Chevrolet Cavalier reinvented as economical subcompact sedan
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
In case you're already familiar with Cavalier, Chevrolet's budget-priced subcompact sedan, then erase any images this name may evoke -- adjectives like clunky, uncomfortable and ornery come to mind. You may dismiss those visions because Cavalier has been recast for 1995 and the new version, with slick sheetmetal outside and an interior designed for comfort and convenience, bears little resemblance to the dated car it replaces.
Cavalier has been Chevy's best-selling nameplate, despite the fact that the 1994 rendition contained many of the same ingredients found on the 1982 inaugural model. In light of so many modern imports and new designs from other domestic automakers, even a quick spin around the block in last year's Cavalier would demonstrate that the most significant asset of this car was its low price tag.
By contrast, the new Cavalier for 1995 leaps ahead in its class to pile on precise handling hardware, then sweetens the deal with cozy interior perks at a price that still etches a hard edge in the affordable column.
Cavalier's remake begins with a chassis expansion that adds 3 inches to the wheelbase and broadens the track by 2 inches to produce a vehicle which feels more grounded and stable to drive. Interesting, though, its overall length drops by 2 inches in an effort that makes Cavalier easier to maneuver in traffic or when parking.
These chassis expansions result in more interior room that's particularly conspicuous with passenger shoulder, leg and head space. Even though Cavalier is classed as a subcompact, it doesn't feel as cramped or confined as do some economy models.
It looks good too -- so smooth and round but still compact and to the point.
The exterior, with rounded corners, crisply tapering front hood and tall decklid tail, culminates with an unusual bowed back window that's set in counterpoint to the rakish shape of the C-pillar.
If you didn't know that Cavalier was born and bred in the U.S.A., you might mistake it for a cute little sedan imported from Japan. And if you could close your eyes and drive at the same time, you might also misplace its precise handling attributes and comfortable interior fittings for those found in a nice import.
A Chevrolet behaves as tight and right and comfy as a Japanese sedan?
I know it may sound unreasonable to suggest that General Motors can build an import-busting economy model -- after all, every time in the 1980s Americans attempted to emulate the Asians in an econo-car, the result was less than satisfactory, as previous Cavaliers demonstrated.
Yet Cavalier proves the point now and hints at the fact that a revamped, progressive General Motors is emerging with a bevy of new models for the latter half of this decade which, when they're fully revealed, should ultimate tip the table in favor of these domestically-conceived and American-built automotive concoctions.
My introductory driving tests in the new Cavalier occurred on a diverse collection of paved roads in the rolling hills of central Wisconsin, as well as over closed circuits of the Road America race track near Elkhart Lake. During the course of a day, I had a chance to experience this car and its twin trim versions on rural routes, divided interstate highways, twisty circuits, even slalom sets defined by orange cones on a flat expanse of asphalt.
Through the experience, Cavalier convinced me that it would eagerly accept in a refined and pleasant manner whatever road challenge I could create and at the same time keep me contented in the driver's form-fitting bucket.
For power, this little car uses an upgraded version of the previous powerplant. The 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine features a new multi-port injection system and platinum-tipped spark plugs designed to last for 100,000 miles.
Horsepower holds at 120 like the older version, but this latest edition produces better fuel economy numbers.
What's missing is optional horsepower.
Sporty coupe and convertible versions of the Cavalier sedan have a dual-cam 2.3-liter engine upgrade that reaches 150 hp. Chevrolet will add this pumper to the sedan's line, but, for reasons that remain unexplained, not until the spring of 1995.
Even so, Cavalier carries two optional automatic transmissions. A 3-speed comes as standard equipment with Cavalier LS, while an electronically-controlled 4-speed variation -- the best yet from General Motors -- is an option. Cavalier's base model uses a 5-speed manual shifter, by the way.
Remarkable for a Chevrolet, a single key unlocks the ignition, side doors and rear decklid. This may sound like a small point but it has always amazed me why it took two different keys to operate a Chevy. The single Cavalier key shows changes are indeed underway at General Motors.
Cavalier wraps the passenger compartment with a rigid steel safety cage, then adds front and rear crumple zones.
Anti-lock brakes appear on the list of standard features for both Cavalier models, as do dual air bags, active 3-point safety belts and rear child-proof door locks. Those pesky mouse-driven motorized shoulder straps from the previous Cavalier sedan are out of here at last.
Climb aboard and you too may be surprised when you discover the amount of interior room Cavalier extracts from a subcompact platform. I made a point to log time in the rear seat and found leg and shoulder room to spare. Seats, both front and back, felt uncommonly comfortable for a car in this economy class.
Also, Cavalier's interior stocks more comfort fittings, particularly on the base model, than many competitors, and interior appointments feel functional and certainly look upscale in tone.
The lowest-priced Cavalier, listing for $10,265, includes as standard such favored items as cup holders -- two for front riders and two more in back -- plus map pockets on all doors, a folding rear seatback, front center console with storage compartment, a round of courtesy lamps, as well as special heat ducts for the rear area.
Keep in mind that Cavalier's base model also contains 4-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control, along with precise handling features to make it responsive to drive, like power rack and pinion steering and 14-inch wheels with R-rated rubber.
Cavalier LS adds more standards, including air conditioning and the automatic transmission, for less than $13,000. That's still quite a bargain, even for Chevrolet.
1995 CHEVROLET CAVALIER SEDAN
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1995 CHEVROLET CAVALIER SEDAN Specs
||Subcompact 4-door sedan
| Model Options:
||Subcompact 4-door sedan
| Overall Length:
| Engine Size:
||OHV 2.2-L I-4
| Gas Mileage:
||$ 10,265 to $ 14,350