anything like the 1999 model. Nor does it look like any Monte Carlo before it nor any other car in the Chevrolet lineup. That's good for drivers who want something that looks like the one the Winston Cup boys will race next year. And it's good for those among the avant-garde who will like it because it is so different. The droopy nose, the flat flanks, the bump in the deck lid and the radical roofline may not appeal to everyone, however.
What you can't see is just as important to the integrity of the Monte Carlo and, in that respect, we have to give Chevrolet high marks. The engineers have strengthened the roof, doors and floor pan. They designed an aluminum front cradle from which to suspend the engine, transmission, steering, suspension and front sheet metal. The interior features a cast magnesium beam, called a MagBeam, that fits behind the instrument panel; this further increases chassis rigidity and provides mountings for the dashboard systems. As a result, the new Monte Carlo is much quieter than any previous generation. Increased chassis stiffness also makes the car less prone to squeaks and rattles developing over time.
One of the best things about Chevrolet design in recent years is the uniformity of instrument panel design and appearance that has been wrought throughout the product line - from the Corvette to the Silverado pickup. With black background, white markings and red needles, the instrument layout is not only racy in flavor, but also easy to read and scan, with the major and minor gauges placed on slightly different planes to add visual interest.
Another really nice touch inside the new Monte Carlo is its cockpit-style instrument panel that houses those new gauges and controls. It separates the driver completely from the front passenger and provides fingertip access to every system in the array in a nicely styled package that works.
The Monte Carlo comes with bucket seats, of course, and we found them quite comfortable for around town driving. Their shape makes it easy to get in and out of the car. Front-seat passengers appreciate the new shotgun-side power seat option. The seats are easy to adjust and there's plenty of adjustment for short and tall drivers. The tall center console is a bit intrusive for drivers who like to shift the automatic transmission manually. The shifter looks dated. The ignition switch is conveniently located right on the dash, well to the right of steering wheel; this makes it easy to quickly get in the car and get going, or quickly get out of the car after shutting it off. The trunk is large, but the opening looks small, making it difficult to load big boxes.
Overall, the interior is a nice design with a sporty flavor that reminds us of Corvettes and Camaros.
The SS version of the new Monte Carlo features a thoroughly proven V6 that delivers 200 horsepower and 225 foot-pounds of torque. It may not hold a candle to some of the old V8-powered rear-wheel-drive Monte Carlos, but it's more than enough to break the tires loose on this new front-wheel-drive Monte. Punch the throttle and there's instant power and lots of it.
GM's popular 3800 engine is the most highly developed overhead-valve V6 in the world. With all the refinements that have been baked into it over the years, in terms of valvetrain friction, bottom-end strength and friction, and electronic engine management and fuel injection, this is about as good as it gets. Couple this engine to GM's excellent 4-speed automatic, add all-speed traction control, and you've got yourself a really solid power unit that offers fun as well as decent fuel economy.
The 3400 V6 is a solid unit, but this car isn't quite the same with the smaller engine and it seems to miss the point. If you're after practicality, then take a look at the new Impala.
In motion, the Monte Carlo's four-wheel independent Sport suspension works with fat P225/55HR16 high-performance tires to provide really surprising levels of grip. As a tradeoff for the bite they yield, the tires are a little noisy. The steering is over-assisted in a lot of situations and does not provide as much feedback from the front tires as we would like, but it's tight and accurate. The Monte Carlo has the widest front and rear track in the segment. (The track is the distance between the left wheel and right wheel.) Coupled with the tires and suspension, this makes for a platform that is good fun to drive through the backwoods as well as on the boulevard or Interstate. In short, the Monte Carlo is stable and responsive.
If you're gonna run with the fast guys, you'd better have good brakes. Larger, more powerful antilock brakes were fitted to this new Monte Carlo and they are up to the job. They are, in fact, the largest calipers and rotors in the class, and we punished them mightily on one of our favorite stretches of twisty road, without a whisper of fade or grabbiness.
There's a certain amount of boy-racer charm exuding from this all-new Monte Carlo. That's been a traditional element of Monte Carlos going back to the first ones in the middle '70s - cars that won many, many NASCAR Winston Cup races. Aerodynamically, this new Monte Carlo is vastly superior to the body being used by the 1999 NASCAR racers. Though attractive to wind tunnels, the Monte Carlo's styling won't appeal to everyone.
More important than looks, Chevrolet has made a huge number of basic chassis improvements to this Monte Carlo in terms of strength, stiffness, weight, and suspension performance.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.