- Looks somewhat sporty.
- Front and rear stabilizer bars good for handling.
- Larger wheels and tires than base model.
- Smoother engine than outgoing model.
- Very good value for money.
- Oddly-styled new front end.
- Chassis not exactly sporting.
- Down on power and torque compared to outgoing Z24 coupe.
- Build quality needs improvement.
- Cheap interior materials.
Press Coverage :
The exteriors have been refreshed for 2003; the Cavalier now has more of a Chevrolet family, um, "tie" (as in "bow tie", geddit?....), while the Sunfire accentuates the typical Pontiac twin-nostril look.
The coupe is predictably tight on headroom, especially in the rear, but is still a reasonable proposition for average-sized adults for less-than-Trans-Canada journeys. The front bucket seats offer decent comfort and support, for my backside anyway, with even a fair degree of lumbar re-enforcement. The fabric upholstery - as it always does - made me wonder why anybody would want leather in a car, at any price.
During my time in these cars I got to thinking about all the stuff I used to whine about in the old days - steering column stalks for lights and wipers; side-view mirrors on both doors; cup holders; round "oven-style" knobs for HVAC; proper seating; high-torque (as opposed to high-revving) engines. The Cavalier has them all, even if the left-side steering column stalk for lights, turn signals and high beam is too far away from the wheel rim. There is even fairly high-end stuff like delayed interior lighting with "theatre dimming" - the lights fade, rather that snap off; electric trunk release; tachometer; stainless-steel exhaust system; intermittent wipers (albeit with fixed interval); block heater; two-side-galvanized body panels, except for the roof. The heater heats, instantly. The air conditioning cools, almost instantly.
The 2.2 litre twin-overhead camshaft Ecotec four cylinder engine, now standard on all J-Cars, generates a more-than-competitive 140 horsepower at 5,600 r.p.m., and a 'way-more-than-competitive' 150 lb.-ft., of torque at 4,400 r.p.m. Whenever an engine generates more lb-.ft. than horsepower, you know it'll be flexible, and offer good real-world performance. Even with the four-speed automatic transmission, the Cavalier is nothing short of quick off-the-line. The engine is a little noisy, due mostly to induction roar, but the revving itself is smooth.
GM knows from automatic transmissions - if they're good enough for BMW, they should be good enough for you. This one shifts smoothly under all levels of stress. The five-speed I drove briefly was a bit notchy, but it had only 500 km on it; it'll loosen up with a few turns around the block.
The Cavalier rides decently, and doesn't even get unduly upset if you try to lean on the handling a little. But just a little, OK? This ain't no sports sedan, although VW fans will cringe when I mention that the suspension basics are identical to a Golf or Jetta - MacStruts up front, twist beam axle at the rear. The large-for-the-class tires (195/70R14s) generate cornering power sufficient for anyone who'd be interested in a car like this in the first place.
Back in the early 1990s, I recall saying that if General Motors would only spend about ten bucks more into body structure and twenty more on suspension, Cavalier/Sunfire would be 100 percent better cars. I'm not saying my words are piped directly into General Motors' War Room, but for the 1995 models, they did just that.
But - you knew a "but" was coming, didn't you? - that was then, this is now. There have been great strides taken in refinement in recent years. Even car makers like Hyundai have engineered quietness, reduced NVH (noise, vibration, harshness), tighter interior panel fits and higher-quality plastics into their cars, and urged higher levels of assembly quality. These are the areas where Cavalier falls behind the class. The steering wheel in my car wasn't on completely straight. There are large gaps between interior trim panels - that may not be a function of the assemblers, but of the initial design and specs for the component suppliers. Still, if Honda and Toyota can do it at these price levels.
1995-2002 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Coupe
2,429 cc / 150 hp / 167 lb-ft / 2800 lbs / 0-60 mph 7.9 sec.