Something comes over us when we're in a Chevy Monte Carlo. It's hard not to fantasize we're rocketing down the front straight at Talladega with 42 stock cars glued to the rear bumper. Or maybe we're going through the inner loop at Watkins Glen, bounding off the curbs as we go through the big chicane. The Monte Carlo has that bad boy look and feel.
No matter what you think of the styling, you'll quickly form a bond with the Monte Carlo. It's just so easy to get along with this car. It's roomy and comfortable and easy to operate. It's fast and fun to drive. It's stable at high speeds for long runs down the interstate and it's great fun on back roads, the same kind of roads that form the roots of stock car racing.
The Monte Carlo also offers a lot of value, with strong performance for the dollar. You see, the Monte's mission is two-fold. Since its debut in 1970, it's been a high-value personal luxury coupe, a car that delivers a lot of visual importance for relatively small monthly payments. But for most of those years, the Monte Carlo has also been Chevrolet's standard-bearer in stock car racing. Keeping ahead of the competition has required constant aerodynamic refinement. So there's a reason the Monte Carlo looks like it does: the Winston Cup rule book. The rules of Winston Cup racing demand the cars we see flying around the high banks are similar to those sitting in the showrooms. The result is an attention-grabbing shape like no other on the road, a shape born in the wind tunnels.
It's a surprisingly practical shape as well. Despite its race-track breeding, the Monte Carlo offers more interior volume that any other car in its class (with the exception of other GM vehicles). Its front-drive chassis is tuned for a comfortable ride and competent handling. An SS model, the only Monte Carlo to buy, provides a potent 3.8-liter V6 to complement its racy good looks. Of course, the Monte Carlo at the local dealership does not have the tube-frame chassis or rear-wheel drive of a NASCAR machine. But the SS does deliver spirited performance, along with a chance to feel connected to a winning tradition.
Two trim levels are offered. Both come with a four-speed automatic transmission.
Monte Carlo LS ($20,465) is powered by a 3.4-liter ohv V6 rated 180 horsepower at 5200 rpm, and 205 pounds-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Standard equipment includes air conditioning with separate controls for driver and passenger; traction control; AM/FM/cassette stereo; cloth-covered bucket seats; center console; power windows, mirrors, and door locks; and, new for 2003, remote keyless entry. The suspension is all-independent and bolstered by anti-roll bars front and rear, and the brakes are four-wheel-discs with ABS. Sixteen-inch aluminum wheels are shod with P225/60R16 Goodyear Eagle GA touring tires. An optional Sport Appearance Package ($615) offers unique-looking five-spoke alloy wheels and a race-inspired rear spoiler.
Monte Carlo SS ($23,030) relies on a 200-horsepower 3.8-liter V6. Its tires are the same size as the LS model's, but are upgraded to Goodyear Eagle RSA performance rubber. A Sport Suspension package, with higher-rate springs and four-stage strut valving, is available only on the SS. Without this package, you might as well be looking at an Impala, which adds the practicality of rear doors. All SS Monte Carlos come with a side-impact air bag for the driver, cruise control, pollen filtration, fog lamps, full instrumentation, sport seats with adjustable lumbar support for the driver, OnStar communications, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and a more modest rear deck spoiler.
A High Sport Appearance Package ($2100) is available for the SS that includes full ground effects, a race-inspired deck spoiler, unique aluminum wheels, stainless-steel exhaust tips and a red bow tie identification in the instrument cluster panel.
Options for all Monte Carlos include power seats ($325), power sunroof ($795), and a premium CD stereo with six speakers ($445). For 2003, serious audiophiles should choose optional XM Satellite Radio, with 100 coast-to-coast digital channels, including 71 music channels (more than 30 of them commercial-free) and 29 channels of sports, talk, 24-hour news, and children's entertainment. Chevrolet claims that XM's sound quality is remarkably close to a compact disc.
Nothing else looks like a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Chevrolet says Monte Carlo buyers usually cite styling as a major influence on their purchasing decision. The Monte's sharply creased quarters and thick rear roof pillars represent a design heritage 33 years old. At the same time, the 2003 model is as modern as the latest computer simulation, refined in the wind tunnel for maximum stability with minimal drag.
The Monte Carlo is a slick car aerodynamically and, as we said, it looks like nothing else on the road. The folks who own them love them. To us, however, it looks as if it were designed by a committee. Individual elements are attractive, but we're not quite satisfied with how they hang together as a whole. We aren't attracted to its droopy nose and flat flanks, nor to the bump in the deck lid and the radical roofline.
But what you can't see is just as important to the integrity of the Monte Carlo. In that respect, we have to give Chevrolet high marks. Compared to pre-2000 Monte Carlos, the current model has been strengthened in the roof, doors, and floor pan. An extruded aluminum front cradle isolates the engine, transmission, steering, and suspension from the main structure of the car. A cast magnesium beam, (Chevrolet calls it a MagBeam) fits behind the instrument panel to further increase chassis rigidity, and to provide stiff mounting points for the dashboard systems. As a result, the latest Monte Carlo is much quieter than any previous generation. Increased chassis stiffness also makes the car less prone to developing squeaks and rattles over time.
The Chevy Monte Carlo's interior is a nice design with a sporty flavor that reminds us of the Corvette and Camaro. The seats in our SS came in optional black leather ($625), which we really liked. The bucket seats are quite comfortable for around-town driving. Their shape makes it easy to get in and out of the car. Both seats are easy to adjust, and there's plenty of range for short and tall drivers, though headroom was lacking for a 6-foot, 3-inch driver who sat in the car. We liked the optional power driver's seat ($325). The Comfort Seating Package ($445) comes with dual seat heaters and adds a power front passenger's seat.
This is an easy car to operate. Turning on the headlights feels like a step back in time: Just pull the big knob on the left. The steering wheel in the SS features well-designed audio and cruise controls. The cruise control works well, though you may have to look at it initially to position your thumb. The cockpit-style dashboard separates the driver completely from the front passenger and provides fingertip access to every system in the array. It's a nicely styled package, and it works. The ignition switch is conveniently located on the dash, well to the right of the 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 instruments are straightforward, well-laid-out and easy to read. Chevrolet now uses the same uniformly functional instrument layout throughout the product line, from the Corvette to the Silverado pickup. With black backgrounds, white markings and red needles, these gauges not only look racy but are also easy to read and scan. Major and minor gauges are placed on slightly different planes to add visual interest. The tall center console is a bit intrusive for drivers who like to shift the automatic transmission manually, however, and the T-handle shifter looks dated.
The optional side-impact airbag ($350) is a good idea, but it's only available for the driver's side.
The trunk is large, but the opening is relatively small, making it difficult to load big boxes.
The Monte Carlo SS handles well on back roads and it goes when you punch it. The suspension instilled a strong sense of control on the back roads of Virginia. Steering is tight and responsive, though we'd like a little more feedback. The ride is smooth, yet we felt well connected to the road. This is a nice car for cruising, whether motoring down the boulevard or charging across the state. It's stable at high speeds on interstates and in long, sweeping turns.
The optional Sport Suspension works with the SS model's fat P225/60R16 Goodyear Eagle RSA tires to provide surprisingly high levels of grip. The tires are a little noisy, but that's a tradeoff we willingly accept for their bite. The Monte Carlo has the widest front and rear track in its segment. (The track is the distance between the left and right tires.)
Engine and transmission are responsive as well. The Monte Carlo SS features GM's thoroughly proven 3800 V6, which delivers 200 horsepower and 225 pounds-feet of torque. That may sound puny compared to, say, a 7.4-liter Monte Carlo SS from 1970, but it's more than enough to break the tires loose on this front-wheel-drive car. Punch the throttle and there's instant power and lots of it. It's probably the most highly developed overhead-valve V6 in the world. GM has baked in plenty of refinement since the late 1970s, reducing valve-train and bearing friction, bolstering bottom-end strength, and tweaking the electronic engine management and fuel injection. For a pushrod V6, this is about as good as it gets. Couple this engine to GM's excellent four-speed automatic transmission, add all-speed traction control, and you've got yourself a really solid drive train that offers fun as well as decent fuel economy.
The 3400 V6 is an adequate performer, but the Monte Carlo isn't quite the same with this smaller engine. In fact, it seems to miss the point entirely. If it's economy you're after, maybe you should look at the Chevy Impala, which is based on the same platform.
If you're going to run with the fast guys, you'd better have good brakes. Fortunately, the Monte Carlo boasts the largest brake calipers and disc-brake rotors in its class. We punished them mightily on one of our favorite stretches of twisty road, without a hint of fade or grabbing. Four-wheel disc brakes come standard on all Monte Carlos. ABS comes standard on the SS, which helps the driver maintain steering control of the car in an emergency stopping situation.
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo is a fast, competent, and comfortable cruiser on interstate runs and good fun on back roads. The Monte Carlo SS offers spirited acceleration, decent handling, and good brakes. This is a car shaped in a wind-tunnel that the purpose of getting around Indianapolis Motor Speedway as quickly as possible. We strongly recommend the SS and like the optional leather interior.
|Model Line Overview |
|Model lineup: ||LS ($20,465); SS ($23,030) |
|Engines: ||180-hp 3.4-liter ohv 12-valve V6; 200-hp 3.8-liter ohv 12-valve V6 |
|Transmissions: ||4-speed automatic |
|Safety equipment (standard): ||dual airbags, three-point belts for all seats, LATCH anchors for child seats, ABS, traction control |
|Safety equipment (optional): ||driver's side-impact airbag (SS only) |
|Basic warranty: ||3 years/36,000 miles |
|Assembled in: ||Oshawa, Ontario, Canada |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): ||Monte Carlo SS ($23,030) |
|Standard equipment: ||air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, dual remote mirrors, dual vanity mirrors, tinted glass, passive anti-theft system, tilt wheel, 225/60R-16 tires, cast aluminum wheels, remote keyless entry, rear spoiler, ABS, traction control |
|Options as tested (MSRP): ||Preferred Equipment Group ($1985) includes AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo with six speakers, amp, and anti-theft system, six-way power driver's seat, Seating Comfort Package with heated front seats and six-way power passenger seat, driver information center with trip computer, outside temperature display, Homelink programmable garage door opener, and anti-theft alarm system, OnStar with one-year Safe and Sound plan, dual power heated mirrors, air filtration system, front and rear floor mats, cargo net, electrochromic rear-view mirror with dual reading lights, power heated exterior mirrors; leather accent bucket seats ($625); Competition Yellow Appearance Package ($995) includes unique 16-inch wheels, rear spoiler, bright stainless steel exhaust tip, black name plates and pin striping, yellow-on-black floor mats |
|Destination charge: ||($635) |
|Gas guzzler tax: ||N/A |
|Price as tested (MSRP): ||$27,270 |
|Layout: ||front-wheel drive |
|Engine: ||3.8-liter ohv 12-valve V6 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): ||200 @ 5200 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): ||225 @ 4000 |
|Transmission: ||4-speed automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: ||20/30 mpg |
|Wheelbase: ||110.5 in. |
|Length/width/height: ||197.9/72.3/55.2 in. |
|Track, f/r: ||62.1/61.2 in. |
|Turning circle: ||38.0 ft. |
|Seating capacity: ||5 |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: ||38.1/55.2/42.4 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: ||N/A |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: ||36.5/55.5/35.8 in. |
|Trunk volume: ||15.8 cu. ft. |
|Payload: ||N/A |
|Towing capacity: ||1000 Lbs. |
|Suspension, f: ||independent |
|Suspension, r: ||independent |
|Ground clearance: ||N/A |
|Curb weight: ||3391 lbs. |
|Tires: ||P225/60R16 |
|Brakes, f/r: ||disc/disc with ABS |
|Fuel capacity: ||17.0 gal. |
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of May 10, 2002.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-222-1020 - www.chevrolet.com
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